Saturday, 5 January 2013

Committing Somewhat

As a fan cycling I read the odd blog and opinion articles by other top amateurs and pros, most who are a lot higher up in the cycling food chain than I am. A new favourite is Huon Genesys rider Jono Lovelock and his work over on The Roar. An insiders view on things relevant to the local cycling fan, and bike racer in all of us. Add his work to your bookmark list, you won't be disappointed.

Yesterday I read an article by a very successful professional cyclist entitled "Committing Fully" published over on SBS Cycling Central. You can read the article here. I loved the title. I wanted a look-in at what it takes to achieve so much success on the bike. 

It started out well. Outlining a few of the more obscure times of the day to train, giving up family time or that extra Christmas pudding. Things I think every serious cyclist/athlete can relate to. Further into the article we're hit with references to the pro men vs women salary debate, the amount of punters in bunch rides acting the fool, there is even a reference (crack) on how serious Strava users take their KOM hunting by using race wheels for what are essentially training rides.

Wait a minute! Wasn't this article about what it takes to achieve the highest levels of success? Why am I now feeling offended? Probably because I'm a cyclist seen as a punter/amateur by the author, and I'm someone who uses Strava (albeit not with "race wheels"). I ended up ignoring the key details of the article about the commitment required for success and I was left feeling like I was the target of these references to the daily niggles that irritate a professional cyclist. I really want to think I'm not. But I must be. I am that every-day punter on two wheels. Bugger. To cheer myself up, I wrote my own version of the same article.

I present my story......

Committing Somewhat

We left the family behind in Ballarat on Christmas day to spend a week up at Falls Creek with other like-minded people. We loved every second of it. Alarm buzzing, 9am New Years day, rolling out of bed and looking forward to smudging chamios cream on my choad and cranking out more intervals on the TT bike at altitude with my good mate and training partner. I don't have a coach, I don't have a written plan, I follow a path cemented by a few good years of experience only.

There is already a hive of activity outside. People starting their runs, coming back from a swim session, and the occasional overweight cyclist rolling into the village after taking 2-3hrs to get up the 30km climb from Mt Beauty. Everyone pushing themselves hard, some harder than others, all with a similar goal of becoming a better athlete, a better person, or just to feel alive. These people don't have hangovers, they're too busy ticking off achievements in the first few hours of 2013. 

Passing nods, smiles, and waves are shared between everyone regardless of what activity they've chosen. They all love what we're doing. By any 'normal day' these people are lawyers, doctors, accountants, retirees, students, the unemployed, mums, dads, anything - call them whatever you like. While they're outside enjoying their sport, they are athletes, regardless of their physical appearance or size of their trophy collection at home.

My own goal at this point in time, like a few other club-level cyclists, is to aim for the best possible performance I'm capable of at the National Championships in the Time Trial. Having goals is one of my key motivators to train. It makes every drop of sweat in training worth while. Sacrifices are made, but they're purely personal and pretty selfish when it comes to the bigger picture of life.

Is all this 'investment' in my own goals worth it? Not professionally. Not financially. Not even socially. But nothing compares to the sense of achievement I get out of knowing I've put 100% into something and cross a finish line completely exhausted.

A lot of riders have a more structured season, professional teams, management, and access to world class training facilitates. A number of men and women are even making a living out of this sport. Not me. Nor any of my peers. We're still on the same bikes as the pros. Some of us do the same hours in training too. We're just not as genetically gifted, not as lucky, or just don't have the right contacts in the industry. Not to worry, that isn't why we do it.

When it comes to the Nationals, we mere amateurs have a choice: to enter or not. Some do it for experience of racing a big event, some enter just to see how long they can hold on for. We are the grass-roots athletes. We are the majority of registered racing cyclists. However when it comes to the big events, we hardly even exist. We've paid our money and we're on the start list, that's about it. Posting a mid pack time in the TT or a DNF in the road race after being pulled at 1/2 distance is all we can expect, at the most. The rest is up to us. To tell our friends, family, and supporters what we're up to. To get them involved in our journey.

At a recent bike event I was handed a glossy promotional card and was told I should make the trip to Ballarat to cheer on the pros. "Yeah, thanks buddy, I'll think about it."

My first Open Elite National time trial was in Buninyong in 2007. I came in 21st out of 25 riders. 9 minutes down on a multi-time national TT champion who has now bowed out of the sport due to a doping violation. Was I fighting for the green and gold jersey on that day? No way. I was just trying to ride as fast as I could. Clean.

Six years on, over 100 time trials, a few Open TT wins, multiple National Masters TT titles on the road and track to my name. I've been passionate (obsessive) about my quest for self improvement. I've followed a similar path to those professionals in regard to nutrition, travelling, sacrifices, keeping within the same UCI regulations (no drugs, equipment regulations, etc). Is this interesting, maybe. Do you really care? Probably not.

What did I do the morning before I got married a few weeks back? A 40km TT course recon in Ballarat. Was I in bed before 12am on New Years? Yes. Do you care? Probably not.

This is just what I do. And I love it.

I'm not alone though. There are 1000s of people just like me. Some going a little slower, some going a faster. If they're on bikes, running, swimming - who cares? They're active, they're athletes, and they're awesome!

I don't do too many bunch rides. Most of my training is structured, either indoors or outside trying to rip up a Strava segment on my training wheels. As I've mentioned, I'm goal orientated. If there is a Strava segment from A to B that I can aim for while training, I'll have a red-hot go at it. It turns a rather dead section of road into a race, at any time of the day.

Just be aware that:
  • I'm not a pro and I've never been paid a salary in this sport. I envy those who are, and who have.
  • I've beaten a few pros in a few different races. It didn't mean a thing to them, their employer, or my financial state.
  • I cringe when reading about the day to day struggles of paid professional cyclists that we all encounter as athletes. They're the lucky ones living their dreams, ffs.

So why do I bother? Ever since I learnt to ride a bike I've loved to go fast, then faster again. Without a coach there is nobody telling me what to do or when to do it. The motivation is mine, and mine alone. If I fail, I am to blame. If I eat the chocolate cake, then I've eaten the chocolate cake. I'll ride it off in tomorrows session.

Today is 40 degrees outside. Too hot to train on the road. I've loaded up a new Sufferfest TT video I paid for yesterday and I'll get stuck into it at 100% on the ergo. That is my plan. Is this interesting, maybe. Do you really care if I do it? Probably not.

Only 5 days to go till Nationals. 6 days till I'm back at work.