Why it’s important to slow down and enjoy the ride | Mildred Locke

After a frustrating year off the bike, Mildred's found a way to get back on

Surly Bridge Club review trails riding

Like many cyclists, I started 2019 with a goal. It was a pretty ambitious one: to complete a 600km audax in September, along with several other audaxes throughout the year ranging from 100 to 400km.

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I told myself I was on a training plan, and that I’d surely have no problem building up my distance throughout the year if I stayed consistent with my riding. Consistency was my mantra.

After all, I’d managed a very enjoyable 100km audax the month before, dragging my BikeRadar colleagues, Aoife and Felix, along for the ride.

I also had a Triban RC 520 Women’s Disc bike to complete it on, and I was ready to put it through its paces. Just wait and see!

And yet, the year got off to a terrible start.

I forced myself out into the cold dark morning to complete my first 200km of the year. The first 55km were relatively flat and I was feeling strong. Coffee flowed at the first control point and I felt… optimistic.

However, from that point, the hills became hillier, the wind became windier, and in my efforts to keep up with my riding partner (bad idea), fatigue and self-doubt crept in.

I did my best and pushed on, but 140km in I bonked, cried, and scratched in what was the first real blow to my confidence.

From there, the rest of the year took a nosedive. I suffered illness after illness, which left me feeling too drained and weak to get out of bed, let alone train for a 600km audax.

Things had to get better, surely? Sure enough, once I returned to full health I celebrated with a day on the trails – subsequently crashing my mountain bike and spending the next few weeks recovering from my injuries. 

The year wasn’t going well.

I was behind with training, my self-esteem was at an all-time low, and month-by-month the audaxes I had entered came and went, while I stayed at home.

Summer soon came, with temperatures that were practically Saharan for the UK. I don’t do well in hot climates, so while other Brits were out enjoying the sun, I was hiding indoors with the pressure of a looming 600km weighing me down, heavily.

The truth is, I’ve wasted this year. I could have been out riding in the countryside, lungs filled with fresh air, enjoying the endorphins and the company of my friends – all of the good things that make us love cycling – but I let the anxiety and pressure of a looming event beat me down.

Rather than simply going for a ride because I wanted to – riding for the sake of riding – I told myself that I had to train. I mean, surely I had to train and stick to a plan if I wanted to achieve my goal and not look like a total failure?

But that’s not how it should be.

I’ve finally realised something. I need to accept that I’m not an ultra-endurance athlete, and it’s okay for me to just be… well, me

I love covering long distances by bike, but it’s important for me to be able to take my time. I want to be able to sleep, have a decent meal, stop and explore my surroundings, and check out the things we can often miss. Give me slow rides and clear night skies any day.

Not that an audax is anything like a race – it’s a fun way to meet new people and the audax community is wonderful – but there is a timed element that puts the pressure on. You have to get to the control points before they close. 

For me, the constant worry about missing that window got in the way of my enjoyment. I like to ride at my own pace, lost in my thoughts and surroundings, but my internal monologue was screaming, ‘You’re not going to make it!’

So I’m going to take a step back, slow down, and simply allow myself to enjoy cycling again. No pressure. No goals. 

With that in mind, these are my new intentions for the remaining months of 2019:

  • Wander aimlessly
  • Explore unfamiliar roads
  • Leave the Garmin at home
  • Follow road signs
  • Trust my sense of direction
  • Enjoy the process

Cycling doesn’t have to be ‘no pain, no gain’. Not everyone needs to measure their power output or torture themselves up the biggest hills they can find.

For some riders, cycling is all about turning the pedals and letting the mind wander. Let’s not forget the simple pleasure of a slow and aimless pootle. Try leaving the GPS at home, maybe even — gasp! — not bother with Strava, and just see where the wind takes you.

Have you ever bitten off more than you can chew on the bike? If so, I’d love to hear how you dealt with it. Did you force yourself through it or embrace the failure?

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Let me know in the comments.