There is a wise suggestion in sports coaching, which is that you declare your season objectives publicly so that you’re pressured into delivering them.
It is for that reason specifically that I am not announcing my season targets. I want to be able to renege on them with as little fallout as possible. However, I do have some targets, and as a consequence it is clear to me that I need to do some long rides.
The ‘long ride’ is a training staple. Once a week, hit some mileage. It’s a very effective conditioning strategy that demands little in the way of analysis. You just get on with it. And it’s a relative concept. When I started out, my long ride was an hour and three-quarters.
If you think that’s unimpressive, let me diminish my reputation further by saying that my everyday standard ride was an hour and a half.
My long one got longer. The longest training ride I think I ever did (as opposed to a race) was around six or seven hours. Sometimes I even did this on the turbo.
A few hours out on the bike should be a pleasure – that’s what we’re supposed to love most. But there were so many long rides to get through, the weather was always cold. It didn’t help that I did them much too hard.
That in turn led to a supplementary problem, which was that I could never find anyone who wanted to keep me company. No one I knew wanted to do five hours at 300 watts in February with no cafe stop. And I couldn’t blame them – it was horrible.
I’ve never known how to occupy the time. People tell me how much they like to look at the view. Or to look out for interesting things by the roadside, old churches and quaint villages.
None of these people, however, live in Cambridgeshire, where you can head out into the Fens and let the scenery and the headwind help you get your five-hour ride over and done with in what feels like seven.
I should probably have varied my routes more. That might have added some interest, but I had a habit of sticking to familiar roads. I didn’t want to get stuck on some quaint rural lane where I couldn’t blast along at my habitual 300 watts. Nor did I want to get lost and accidentally do even a mile further than I’d mentally accepted.
It possibly indicates a psychopathic tendency that despite my own feelings about long rides, as a coach I’d dish them out like I was taking revenge on the world. Often my fingers would pause over the keyboard as I swithered over dispatching a rider on a five or a five-and-a- half-hour ride, before compromising with six and three-quarters. Then I’d pause and add, “with efforts on the hills.”
The only rider I have ever done long rides with was the total opposite to me. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of, and love for, every road within a four hour radius. Once, far away in Suffolk (or maybe Norfolk) on a short but quick descent, he called back, “Watch out. There’s a drain cover on the line in the next corner.” We were probably 60 miles from home.
I, on the other hand, had so little engagement in the aesthetic possibilities of a long ride that it was not uncommon for me to do a six-hour ride by doing four laps of a 90-minute ride.
So I have some resolutions for my long rides. First, I will get lost, and keep getting lost till there is no more lost left. Second, I will find someone to keep me company, even if they only want to do part of the ride. Third, and most important, I’m going to go slower. Much, much slower. Honestly, it’s the last one that will be most difficult.