I spent a few days in Portugal recently. In the interests of full disclosure, I was there because someone had offered me a free holiday, and I accept that this would tend to make you rather kindly disposed towards the place. All the same, it was very nice. The temperature was in the mid-twenties, the sky was blue, and even the bigger roads were so devoid of traffic that after a while it started becoming a bit unsettling.
Portugal is full of fortified villages at the tops of hills, so almost every climb finishes with a decent cafe and some nice old buildings to look at, which is more than can be said for the Alps, where most climbs top out with a dead cow and half-a-dozen rusting Coke tins in a ditch. So all in all, it was a lovely few days.
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The hangover, of course, is that I arrived back to a winter of rain and wind and cold. It’s the time of year when your motivation hits rock bottom. All there is to look forward to is ice and snow, getting fat at Christmas, and reaching next April in exactly the same state of overweight inadequacy as I reached last April.
When this failure of enthusiasm overwhelms me, I think back to a conversation with my friend Bernard, from a few years ago. He’d be horrified if he thought he’d delivered a motivational pep talk, and personally I’m inclined to write it off as an accident, but nonetheless, it’s helped me through several long dark winters.
The fear factor
“I know what people like you think,” said Bernard when the topic came up, “that you have to focus on setting positive goals. Race results, long rides, personal bests, progressively increasing your functional threshold power.” The last three words dripped with contempt.
“Here’s how a real cyclist gets from October to March,” he continued. “It’s fear. There’s two basic terrors. The first is that you’ll get fat. You have to stay paranoid about it. Just remember that it takes five miles to burn off a sausage, six if you use tri-bars.
“Your second basic terror is humiliation. If you don’t do the miles, then the miles will do you. Just think of that bit where the last wheel of the group is easing out of reach, and you have to choose between riding home on your own, knowing they’re all sniggering about you, or asking them to slow down so they can snigger to your face.”
He shuddered like a pro cyclist forced to choose between his asthma inhaler and his hay fever injections.
I found that, while it hardly constituted positive thinking, I could sympathise with quite a lot of this. But he hadn’t finished.
“So, fear is how you get the miles in. But for quality interval training, there’s anger,” he said. “That’s how I manage to do intervals on my commute home all through the winter — I start a row at work before I leave.”
I know this is broadly right — though a former colleague of his told me that since Bernard usually spends the working day very obviously watching cat videos on YouTube, when he packs up to leave half an hour early, the row pretty much starts itself.
“The only thing better for intervals than my job was my divorce,” he said. “Because that was a non-stop string of angry exchanges before I went training, and then after I’d done an hour of intervals, I’d be scared to go home, so I’d ride around until she went to bed and get some miles in as well. Anger plus fear. It was perfect.”
He sighed contentedly at the memory. “That was my best season ever.”
Dr Hutch’s delightful and free holiday was with Volta Pro Tours.