I was lying on my sofa recently, staring blankly at the ceiling. I had been trying for the previous 20 minutes to summon the energy to get up and have something to eat, then perhaps to wash my bike, and then go and get on with the thing it amuses me to call my ‘life’. But I just couldn’t be bothered.
It was blissful. It was that proper tiredness I’ve mentioned before — the exhaustion of the just-finished training. As I lay there I thought that if I could find a way to feel this lethargic yet smug without actually having to ride a bike for four hours, I could probably give up cycling altogether.
“Perhaps some valium and a sizable donation to Friends of the Earth would do the trick,” I mused. It combines all the satisfaction of a deep sleep with actually being awake to enjoy it.
It is, of course, only one of the varieties of exhaustion with which the bike rider is familiar. I thought it might be helpful if I tried to delineate some of them, the better to recognise and enjoy them. A taxonomy of tiredness, if you will.
Forms of fatigue
So we shall start with ‘sprinter’s uselessness’. This is known only to pure track sprinters like Jason Kenny, and I don’t really claim to understand how a grown-up can be reduced to a limp rag by half a dozen 10-second efforts spaced out over three hours. But it happens.
I’ve seen the strapping young men that British Cycling used to employ to carry Sir Chris Hoy home from Manchester Velodrome in a sedan chair, and it was clearly the only realistic way to move him after he’d been training.
Next, ‘interval leg-fever’. This is the feeling that two small teams of Scandinavians have set up a sauna in each of your thighs that comes when you’re trying to recover from bashing out too many intervals on a turbo or a gym bike with too little air conditioning.
The conflagration will not be limited to your legs. Quickly your whole-body temperature will reach such heights that you will be able to spray sweat straight out of your skin like a small hairy raincloud for up to an hour after finishing training.
The only upside for office workers is that if you do the training in your lunch break, and put on a dark shirt before returning to work, you can guarantee that everyone will leave you well alone for the rest of the day.
There are more chronic varieties of tiredness as well. There is ‘third- vest malaise’. This is what you get after a couple of weeks of bleak winter riding, where more than 50 per cent of your available riding time is taken up with the selection and donning of complicated selections of layered clothing in an attempt to combine achieving warmth, while avoiding the sort of personal microclimate that sets off alarms on the NASA atmosphere-monitoring satellites when you get home and start taking it all off again and hanging it over radiators.
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There is ‘virtual tiredness’. This is the sort of exhaustion you get from looking at something like a photo of Mont Ventoux for too long. It’s much exacerbated if you’ve committed yourself to actually riding up whatever mountain it is you’re looking at, and it’s 100 times worse again if you haven’t done enough training.
Curiously, this is the only variety of tiredness that actually gets worse the less bike riding you do.
Finally there is the ‘anecdotal tiredness’ that comes only with listening to a mate’s 50th repetition of the story about the day he outsprinted Mark Cavendish, probably in some race of which no official record can ever be found, and the details of which change just a little from repetition to repetition.
It’s the only sort of tiredness that can actually inspire you to get up and go for a nice long ride.