Ok, I admit it. These last ten days have seen my motivation skydive, the weather has been grey and wet, my power meter is not telling me what I want to hear and university exams have done a stunning job of getting in the way of training. At this time of year, the start of the season still feels like a long way off – even if this isn’t the case in reality.

I have had to take all my own advice, as outlined in this post in order to stop myself taking an unnecessary backward step by missing a few sessions. One thing stated in every training manual I have ever read is the importance of consistency. In this case I diagnosed the problem as that of worrying too much about the numbers and forgetting to just enjoy my time in the saddle. Becoming a slave to the numbers is an easy mistake to make, decreased wattage really can feel like the end of the world if you aren’t careful. Of course it helps to put things in perspective here – the world is not going to end if you fail to raise your FTP.

So it was that I decided an unstructured ride was needed. I am lucky enough to have a national park right on my doorstep, namely Dartmoor. Famous for interchangeable weather, monstrous climbs and equally deadly descents. However – it makes up for this by playing host to some of the best views in the UK, you are almost always rewarded for struggling up a 20% leg burner. I have largely avoided it recently, not wanting to overly stress my body during the early stages of base training. On this particular day, I simply thought, “to hell with it“. After stuffing my jersey pockets with gels and packing my saddlebag with tools for just about every eventuality I could think of – it was time to go.

Fortunately the weather had improved by now, there was at least a hint of sunshine and only minor showers were forecast (for January in the UK this counts as pretty favourable). I made sure that the Garmin only displayed the route, no numbers to dampen the experience. I have to say that it felt liberating to not be glancing down at that little screen every 30 seconds. Getting out of the city was fairly painless, aside from a few 4×4 drivers who did seem to think that the road was theirs and theirs alone. I won’t deny that a few expletives were exchanged.

The ride then proceeded to get worse. One thing I had not banked on was the presence of ice on the back roads. As any sensible Cyclist knows, caution is always the best policy in these situations – suffice to say I was coming down one particularly nasty descent when yet more ignorant road users were encountered. This time taking the form of two horse riders – who knew that riding side by side and completely blocking the road was such a good idea before an icy blind bend? By the time I encountered them it was almost too late, I may have only been doing 10 mph but stopping distances on ice are far longer, especially on a road bike. One of the pair screamed at me to stop – seemingly unaware that I was doing my level best not to fall off into the path of her mount. I was then treated to a torrent of abuse, culminating in “do you want me to get thrown off ?”.

Somewhat ironically the horse only began to fret when the shouting started, my presence drew nothing more than one slightly startled look. Here is the thing – I have an equestrian background and as such know exactly what it is like to be in ‘control’ of an animal with a mind of it’s own. I could have happily pointed out what the rider was doing wrong, i.e. getting very worked up, raising her voice and wildly gesticulating with her arms which would have of course made the animal more nervous. In this case I refrained from doing so in case the woman actually exploded. Anyway – rant over.

So far the ride that was supposed to remind me of why I got into Cycling and serve to get my head back on track was doing just the opposite. Fortunately, once out of the valleys and up onto the moor itself the situation did improve. I was treated to snow capped peaks on the right and wide open moorland on the left –  even catching side of a few wild ponies (mercifully rider free). The usual sounds that accompany a ride faded away, it was almost eerily quiet – totally devoid of traffic. This left me free to concentrate on the riding itself, revelling in the simply pleasure of pedalling a bicycle. Except of course for the odd surprise encounter with a 25% rise that seemed to come out of nowhere.

One particular highlight was the final major descent. Almost alpine in nature with decent visibility and an absence of traffic, it allowed me to release the brakes and experience the thrill of free speed. Man and machine, with only the former to blame should anything go wrong – it’s an adrenaline rush that we Cyclists know and love. Of course, once off the moor reality returned in the form of people and vehicles – time to get back home and enjoy a well earned recovery drink. After a poor start this ride had done it’s job perfectly.

Here is another funny thing – whilst I hadn’t been looking at power numbers during the ride I was curious to see the data afterwards. In comparison to the last few weeks, there was a big improvement – a normalised power higher than I had been able to sustain for that length of time during the course of the winter so far. Not to mention a surprisingly high average speed, considering the 5,000 feet of climbing and persistent headwind. In this case that old adage that you will go faster if you are enjoying yourself held perfectly true.

The moral of the story is this. Next time you are fed up with training, take that word out of the equation and replace it with simply riding. Rather than having a goal of maintaining a certain power / heart rate, just try and have a good time. It really does work wonders.

Thanks for reading. As always, stay tuned.

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