The COVID-19 One

It was all going so well. A phrase that I suspect will be on the lips of a large proportion of the world’s population at the moment. Being the chronic overthinker that I am, I came up with a great number of scenarios in which things went wrong in 2020. A global pandemic was not among them. It’s surreal to think that a few weeks ago, in the UK at least,  coronavirus was only a distant black cloud on the horizon. A problem in a far away corner of the world, that would never trouble these shores. Oh how wrong we were. I’m writing this five days into an unprecedented national lockdown.

So far, I’ve been very lucky. Whilst it would be very easy to fall into self pity over my research being suspended and not being able to see my friends, it’s important to have a sense of perspective. I’m young and healthy enough that my chances of survival, should I pick up COVID-19, are essentially 100%. I haven’t lost my income, had a vital operation postponed, or seen a loved one succumb to the virus.  In a world that tends to favour extroverts, it’s a good time to be an introvert. At this point, I’m itching to launch into a rambling anecdote about the value of self reflection and introspection. Having read some truly terrible ones over the last few days, and concluded that it’s hard to write such a thing without sounding like a sanctimonious narcissist, I’ll desist.

If you’ve read this far without closing the browser window with a sense of exasperation, kudos. I haven’t forgotten that this is supposed to be a blog about training, racing, and all things cycling. From this point onwards, I’ll try to stay on topic. Luckily, unlike in France, Italy, and Spain, ‘recreational cycling’ is still permitted over here. Where I live, it’s just about possible to go for solo training rides without breaking social distancing regulations. I’m pleased that bike shops have been deemed essential and kept open, lest we forget that millions of people, including a few healthcare workers, rely on the humble pushbike to get to and from work everyday.

If things continue as they are, the chances of the racing season going ahead are slim to none. It goes without saying that it’s very annoying to think of all those wet and cold pre-season training rides going to waste. I’ve been unusually good at keeping to my training program, having decided that things needed a rethink following a rather disappointing 2019 season. My trusty gravel bike has been bombproof, surviving floods, hidden potholes,  black ice, and just about everything else the roads of rural Devon could have thrown at it. One particularly memorable ‘highlight’, came when I had to shelter under a tree for 10 minutes due to a freak hailstorm occurring halfway through a 3 hour endurance ride.

I could go an all day about adapting training sessions, adjusting goals, and home workouts. It goes without saying that, within the weird and wonderful bubble that is the world of endurance sport, such things are important. Truthfully, in the midst of these uncertain times, it seems trivial to dedicate a post to the technicalities of interval training or a critique of periodisation models. Rather than improving my power output or reaching my race weight, my motivation for waking up and heading out on long, hard training rides is that of keeping up semblance of normality.

In a cruel twist of fate, when we’re only allowed the leave the house once a day, we’ve been treated to a couple of weeks of unusually warm weather. I’ve avoided a lot of my usual training routes, mainly out of fear of running into people with no regard for the distancing regulations that have been put in place. Sadly, there have been quite a few still wandering around in large groups. Instead, I’ve stuck to the remote lanes of Dartmoor. After a couple of hours riding around there at the best of times, you could be forgiven for thinking it was uninhabited. It’s been fun to re-discover some hidden climbs, test myself against block headwinds, and negotiate twisty descents, with only sheep and the odd pony for company.

Joy can be found in those brief moments; when you’re pushing as hard as you can at the top of a climb, letting go of the brakes on a descent, or simply getting lost in your surroundings. For a few precious seconds, you’re exclusively focused on one thing and one thing alone. You can forget about the problems facing the world, silence those nagging voices in the back of your mind, and experience a level of serenity that it’s difficult to reach by any other means. Of course, reality rapidly returns afterwards, often in the form of your legs running out of steam when there are still thirty miles left to ride. Anyway, you get the picture.

Thanks for reading.

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