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7 December 2016 No comments

Learning to listen is tough

Correspondence Friends Sports Cycling
By Juliet Elliott
Learning to listen is tough

As a competitive cyclist, I’m in a bit of a funny position when it comes to the relationship with my body. I train really hard both on the bike and off, putting myself through high intensity interval sessions, circuit training, strength training workout and long, long rides, all of which can be, even have to be hard work.

I prise myself out of bed on cold, dark mornings and head out into the lanes when sometimes, I’d secretly like another half hour in bed. I dutifully complete my sets of burpees, squat jumps and medicine ball slams down the gym when my thighs are burning, never skipping a set, never taking shortcuts. I turn my pedals round, round and round again, challenging myself to complete intervals at the desired power zone when truly, I’d have stopped long ago if it weren’t for what I’d written on my training plan.

Because that’s what you do when you’re training, you push yourself beyond what’s easy and what’s comfortable.

When it comes to big, tangible improvements, delving deep is what it takes so I’ve become a master at shutting out the voices telling me to stop when things are hurting. If I gave up whenever things got difficult, I’d never become fitter, stronger, faster or tougher so I ignore my moaning body and do what’s necessary. No pain, no gain, right?

It’s almost a badge of honour amongst cyclists to be able to ‘suffer’ on the bike as attested by some of the ridiculous names given to some sportives, so along with working on my body, I’ve trained my mind to be strong. I’m proud that I can block out what my body is saying as experience shows that my mind knows better than my tortured limbs. And in doing so, I’ve learnt to go harder and faster than ever before and hold my own against previously impenetrable fields. Which can only be a good thing, right?


Just recently, I’ve come to realise that just occasionally your body does actually know what it’s talking about and it’s screaming ever so hard to get your attention. And that sometimes when your body speaks, you need to listen, however reluctantly. You can’t just keep hammering away at it and kind of giving yourself a kicking; sometimes you need to be kind. It doesn’t come naturally to me. But I’m working on it.

When I first began working with a coach last year, I was actually horrified by how many rest days he prescribed, thinking that so much time not riding would be detrimental to my performance on the bike. But surprise, surprise, he knew what he was talking about.

Rest days are as valuable as training days – it’s when your body catches up with all the hard work you’ve done and makes sense of it. Your muscles repair themselves after the stresses of training, ultimately becoming stronger. Rest days mean you can give your training 100% next time, rather than half arse it. So rather than days off being a cop out and a wasted opportunity, they’re smart, delivering benefits that equal the days on the bike. It’s about balance.

Unfortunately though, mine is out of whack. Having been off the bike for extended periods of time this year with various injuries and ailments, I’m finding it so hard to get back to training like I was and I’m right back to being anxious about rest days and skipping opportunities to progress. Feeling like I have so much missed training this year, I’ve lost my patience and my ordered, methodical approach has gone out the window. Instead, I’m trying to cram as much in as I can, going as hard as possible every single time I’m on the bike.

After five weeks on in September/October I was given the go ahead to ride again (again). I quickly drew up a brutalizing training plan and got stuck right in, scheduling back to back ‘double days’ of gym and cycling right from the get go. Did it work? Did it hell!

At the end of the week, my body just said no. And this time I had to listen. Barely able to keep my eyes open with seized, knotted glutes and hips, I took three consecutive days off cycling, went for a swim and a massage, bought some bath bombs and bubble bath and hunkered down with our four cats. Several episodes of Narcos later, it’s time to get back on two wheels, but this time I’ve learned my lesson.

Because riding a bike, after all, is about balance; without it you’ll fall off.