When I first started this cycling in the winter malarky last November-ish, I was a little shell-shocked, I have no problem admitting. Before then, I’d only ever taken the bike out of the shed between the months of June-October on days in between running days to get in some light cross-training. Come the end of October, I’d typically have packed in the bike after running the Dublin Marathon until starting running training properly again in Spring.
Alas, times have changed. Having not been able to run since last April, I’ve been on the bike 3-4 times a week and have pedalled on through the winter months. It’s been cold, it’s been wet and yes, it’s been emotional.
Depending on how you just read that, it could sound bleak. It’s not. Heading out early on a winter Sunday morning into a winter fog, trees frozen white and the fields hugging a low white fog… it’s nothing short of religious. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to over-romanticise it either – those mornings also involve freezing fingers despite wearing two pairs of gloves and numb feet (particularly the left one for some reason…) And on particularly cold days, it has also meant a very cold head.
Cycling in the winter months undoubtedly makes you tougher and more resilient as a cyclist. You don’t look out the winter and think “Nah, it’s too wet/ cold/ windy”. You don’t decide to turn back home just because the wind is kicking your ass after the first hour and you still have 2 more hours to go. If you can be soaked to the skin (wearing 2 jackets…), the wind blowing you backwards and take ANOTHER wrong turn and STILL keep going forward, that’s progress.
It might not feel like it at the time – in fact, it really doesn’t feel like it at the time – but that’s how you grow as a cyclist. It’s a lot like running that way – it’s all in your head. Your mentality is everything both in running and in cycling. Mental toughness is at least half of what makes up the essential ingredients for success.
Cycling this winter has been a revelation for me and also a kind consolation for not being able to run. It’s given me something to do when I couldn’t pop on my running shoes like I normally would every day. It’s given me the head space and time out I need on a daily basis. And it’s given me something fun to play around with while I wait for my feet to heal.
Having said that… I’m looking forward to the days getting longer and warmer, when I can head up into the Wicklow mountains without any fear of wet roads and, dear God, for those days when I don’t have to wear 3 layers of clothes on the bike! I can’t believe I used to just wear a short-sleeve cycling jersey, shorts and one pair of light socks… shocking.
The professional cycling season is about to get underway in earnest in next few months with the roll out of the Spring classics and I’m genuinely excited to see how it’s going to unfold. I may not be as tough as those guys, but cycling through these recent winter months, I could at least pretend to be for a few hours 😉
Happy January, roll on February!!