Why setting goals didn’t work for me

Last year I entered my first races, having a go at closed road circuit races, fixed gear crits, cyclocross races and cross-country mountain biking.

Now, from reading this blog, and knowing my background as a pro-snowboarder, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m incredibly fit and that racing should come easily to me. WRONG! Back at school, I wasn’t particularly into PE, or any of the traditional school sports. And because of that, I didn’t really consider myself sporty; nuts really when I was going to gymnastics, dance classes, swim club and riding horses every day after school.

me as a kid playing cricket

The main problem was, I struggled with bog-standard/trad/boring fitness stuff. I was useless at running; I kid you not that I could barely manage 800m around the athletics field, and I found hockey annoying as you had to run so far after the ball, only to turn around and run back in the other direction.

The sports I enjoyed then, and continue to enjoy now, have always been those where exercise is an incidental part of what I’m doing. I’ve never made and effort to get fit, and I’ve never enjoyed punishing workouts. I ride my bike a lot but out of pleasure, rather than any desire to get stronger.

But last year, the few races that I tried made me realise how fast, fit and strong my competitors were, and that just riding however and whenever I felt like it, clearly wasn’t enough. I decided after panting my way around the track, that it would be even more fun if I was faster and in slightly less pain when racing. The only way to achieve this was to train with specific goals using a structured approach.

I decided to enlist the help of a coach. For both financial and logistical reasons, my coach and I wouldn’t actually meet up, I’d just be set weekly training plans which I’d complete on my own, giving feedback about how it was going.

After working out my max heart rate, I began to train using a heart rate monitor and my Garmin, duly setting off to complete the appropriate ride on the day marked out on my chart.

juliet rollers

The first couple of weeks were quite fun; I really enjoyed the fact that I ‘had’ to ride as it meant I prioritised cycling over other distractions, and I was able to make the excuse, ‘I have to train,’ before disappearing off on my bike without doing the washing up.

But after my first fortnight, I noticed a change, and not a good one: when I went out riding, I couldn’t stop watching the bloody Garmin and seeing how many minutes I’d ridden, or how many I had left to do.

Fairly often, when riding at a challenging pace I’d keep looking at the clock, and thinking ‘god, have I only done 25 minutes?’ Time seemed to go really slowly, cycling began to seem harder and I became fixated by the time and my heart rate to the exclusion of all else. I could be cycling along Devon’s picturesque coast and I wouldn’t be enjoying the sensation of freedom I normally loved, I wouldn’t be enjoying ‘letting go,’ and settling into a hypnotic rhythm.

Normally, when I ride, I set off wherever I fancy, then add in extra bits when I see somewhere I like the look off, sometimes chucking in a few hills just for the sake of a coastal view, often riding for an extra couple of hours just because the sun is shining and I’m enjoying myself. But with a set amount of time that I ‘had’ to log, when I realised that I hadn’t ridden for long enough and had to chuck in an extra loop before home, I’d really resent it.

Setting a goal of riding for say, two hours at a certain intensity was making me feel far less like riding for two hours. If I just set off for a ride and happened to start enjoying pushing myself, I could quite easily ride at an even greater intensity for three hours, just because I felt like it, but tell me I had to, and I just didn’t want to!

The last thing I wanted was to spoil one of my favourite activities, and trying to achieve these goals, was doing just that. So I very quickly threw in the towel in and quit my training regime, almost before it really started.

So now I’m back to riding for pleasure, and without any goals in place, I’m always eager to jump of my bike! I’d quite happily ride my road bike all morning, then jump on my mountain bike or BMX all morning. I just love riding!

So, sure, I could be much faster if I’d stuck with my training plan, but it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy heart rate training/torture and I’m not one of them. Secretly, I’d like to be stronger, but it seems like the only way to get there is to knuckle down and do stuff that I don’t like doing. So I’ll remain slower than I could have been, but I’ll remain happy and keep smiling every time I go for a ride.

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