Bike riding may ultimately be a hobby for most of us, but it is also a painful, humbling and unrelenting pursuit that pushes us to our physical and mental limits. Training for cycling, especially over many years, teaches you lessons, develops skills and refines habits that help you navigate tough moments.
Here are a few life lessons only cyclists know:
MAINTAIN DISCIPLINE FOR THE LONG-HAUL
Training for cycling is hard and it takes patience to follow a training plan and keep easy days easy while pushing your limits on hard days. But training over time shows you benefit and reinforces the discipline of eating well, training smart and working on your weak points. The same discipline it takes to go out in the rain to ride or push that last interval can transfer to focus during a long work day to make your deadline or to simply to take care of your health by getting adequate sleep and good nutrition.
STAY FOCUSED UNDER PRESSURE
If you’ve ever stood on the start line waiting for the whistle that commences a mad rush of people to race at full speed to the first very tight corner, all while friends and family watch closely, you understand pressure. This feeling of nerves is something that can be tremendously uncomfortable but that ultimately trains you to handle uncomfortable situations and still perform. This feeling and techniques around warming up, visualization, breathing and focus have been huge aids during public speaking, job interviews and other high-pressure and often important moments.
CONTINUE TO RE-FOCUS AND SELF-TALK
Professional mountain biker Evan Guthrie shared his strategy for getting back on track after a bad first half of a race, “I love Hollywood football movies with their halftime speeches, and so I essentially give myself a ‘halftime’ talk during the race.” This skill of refocusing and restarting the race from ‘halftime’ can be applied to a bad day at work or any situation where you find yourself not doing as well as you would like. Give yourself a second to be upset, then get motivated and make a new plan to give your best.
OPTIMISM AND CONFIDENCE GO HAND-IN-HAND
Catharine Pendrel, a two-time mountain biking world champion, is known for attacking climbs with confidence and aggression. “I say focus forward and drive legs: I always want to be racing up rather than waiting for the race to come back to me.”
This self-talk and overall strategy exudes confidence in her ability (she has been a world champion after all!), but if you look closely, there is a philosophy we can all apply to our workouts and our lives. Stay focused on your own efforts, or ‘racing your own race’ and focus on putting your best into the present moment rather than dwelling on past mistakes or successes.
YOU HAVE TO START TO WIN
Cycling has shown me the value of showing up. It is easy to overlook the value of showing up prepared and ready to work each day. Showing up means having your gear ready, being healthy, having a plan and being motivated to work. You can’t control the exact result, or other people, but if you show up prepared to do work to the best of your ability you will be surprised how often you get ‘lucky.’ This is especially true over time, as other people get tired and distracted.
COMMUNITY IS IMPORTANT, ESPECIALLY ON THE LONG DAYS
Many people find cycling attractive because it is an individual sport, so they don’t have to rely on other people to practice or get out for a ride. Certainly, this is one of my favorite things about cycling, and I still enjoy riding and going on solo adventures weekly, but some of my fondest memories have been sharing great conversations on long rides, coffee breaks and even some ‘bad days’ with huge mechanical issues overcome thanks to friends. In the latter example of ‘bad days’ on the bike, it is possible to see how friends and community can help you get through tough days, share a fun experience or lend you a tool for that home renovation!
Phil Gaimon says it well in his book “Pro Cycling on $10 a Day:”
“Bike racing won’t look like much on a resume when it’s finished with me, but I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.[…] Even if I fail at this mission I’ll be more prepared for the next one, because no matter what happens in life, I will already have lived through it on a bike.”