Sometimes, cycling can be every bit as tough on your mind as it is on your body.
It’s not that cycling is inherently difficult or devoid of pleasure, it’s just that many cyclists harbor a secret desire to conquer new challenges and can’t help but push themselves a little bit further than is comfortable sometimes.
Being a tough cyclist and being able to suffer has become a badge of honour for some.
The more you ride, the stronger this desire becomes.
It’s the motivation behind intentionally riding up stupidly steep hills that make our legs hurt or joining Sportives that proudly boast how tough they are. It’s why we ride until we’re so exhausted we need to spend the rest of the day horizontal on the sofa.
It’s definitely a desire that grows the more that you cycle. Could it be a switch that’s flicked once you’ve ridden 10,000 miles? I don’t know what it is, but one thing’s for sure, being a tough cyclist and being able to suffer has become a badge of honour for some, and I get that. I put myself through a lot in a quest for fitness and I’m no stranger to physical discomfort.
What I’m less happy with is mental discomfort on the bike.
I’ve noticed an awful lot of friends apologizing on rides for being slow, being crap at descending, or being weak.
Increasingly I find myself putting myself down when I find things tough on a ride. I find myself making extremely negative statements about my ability; irrational, stupid things that I’d be really pissed off about if I heard someone else say about my riding!
I spoke to some of my friends and they told me they do the same thing. I’ve also noticed an awful lot of them (and they’re nearly all women) apologizing on rides for being slow, being crap at descending or being weak. I even hear whole gaggles of women saying these sorts of things on the start line of a race!
I’ve learned to be strict with myself and to never apologise on a ride (because no one cares if you are the fastest or slowest so it’s unnecessary and annoying) and never to put myself down at a race (it helps whip up an unhelpful cloud of anxiety).
Riding and racing are fun and there’s no space for any of that nonsense.
Despite my self-discipline when it comes to verbalizing anxieties, I find it hard to silence the inner voice when I’m out on a really tough ride. So in an effort to shut down that stream I’m 'fessing up to the stupid things I say - and what I need to say to counter them. Feel free to use them!
How to silence your inner critic:
"I’m so slow."
Slow compared to whom? You’re faster than some, and slower than others.
"I can’t do this!"
Well, you ARE doing it, aren’t you? So clearly you can!
"Why is this so hard for ME? Everyone else is finding it easy."
No one is finding it easy; it just looks like that. Everyone’s legs hurt too, you just can’t tell.
"I shouldn’t have come."
Being here and struggling is better than not being here at all.
"This never seems to get any easier."
Only because you don’t allow yourself to take it easy. You’re tough and push yourself till it hurts. If you rode at the pace you used to ride, it would feel easy!
"I’ll never be good at this."
How do you know that? Do you have a crystal ball?
"I’m holding everyone up and they’re getting annoyed waiting."
The answer: That’s not true. Everyone is enjoying catching their breath for a second!
They say that mental strength is one of the most overlooked aspects of training, so start training yourself to challenge negativity with a response like some of those I’ve detailed above.
In my experience, it really is possible to change ingrained behaviour if you make the effort to do so, just as it’s all too easy to reinforce negative beliefs by repeatedly telling yourself you’re rubbish.
Join me in attempting to break that cycle this summer.
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