The mindful cyclist
Five ways to stay motivated this winter
Emily Chappell was the first female to cross the line in the 2016 Transcontinental – one of the world's toughest ultra-endurance cycling events. The courier, bike packer and Adventure Syndicate athlete took 13 days, 10 hours and 28 minutes to ride 3,800km from Belgium to Turkey, often riding through the night, so she knows a thing or two about staying motivated. Here, she explains how deep thinking can help you keep riding through winter.
I often find myself trapped between a rock and a hard place in winter. Like most people I find it difficult to gather the motivation to cycle but if I avoid the cold weather for too long, I find myself longing to be outside. And whilst I’ll play all sorts of games to avoid getting myself out the door, as soon as I’m on the bike things feel instantly better. They always do.
Here are a few other ways I’ve found to keep myself going:
Draw on experience
Whether I’m calling on the strength that past suffering has given me, or hearkening back to the glory days of Alpine climbs in August, it helps me to remember that there is more to riding a bike than just this grey, damp, gloomy February road. No matter how uninspiring a dark winter afternoon might feel, I can always remind myself that I’ve come through worse.
Regulate your tempo and your temperature
One of the biggest headaches of cold weather cycling is constantly having to break your rhythm in order to unzip for a climb, or don arm warmers and a gilet for a descent, or feeling your fingers freeze as the cold wind slices through your sweaty gloves. I set myself the challenge of starting every ride with exactly the right combination of kit, and then varying my tempo with the terrain so that I’m never uncomfortably hot or cold. And just sometimes, I get it exactly right.
Make human connections
Share your rides with friends, either in person or via social media – or have a post-ride telephone debrief while you do your stretches. No one sympathises quite like a fellow cyclist, and having someone to share your struggles with instantly elevates them to good stories. Hearing your friend’s admiration for the fortitude you’ve shown in going out will remind you that you’re the heroic sort of person who does go out when it’s lashing down with rain. (Or there’s always the chance that your friend will have completed a far longer, harder ride than you have, in which case you’ll just have to get back on your bike the next day and live up to their example.)
Assess the risks
Sometimes it’s really not a good idea to go out. If there’s a strong side wind, or ice on the road, there’s a much stronger chance your ride will end in the emergency room and you’ll have to take weeks off to recover, all for the sake of a few kilometres. Keep your powder dry on the bad days and it’ll be an added incentive to get yourself out for longer on the good days. And when it’s dry and sunny, ride like there’s a week of headwinds and sleet just around the corner.
Look to the future
Remind yourself that every hour you spend on the bike over the winter builds towards all the rides, races and adventures you have planned for the summer. I visualise the smooth, sun-kissed tarmac of the Alps, imagine the remote and rugged gravel roads of the Balkans, or just try to picture the bare Welsh hedgerows I’m currently riding between bursting with blossom and bustling with birdsong, as they will be in just a few months. And by then I’ll be even faster.
On Sunday 22nd January Emily won the women’s solo Strathpuffer 24, a 24-hr mountain bike race in the Highlands of Scotland.
After the effort of riding on a miserable day, recover with our post-ride indulgences.