I’d like to preface this blog by stating that I’m not technically mad. I don’t think.
However. We know that cycling is as much of a mental sport as it is a physical one, as Cycling Weekly explored recently.
And I think that for me this is even more true than it is for “normal” people. I have more bad rides than good, whatever the numbers say. And I’ve decided that this is almost entirely down to the passengers I’m carrying with me.
The first, and by far the heaviest, is Negative Nelly. Nelly is a dumpy, sad old elephant, who considers hard work to be a painful, noisome waste of the afternoon. If a hill starts to get steep, or I get a bit of pain in my knees, or there’s a click from the bottom bracket, or if there’s a headwind – ESPECIALLY if there’s a headwind – Nelly trumpets indignantly. If I’m going slower than I feel like I should be capable of, or slower than someone with whom I think I should be comparable, Nelly grumbles mournfully – “it’s just not worth it. You’re shit at this.”
And a lot of the time, it’s really, really hard not to give into her. If I don’t pay her attention, she jumps straight off the back of the bike and digs her voluminous plates into the ground, making the cranks feel like they’re set in treacle and my legs feel like they used to belong to an OAP.
I’ve even resorted to shouting at her (but only when I’m in the middle of the countryside and I’m pretty sure nobody can hear me shouting “F OFF!” at an imaginary elephant). But this just makes things worse. Nelly gives a startled trumpet and sets off rapidly in the opposite direction, taking my momentum and my willpower with her. Its at this point that I know that my ride is effectively over as a useful piece of training – even if I’m only a few miles in.
There is a only one person who can tame Negative Nelly, and that’s Positive Pete. Pete is a Jack Russell terrier – fit as a fiddle, lean as an Italian monument, he bounds up the road in front of me, encouraging me onward. “This is going brilliantly!” he chatters, excitedly scurrying back to the bike and nudging urgently on my shoulder to give me a couple of mph boost.
Pete knows that he can snap at Nelly’s heels and force her into a gallop. He can even grab a Snickers bar in his chops and entice her onward… and Nelly bloody loves a Snickers.
There’s just one problem with Pete. He’s a little dickhead who thrives on the misfortune of others. He only gets his tail in the air when someone else is having a bad day. If I go out on my own, nine times out of ten, Pete stays at home snoring in front of the fire. If I’m riding with someone else and they seem to be going well, Pete retires to his basket in a sulk, pausing to bite Nelly on the tail so that she begins to act up. But the minute they start to struggle, Pete pricks his ears up. “What’s this?” he sniffs, “an opportunity to impress someone? LET’S GO!” And off he charges, imaginary Snickers bar between his teeth, leaving a startled Nelly no choice but to follow.
I have no idea where Pete developed this addiction to schadenfreude, but it is very real and occasionally very effective. But I fear it makes me into a horrible, unpleasant individual. Furthermore, basing your training on the misfortune of others is somewhat ineffective when you belong to a club full of superb riders (two TCR finishers, some cat 2 racers, long distance time triallists and the like). More often than not, I find myself mentally comparing myself to a friend and clubmate, realising I’m doing worse than they would be, and accidentally summoning a mournful Nelly to do her nihilistic thing.
So what can be done? God only knows, but I’ve started to imagine that I have a Snickers cannon mounted on my bars, which fires double-size bars for Nelly to chase. But like I said. I’m not technically mad. Until they catch me.