Everyone has bad days on the bike, days when you can’t make it up a hill you’ve climbed dozens of times before or get dropped from the group unexpectedly. Maybe you feel completely flattened by a ride you thought you’d manage easily and are nervous about facing the same challenge again. Well, as any experienced cyclist will tell you, these days happen to everyone.
They strike without rhyme or reason and with absolutely no regard for your cycling goals or training plan. The important thing is finding ways to beat the negativity and find the motivation to ride again. No doubt that can be easier said than done, but here are some tips to help you understand those sluggish days and give yourself the strength to keep going.
Make sure you’ve ticked all the boxes
First things first, make sure you’re doing everything in your power to set yourself up well for a ride. If you have trained suitably, paced according to your ability, eaten and hydrated well, recovered from your last ride and worn appropriate clothing, you should be able to avoid having a bad day most of the time. However, even if you’ve adhered to every best practice and avoided some of the other classic mistakes, like poor bike maintenance or saddle position, you can still sometimes find yourself grinding to a halt.
Appreciate that your body is telling you something
If you’ve tried slowing down and refuelling, yet your body is still screaming for a break, you should listen. Although it might be telling you something you don’t want to hear, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate how amazing it is that our bodies find ways of communicating with us at all. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself to perform and recognising that today simply is not your day. It is important to be able to take a step back and keep the big picture in mind. A bad day doesn’t mean it’s all unravelling. Ignoring your body when it’s begging you to stop is what could end up damaging your ability to ride, not missing one training session.
Understand that hormones always play a role…
For women in particular, energy levels can fluctuate a lot throughout the month due to hormones. Stacy Sims, author of ROAR, a physiology-based nutrition and training guide designed for active women likes to say— ‘women are not small men,’ and how true it is. The book is about teaching women to adapt nutrition, hydration, and training to their unique physiology, learning to work with, rather than against, female physiology. For example, during ‘high-hormone phases’—a few days before getting a period—things like building muscle, recovery and staying hydrated become much more difficult. It doesn’t mean your menstrual cycle has to stop you from riding, but understanding what’s going on inside your body can make it a lot easier to plan for and accept changing energy levels.
…and affect everyone
That being said, hormones affect men too and can also have a significant impact on women at any time throughout the month. Cortisol, the stress hormone, has the ability to make you feel absolutely exhausted, even if you’re not currently feeling tensed or stressed out. A couple of hours driving, less sleep, or a busy day juggling lots of stuff could all contribute to an increase in cortisol levels. In order to figure out what factors impact you most, it’s a good idea to track performance and recovery so you can, over time, learn what makes you tired and adjust your training expectations accordingly.
Know that you can always blame the weather
If you’re sure you’ve done everything right and are healthy and well-rested, knowing that the elements are always working for or against you can provide some comfort. Even the slightest change in humidity or a breeze can make a big difference, you don’t need to be battling gale-force winds to have your ride effected. You might have thought you were just heading out for a causal ride, but biking into a strong wind can cause it to be seriously challenging. Sudden changes in temperature can also put the body under stress, increasing your heart rate and pushing your muscles to tire more easily. Accept that you can’t do anything about the weather and just be grateful for those perfect mornings when the sun felt incredible and the wind was at your back.
Remind yourself that you love cycling because it is challenging
Cycling can be tough, but that is probably one of the reasons why you love it. Know that every hard day presents an opportunity to learn something new and improve. If you’re in the middle of a long ride and start feeling sluggish, break up the rest of the route into manageable chunks. Make the top of the next climb, or even the next bend in the road your goal. Take it one step at a time and know that even the pros have off days. Remember that any form of exercise must reflect the rhythms of our bodies and that a hill ‘push’ is still a heck of a lot better than sitting on the sofa!