The days hope peaks

Winter training dreams on an autumn day.

Ronan Mc Laughlin
by Ronan Mc Laughlin 27.10.2023 Photography by
Gruber Images
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Winter is fast approaching for those like me in the Northern Hemisphere. Hopefully, also like me, you’ve been treated to some crisp autumnal days to break up the darkness of winter as the last of summer’s defences battle on despite the inevitable. There’s something about those final days of the season that fills me with hope, inspiration, and a newfound dedication. They recharge my two-wheeled love reserves that disappeared as summer waned, just in time for the trying months ahead.

Racing cyclists are a rare breed. We spend the entire winter looking forward to summer racing, only to get to summer racing and begin looking forward to winter training with the certainty that “next year will be better” with a productive off-season.

That hope peaks on these autumnal days. Plans are made, coaches enlisted, gym memberships considered, “starting Monday” becomes a weekly mantra. Dreams are not yet conceived, never mind missed.

Something about the blue skies and low sun makes goals seem much more achievable. There’s an intoxicating effect to autumn that makes every event and every goal seem SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely).

Right at the very moment when we should be taking a break from it all, most of us want to dive in deeper. Both feet first, at the deep end. Train now, rest later. Make base while the sun shines. It’s entirely natural; what is an athlete without hope? Try being a competitive cyclist without sometimes being delusionally optimistic.

The most experienced riders and the very best coaches know the perils of positively pacing a winter training period. Harvesting miles is all too easy during this rustic time of year. Those in the know understand that it’s not what you do in the golden hue of autumn that makes a season, but having the reserves to maintain consistency through the gloom of winter and early race season. Rest now to rock later.

What we do, racing bikes, isn’t always natural. Balancing that genuine autumnal motivation with our body’s natural reserves isn’t always easy. There should be confidence that comes with years of training, but the mind still wanders: I’m getting older, so I need more training. More is better! Can I front-load the base miles? I haven’t done enough this year. Almost always, these are the wrong answers.

If I’ve learned anything about training in the 20 years I’ve been trying to create the perfect winter, it’s that life is easier on these perfect autumn days; don’t try to make it difficult. Still, though, I’m unsure if I’m writing this as training advice for the reader or trying to convince myself. That’s the beauty of an Autumn bike ride.

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