When was the last time that you simply went for a ride? Or conversely, when was the last time that you actually trained? It’s a simple question, but a loaded one all the same. Not surprisingly, though, red-faced passion inevitably takes over the debate, regardless of the side that you find yourself on, and the logic of the matter falls flat. Some “Lycra jocks” are serious to a point of fault, while the tweed ride crowd can’t always see beyond their pannier-laden Rockhoppers to pursue cycling with more rigor. Surely, not every lunch ride is an act of training. And surely, there’s a point of equilibrium in cycling where semantics and definitions lose meaning. Like all things, though, I believe in the middle path to cycling enlightenment, and with some adjustment, you’ll find the sweet spot, too. Here’s how I found it.
First, it’s important to remember that, regardless of whether you’re the competitive or the soul-surfer type, we all ride for the same primitive reason — we enjoy it. And there’s a basic harmonious truth that unites both sides, too — we will all inevitably suffer. It’s how much that we choose to live in this pain cave, though, that separates the recreational from the motivated. But where is the line drawn between training and plain ol’ riding?
For some, the motivation to ride is rooted in competition. For others, it’s simply boiled down to the experience of being out on the road. But unknowingly, both camps are driven by experiences, albeit varied. In fact, both parties actually benefit from a little motivation lending. Let me explain this in a more personal context.
My days of competition are long behind me. After all, I’m nearly old enough for Masters, and frankly, my wife won’t let me get carried away with the risk and money of racing anymore. However, my competitive nature hasn’t wavered much since I hung up my cap. And while I haven’t ridden with a computer in almost four years, I’m still motivated to tackle big climbs and get in long rides. To me, the challenge of riding through mental monuments is inspiring, and it gives purpose to getting out on the bike. But if I were to only slow pedal to the farmer’s market on the weekends, my real ambitions in the saddle would never be realized. In this sense, many of my rides are in fact training, only without a firm personal definition.
To ensure that I’ll be strong enough to do the kind of rides that I actually enjoy, I’ve found it healthy to set goals throughout the year. It gives me something to work towards, which means that I have a motivation to ride more and to eat well. This year, I’ll be focusing on two rather lengthy rides/races, the Huntsman 140 and the Tour de Park City. And at 140 and 160 miles respectively, I’ll need to be “training” to even finish either ride. However, when it comes down to race day, I’ll simply be going at my own pace, not jumping off the front right after the neutral start.
In this sense, I’ve been able to contort the definition of racing to meet my own motivations — simply riding. Without doing so, I wouldn’t get stronger, and I wouldn’t be having as much fun. The same approach can be adopted, with great success, by the regimented racer as well. It’s important to give yourself a break. After all, there’s more to cycling than training blocks and intervals. Even if it’s something as small as riding to work or to the market, riding for pure enjoyment will help you advance throughout the year without getting burnt out. No, you don’t have to go to bike prom and Critical Mass, but hitting some gravel and exploring will only help to diversify your experience. You’ll be increasingly well rounded, and dare I say it, happier.
That’s the quick and dirty response to the question posed in the title of this piece. Are you training, or are you riding? You should be doing both, but more importantly, you should be doing more of whatever it is that makes you happy. If you abandon definitions and embrace cycling for what it truly is, you’ll find your middle path, too. Here’s to good riding.