Journals Riders

Abi Smith journal: the art of rest and recuperation

Rider journals 2021: Abi Smith #02/February

Abi Smith is one of nine cyclists keeping rider journals for The British Continental in 2021. First-year senior Abi rides for Great Britain Cycling Team’s Senior Academy this season. In her second entry, Abi talks lockdown, recuperating from injury and her passion for art…

2021 woohoo! This year has got to be better than the last one, right? Currently – wrong. 

I can spend hours and hours sat at my little artist’s workplace: easel set up by the window, canvases scattered around the floor

Lockdown number I’ve-lost-count (three maybe?) kicked in on the 4th January, followed by unrideable snow and ice conditions, followed by cancelled flights to our training camp at the end of the month, followed by a crash and knee injury, followed by more variants of ‘you know what’, followed by Storm Christoph…

Sorry, a lot in there; I’ll take it back a step. So yes, the big thing for me was a little get down early January in training. My own fault – underlapped the wheel behind a Madison change – the classic rookie mistake. Blessed is the day chaos will cease to follow my every move. At first, I thought I’d come out of it very lucky, having only had a few cuts and bruises and thankfully no one else coming down. It was then a few days later after trying to ride normally that I realised that my left knee was in a lot of pain which grew as I continued to train on it. I have had quite a few knee issues in the past, but this one felt a little different, so I wasn’t quite sure how to approach treating it. I had lots of physio sessions and carried on doing ‘wishy-washy’ rides for the next week or so, but to no improvement. It was time to knock this on the head with a bit of time off the bike. Time to grit my teeth and become *dun dun DUNNN*… a normal person.

This lockdown has felt like the hardest one so far. You wake up – it’s dark. A cold and cloudy day follows and then by 3 pm it’s dark for another five or six hours before it’s acceptable to retreat to bed. All of us cyclists know how fortunate we are to have our bikes to be able to get outside in the fresh air. Unfortunately, most of us cyclists also know what it is like to be ill or injured. We’re accustomed to the worry of losing all the fitness you’ve just gained, fretting over how long you’ll be off for, and overthinking everything far too much. When the bike is put away and you’re forced to rest for a while, whilst everyone else is pulling on their overshoes and leaving for their ride in the morning, it does take its toll.

Abi’s art: Facebook / Instagram

But I tell you, it’s surprising how busy you can make yourself if you completely forget about the cycling part of your life. Small walks, housekeeping, reading, calls home, shopping, sleeping well; it all meant I could keep some kind of a routine going and feel like I’d done something productive each day stuck inside.

Being a bit of a perfectionist is a good thing if you’ve got lots of time your hands, and eye-popping-ly stressful if you don’t

My biggest saviour was and is painting. It was a choice between Art and PE to take at A Level last year, with the other spots already taken with Biology, Geography and Psychology (which after one term became too much to handle – don’t do four!). So I chose PE with my cycling just taking off and Art taking up a humungous amount of time and effort. Being a bit of a perfectionist is a good thing if you’ve got lots of time your hands, and eye-popping-ly stressful if you don’t. So this was the perfect opportunity to start a brand new project and direct my focus onto another thing that I enjoy doing, but has always been put on the backburner whilst cycling is the main priority. 

Abi’s art: Facebook / Instagram

I can spend hours and hours sat at my little artist’s workplace: easel set up by the window, canvases scattered around the floor and doing my best to avoid having to redecorate the entire room after I finish. Don’t get me wrong, I need a break from it now and again, but it’s very satisfying and I am proud of myself if I’ve done a good job on a finished piece of work. The main project I took up was a big landscape image in the Lake District, which we always go to as a family every year (correction, most years…). I love to paint the scenery around me and be able to bring home some of the memories back that I see when I’m outside. The beauty of some places in the world is too good not to put down on canvas, and I intend to do many more paintings of many more places in the future too.

At the time of writing I am not out of the woods yet. I’m still in the process of returning to normal training, but so far things are looking up and the problem knee is no longer having any trouble, provided I look after it well. It’s amazing how stiff and tight muscles can get even after one session, so keeping the body loose is something really important to both avoid injury and also to get more out of a ride. 

What have I learned:

  1. Respect when your body needs some proper rest. Even if it’s not from a crash, you can easily dig yourself into a hole from training non-stop for a long period of time as well.
  2. Look after yourself, both in terms of physically staying on top of stretching and foam rolling, but also having frequent communication with family and friends to stay happy and optimistic.
  3. Treat each ride like it’s your last. Look forward to it, make the most of it and enjoy it (and the excessive amounts of food afterward). It’s funny how much more you appreciate something when it’s taken away from you, so make the most of being able to ride carefree and crazily when you can!

Right then, come on February, you’ve started OK so far so let’s keep the ball rolling into Spring…

Featured photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

Find out more

Abi Smith journal #1: new starts

Rider journals 2021: introducing Abi Smith

Follow Abi on Twitter

Follow Abi on Instagram