Chrissie Slot and nine other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental in 2021. Chrissie only started cycling three years ago and this season will be her first year racing at the national level, a big step in her fledgling career. She will ride for Brother UK – Team OnForm. In her second journal entry, she explains why she’s taking a step back from training and is seeking to redefine how she views success…
It’s funny how over time, things change. When I started cycling towards the end of 2017, the reasons for doing it were simple: the fresh air, scenery, endorphins, café stops, vitamin D. I never knew what a power meter was. I didn’t even record my rides. Now, however, I have metrics for everything: heart rate, power, cadence, HRV.
I think time away from something, whether forced or not, can always bring positives
Don’t get me wrong, I love that side of things; I’m a massive data geek. But recently, if I’m honest, things have started to get a bit out of hand. As training’s become a bigger part of my life, measures of my performance seem to matter to me much more now than they used to. So much so, I’ve sometimes felt like I’m training for my power meter, rather than with it!
My coach said to me on the phone the other week: “I want you to get the word ‘training’ out of your head. If you’re going to work on anything, work on your mindset”. As hard as that was to hear, it was the best advice. I think time away from something, whether forced or not, can always bring positives. Having the mental capacity to think clearly, now that I’m not always tired from training, has given me a chance to reflect on some topics that I never usually think about – like how I view success.
I’ve been trying to view success as more of an internal thing, focusing on what’s fulfilling rather than what ‘looks good’ on paper
Growing up competing in sport, the idea of success and failure has been ingrained in me as being quite black and white: winning and losing; gaining selection or not. Basically, it has been skewed towards external achievements. I think that’s why I’ve always seen ‘turning pro’ as success and subconsciously put pressure on myself to achieve that as a cyclist. But recently I’ve started speaking to a psychologist, which has been really eye-opening. Since then, I’ve been trying (try being the key word…) to view success as more of an internal thing, focusing on what’s fulfilling rather than what ‘looks good’ on paper.
I won’t lie and pretend that my mentality has suddenly transformed overnight! However, taking a step back to think about why I ride, and choose to dedicate so much time and energy to it, has benefited my riding massively – self-awareness being the biggest thing that’s improved. From past experience, I think when you’re so driven to achieve a goal, it’s tempting to not listen to the little warning signs your body gives you. So, personally, trying to separate success from performance has made me more mindful of how I’m feeling on the bike, meaning taking rest has been easier.
So while I’m taking a break from structured training, I’m shifting my focus onto other things. Nutrition is an area that’s always fascinated me, especially its impact on athletic performance. I’m no nutritionist, but in my opinion, food doesn’t just fuel your body, it also fuels your brain. Maybe it’s my psychology background speaking, but I think there’s so much to be said for the concept of ‘happiness watts’ (the idea that power comes easier when you’re happy!). I read some papers on this topic recently which talked about how our perception of pain, or how hard we’re working, is based entirely on what our brain tells us. So the way I see it, keeping that side of things happy with good-tasting food should in theory make you a faster bike rider, right?
Before anyone says, I’m not suggesting people start fuelling their rides with cheesecake and chocolate! The point I’m alluding to is that balance in everything is key. If I’m being honest, the concept of ‘balance’ is something I never really understood until recently. I’m naturally a perfectionist, so I’ve always found missing a training session or even having a takeaway a bit uncomfortable. But reading The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters has helped me understand the concept a bit better. In a nutshell, his theory is that there is a ‘chimp’ inside us all; an inner voice that runs on emotional thinking. It often clashes with the logical ‘human’ side of our brain. He says how important it is to work with your chimp, not against it. Amber Pierce on the TrainerRoad podcast was talking about this, and says she even gives her chimp a name!
Back to how this relates to riding – I guess what Steve Peters means is that it’s all well and good having long-term goals, like turning pro, as long you enjoy what you’re doing in the moment most of the time. Personally, I know I need to check in with myself a bit more, and as clichéd as it sounds, ‘enjoy the process’. My coach put it another way, he said to me, “Imagine you have a basket of morale berries. Fun things give you more of them, and things like riding in grim weather use them up. Always try and go into a training block with a full basket”. Wise words!
Although I’m the sort of person who likes to plan ahead, ironically, my plan for the next few weeks is to have no plan. Strip things back to basics, fill my (currently empty) basket up with morale berries, and ride for the love of riding. Things are always evolving. So I’m sure that when the time’s right, my motivation to train hard will resurface, hopefully in time for some racing!
Featured photo: Tom Aldous
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