This past Saturday morning, like many Saturdays here in Texas, presented the opportunity to ride in a bicycle rally. These are organized, pay-to-ride events with rest stops, support vehicles, and law enforcement protection, put on to benefit a non-profit or another organization beneficial to society.
(They're also called T-Shirt Rides because they always give away T-Shirts printed with the event name, logo, and sponsors. I have a ton of T-Shirts from these events.)
Not to say I ever stop on these rides, nor do most of the people I ride with. For us, it's a race, but lacking prizes or any sanctioning. A somewhat dangerous, disorganized race.
And I was tired. My legs felt like blocks, my heart rate would skyrocket at every moderate effort, and my stomach would turn if I burned the wick too long.
To explain, I have to go back a few more days. Last Saturday I raced in two circuit races (which I didn't win), and by the end of the second race my legs were shot. Not wise enough to rest, I rode trails on Sunday, another 2 hours on the bike. Still not resting, I did hill repeats on Monday, which are about as fun as they sound.
(If you're from a hilly / mountainous area and have been to North Texas, you're chuckling at the phrase "Hill Repeats". Trust me, you'd not be chuckling after you did a few of them with me, despite the short length of the climb.)
After that my legs were really screaming. I knew I was in trouble, so I took two days off, then went on a group ride on Thursday planning to take it easy. Or not, as I once again poured what little I had left out on the pedals. Wisely, I rested Friday.
So we're at the local rally on a perfect Saturday morning, I'm lined up at the front with 1000+ riders behind me. Most are recreational riders, but there's a small spattering of ridiculously fast racers. I felt the twinge of lingering fatigue in my legs, but hoped it would burn off after warming up.
Sadly, that wasn't to be the case. I was on the ropes within 10 miles and never really was able to get myself put together. I was a non-factor at the end of the ride.
So, yeah. I'm tired. I still want to ride, but I just have little more I can give.
Once I've hit this point, where deep fatigue sets in, I have to lay off the bike for a bit. It's like all things. Once we hit our limit, we have to dial it back or risk something more than simple fatigue. We risk getting sick; getting moody and irritable.
We risk burnout.
Fatigue is a funny thing. It's not necessary tired in a physical, or even mental sense. It can be the wearing down of interest - we can become tired of watching the same TV show, eating the same food all the time, or playing the same games. We get tired of our commutes, and we certainly get tired of our jobs.
We can burn out on all of those, fun or not. I try to avoid burning out on bicycling, while I'm not always successful I've found ways to help reduce the chances.
Know my limits.
I listen to my body and mind, I try to hear the signals when I'm getting worn down. It could be the immediate acid feel in my legs when I push, or the irritation at little things while on the bike. If I'm too tired to perform at the level I want, frustration can build.
It need not be my well being, but how the environment affects me: heat takes away my mental focus - motivation - at an incredible rate. Lack of sleep has a profound impact on my desire to ride in general (and is the primary reason I have stopped riding in 24 hour races). I am very sensitive to these limits about myself and strive to stay within them.
Mix it up.
About a year ago I hit the motivation wall. I had zero interest in the bike. I would ride, come back frustrated and disinterested. I'd take a week off, but it wouldn't change. 2 weeks off. 3 weeks off.
I dusted off my old mountain bike and did a trail ride. And absolutely stunk. So I did it again. And stunk. Again, and stunk, but a little less. I started to ride again.
I find new and different things to do. New routes, new groups. New intervals, new riding styles. I don't get stuck in a rut; I take advantage of different opportunities, I thrive on them, and I create diversity when I need something completely different.
No matter how much I mix it up, there will be times when I simply lack the fortitude to ride another mile. This is really hard for me, I have very poor throttle control when I'm on the bike; but, since I know that, I know a break for me is completely off the bike or scheduling rides with people who are much slower than I am.
I've realized I'm at my limit now, so I'm taking a full 4 days off before my next event.
It helps to remember that you only get faster when you take the time to recover.
Have purpose. (Or) Set (good) goals.
Motivation comes from having a reason to do what you're doing. There is only one reason someone would ride their bicycle in North Texas in July afternoon 110F heat: they have something they are trying to accomplish.
For me, it's not some grandiose, over-the-top goal (although some would disagree). I have a simple goal: podium in the 6 hour race this weekend (see? not grandiose). My riding goals typically range week-to-week ("win" this week's rally), punctuated with targeted events (win a specific race). Last year at this time my mid-range goal was to place in the Hotter than Hell 35+ 4/5 race and my long-range goal was to upgrade to Category 3.
I find myself in no-man's land now as I accomplished both of those goals and haven't committed to a new long-range goal. I'm happy with that, which is why I suggested goals be "Good".
Change what I can, accept what I cannot.
The Serenity Prayer.
There are plenty of things that present opportunities for stress. Rain when I want to do trails, the weekend before a major trail event. Heavy traffic. Rough road surfaces. Flat tires. Summertime heat.
Or maybe my own limitations. Tired legs on a rally day. Getting dropped by faster riders.
I know what I can change and decide if I'm going to; and I know what I can't change and I work around it or let it go. I strive to prevent stress from becoming frustration.
This is the perfect guide to end on. I sincerely believe that everything I do should be fun, even when it's work. Make no mistake. I work on the bike, I work as hard on the bike as I do at home, at work, and every other place.
I ride because I enjoy riding. I work because I enjoy working and the work I do. Whether it's driving the pace in an aggressive group, or a relaxing pace on a sunny morning with my son, I'm having fun. The moment it stops being fun is the moment I stop, just as I did when I lost motivation in early 2013.
So, I'm tired...
...but I'm taking a break, my legs slowly recovering. I've set goals for this weekend and sincerely believe I can accomplish them.
And I'm just not going to worry about all the other stuff that really doesn't matter. Soon enough, it'll just be me and my bike.