November is a strange month. Its been a fast and furious twelve months since I practiced the art of going slow and it shows. Adjusting my training speeds and mental direction in line with the time of year are a hell of a lot easier said than done, competitiveness must be temporarily subdued and a sense of plodding along, gathering up the training, adopted.
The winter is a cruel mistress to tame, a thin tightrope, fraying and ready to snap at either end lest you step too quick. As a Junior I am fully aware that each and every winter my training must step up, just as the racing does in the season, in order to allow me to get stronger and improve on this season. As Tom Southam put it in one of his blog posts: It starts off hard when you’re young; physically you have to push yourself to new levels. You have to work on becoming stronger, faster, better. You have to get out there in the inglorious winter winds and improve your physical parameters. This shifting of the goal posts, with the aim of becoming a better athlete, means its hard to settle into a 'winter pace', with a pantheon of guess work and time in the saddle needed to feel your way into the dark and grey winter days.
Due to changes in the schedules of a few, of the few, Hackney/East London based riders, my own included, I have been out training solo the majority of the time in the last few weeks. This is one of my favourite ways to train as although whilst not as sociable as going out with others, it allows you to feel much more of the ride and as the Olympic medal winning boxer Anthony Joshua instructed me a few weeks ago to 'be selfish with your training'. It allows me to do exactly what I want and need to do, while keeping my nose in the wind, building, I like to think, a little more strength.
These solo miles, something I am far from unaccustomed to, also provide good opportunity to explore a few lanes around my stomping grounds of Herford and Essex, with the aim to try and find a new road or two on each of my longer base mileage rides. And with the speed up a notch from last winter, this task is made significantly easier, with a three hour ride now encroaching into four hour territory lanes and so on, my 'knowledge' expands further north, east and west with every passing week.
However riding on your own does also bring with it a small sense of insecurity, for a young racer at least, with the worry that you are going too hard, too slow, too much, too little, constantly plaguing the mind. For although I ride with a Powertap attached to my bike, I have yet to fully embrace the unromantic scientific side of the sport based around wattage and mathematics. I see myself having plenty of time over the next few years to start using power more religiously and want to embrace this last year as a Junior as an opportunity to try to get to know my body away from what the raw data relays. Training and racing are so much more than numbers. How do you equate that magical word beginning with an S? Suffe….
This all ensures I yearn to start racing all the more. To come up against some competition and measure my legs against those I have spent the whole winter thinking about trying to beat. As I toil away, groveling with a headwind or pushing through for the last half hour of a long ride, as I ride through the winter months, I think about the upcoming races, the training others are doing, and how I am going to beat them come the spring. This drives me to do more, to turn left and add another half an hour onto my ride, to reach further into Essex or take an unknown lane with no worry of how long it may detour my route. And yet its November, a strange month, for whilst the races feel so near, a stone throws away, there is in actual fact much harder work to come, bigger training weeks and more fatigue, plenty of time to build up to some good legs come March and that magical feeling of pinning a number to a jersey.