How tennis got me back on my bike
Five years ago I completed Ironman Austria. The year after I managed a sub three hour 30 marathon in Hamburg. I was fit and healthy, so what came next? As it happens – nothing did.
I had achieved my goals, and as my wife and I started a family my life changed. The business was also expanding (we had started to work on the Yellow Jersey brand). My energy was spent on the treadmill of life – which sounds clichéd, but it’s true.
I couldn’t find the time for a whole Saturday on the bike, and a 30 minute run in the park seemed, well, kind of pointless. I could cycle to work, but if I’m being honest I couldn’t be bothered – it was another logistic in a week already full of logistics. It’ll be no surprise to other parents when I say that your time just evaporates when babies arrive.
So, since Hamburg in 2014 and this year I’ve done very, very little – apart from ParkRun. There were the London to Paris rides in 2016 and 2017 that, despite the blog title, were not actually a bid to save my marriage – rather, I hoped they would help us both fall back in love with the sport that brought us together.
It didn’t turn out that way. We love cycling, but it is an incredibly time-consuming sport – which means we have to do it separately or not at all. And let’s face it – if we both went for a 4-hour ride at the weekend, it would consume most of our weekend. And that isn’t to say it’ll never happen again (because as children grow up – so I’m told – they will want to spend less and less time with us); it’s just that it isn’t practical right now.
For me, this is a big problem. The thought of doing no exercise fills me with dread. At the height of my powers and thick in the mid-season training zone I feel so positive, confident and healthy. But once the big race is over I feel flat, lacking motivation and, if I’m honest, a bit down in the dumps. My consumption patterns also change – whereas before I could eat pretty much what I wanted, every Cadbury’s button comes with a pinch of guilt.
Before children (BC), I could simply sign up to the next big race as my motivation. Now I can’t do that, so the question I’ve been grappling with is this: how can I motivate myself?
I started to do a bit of research into motivation – I am a sucker for advice when it comes to sport and have been known to spend a three-hour flight to training camps relaying the latest nutritional fad or training plan to whoever will listen. However, whilst there are plenty of studies (and books, podcasts and videos) about motivation in sport, there is relatively little that’s specific to triathlon.
Dr Mike Higgins from Loughborough University has looked at this, and I went to a presentation he did at a Triathlon Industry Association (TIA) meeting in London a few months back. He talked about the challenge of doing something you’ve never done before (Ironman Austria – tick), goal achievement (a sub 3.30 marathon – tick), enjoyment (training with friends – tick) and self-discipline (ah).
I think he also talked about the focus of these drivers changing with time with individual athletes. That struck a chord with me, and my efforts to juggle work, family and triathlons. Much like the diets or the training programmes, there is no silver bullet – motivation is very personal.
I spent a lot of time thinking that it was all about choosing the right race. But I just found myself signing up to things that, either I couldn’t possibly find the time to train for, or that didn’t pose enough of a challenge.
But what it actually came down to was my shift in lifestyle: BC, everything was there on a plate for me – I had the time, money and means to make it all happen; and what’s more all my friends did too.
Then we started a family and moved out of London and things changed very quickly.
Here’s an example. BC I was running Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights and cycling Saturdays (as well as swimming at Tooting lido at least one morning a week). In my current week, my “exercise night” is a Wednesday. However, there is no running club within easy distance of our house that meets on a Wednesday night. And I hate running alone, which means the “enjoyment driver” Dr Higgins mentioned just isn’t there. The call of the sofa and the Cadbury’s buttons then becomes louder.
This isn’t me wishing for my old life back – I have never thought that for a second (well, maybe once or twice during a 2am bottle feed). No, it’s explaining how hard it has become to find new motivations in my new life – and also admitting how easy I have found it to make excuses to myself to do nothing and blame “lack of time” and “other priorities”.
For a while the lack of a run club on a Wednesday got me down. But then, having heard a pearl of wisdom on a cycling forum, I decided to try some totally different sports.
I did rugby – which was enjoyable but all a bit “rugby” for me (i.e. too much drinking). Friends also suggested rowing might be good: on the one side it’s a great all-round workout, and on the other an ergo is so mind-bogglingly boring that I’d be desperate to get out running again.
However, I ended up with tennis. It’s a Wednesday night; it’s a technical sport that forces me to run quite a bit; the other people are a friendly social bunch; and I can wear sweatbands. What’s not to like?
Sure, tennis is a couple of hours sprinting around an area of about 3,000 square feet of mock clay, rather than a day in the hills of the South East; but I look forward to it – and the pack of buttons I tend to eat the next evening as I watch TV and moan to my wife about my aching muscles tastes all the sweeter for it.
And do you know what the funny thing is, it does seem to have stirred some underlying motivation. I’ve just cycled from London to Paris with Bloodwise again, I’ve signed up to do Hever triathlon and have been on my bike more in the past four weeks than in the whole of the last year.