How To Find Time To Cycle

Diana riding a sportive in the rain
Sportive riding in the rain

There never seem to be enough hours in the day and it can be hard to find the time to cycle.

I sometimes think back to weekends before I had children. I considered myself busy back then when weekends often revolved around long cycles and lying on the sofa. With two children in tow, for a while I thought I would never find time to cycle again. But I soon came to realise that I had to find time to cycle because riding a bike was my freedom, my relaxation, my meditation, my stress relief. Riding a bike was a part of me and I had to find the time.

Both of my children are in school now and there is more time. But now there is also a job that I love, a growing passion for fixing sad bikes, volunteer work as a Breeze Champion, the Parent Council School Travel Group and a novel in progress.

Somehow demands expand to fill all the available time we have.

For most of us, though, we can find the time to cycle and there are two steps leading to it.

  • First – get motivated. Without motivation and inspiration and a goal to work towards, there is a good chance that you will always find an excuse – today is too busy, tomorrow you’re too tired, the day after it’s raining…
  • Second – grab every scrap of time you can and get on with it!

1. Get Motivated

There are probably lots of things you would like to achieve, in life and on your bike. As this year winds down, look towards the year coming up. What is going to be important to you? Of course there are always the surprises – good and bad – that life throws at us over the year, but much of our lives we know well in advance.

Look At Your Priorities

Cycling is important to us all, but it is not the only important thing in our lives. Before you set your cycling goal or goals for the year, make sure you know what is really the most important thing this year.

Diana on the start line of the crit on the campus race
Crit on the Campus, 2018

If you have a very clear priority in your life coming up which is going to take up your time, do not set yourself up for failure by piling a difficult and time consuming cycling goal on top. Remember that this is a hobby and there is always next year.

This time last year, when I went through this process in my head, I really wanted to race in 2019. I also wanted to get Active Cycle Coaching up and running and I wanted to finish the novel that I had started writing. I realised that, much as I wanted to race, to do so I needed the evenings to train. But full-time childcare and other work commitments meant that my evenings were also the only time I had to run my business and write my novel. Something was going to have to give; racing was going to have to wait.

As for 2020 – with both children in school now I can work during the day and my evenings are my own again. Roll on race season 2020!

Set Your Goals

You have decided that there is space in your life next year for cycling to be one of your priorities. So what do you want to do?

Look around for inspiration, get planning and set your goal or goals for the year.

Your goal might be to race, to enter a sportive, to ride a certain distance or time each week, to get out your panniers and travel by bike. It might be one big thing or a series of small things. You might have one goal or you might have several.

For me, in 2020 I want to race. I want to race as many criteriums as I can and possibly the odd time trial or road race. I know that criteriums are my major goal so that is what I am going to train for – everything else is incidental.

Be careful when you set your goals that you are not trying to do too many things that are very different. I learned this the hard way the year I tried to train for time trials (short and fast) and a multi-day ride across the alps (long and relatively slow). Suffice to say I did well in the time trials…

Work Out Steps Towards Your Goal(s)

This might be a training plan, it might be a series of training plans, it might be a complex spreadsheet or an outline in your head.

If your goal is a 100 mile ride, what mileage are you starting at? When do you want to be ready for that 100 miles? How are you going to build your mileage up gradually? Set an aim for each month by which you can measure your progress.

If your goal is to race, what are the races you want to target? What plan are you going to follow and when do you need to start?

I find this time of year the hardest to plan. I am planning to start more focused training in around two months. Right now it’s too soon to start intensity training on the turbo – I will get bored of it far too soon if I start now. I do need to get some miles in, but without an aim I find the excuses creeping in and other parts of my life taking over. So, my aim for the time being is 100 miles a week. This gets me out, and as soon as I’m out I remember how much I love to cycle.

Be Cautious About Body Weight

I have fallen into the trap of using weight loss as a priority, a goal or a step towards my goal far too many times. I would advise strongly against bringing body weight into the equation at any level.

One small part of the reason why I love cycling is that it keeps me from putting on too much weight. But still, I am rarely entirely happy with my weight. If we are totally honest, I suspect that many of us would like to shed a few pounds.

Me racing in a criterium, looking rather heavier than I would like
Sometimes my favourite photo…and sometimes not!

Yes, less weight on a bike is generally a good thing if you want to go far or fast, but losing that weight is never quite that simple. Eat less, ride more, lose weight…it is a massive oversimplification. You eat less, you run out of energy to complete that training session. You ride more, you build muscle and therefore get heavier. Then there are the effects of ageing, hormones, menopause and all sorts of other factors which come into play.

Less weight is also just not essential. I have something of a love/hate relationship with the race photo to the right. To my eyes I look far too heavy to be racing. But, I was racing and I was achieving what I set out to achieve. Perhaps I would have done better if I had been lighter, but who cares.

Obsessing about body weight is rarely a path to happiness and cycling is a hobby – it is supposed to make us happy.

2. Get On With It!

With your priorities set, your goals in place and your steps reach those goals prepared all you need to do now is to make it happen! Most of us can find the time to cycle, most of the time, but you may need to be ruthless in finding it.

Be Realistic

Before I had children, I loved coming up with a detailed training plan using The Cyclist’s Training Bible by Joe Friel. I love a spreadsheet and this was spreadsheet heaven. That was when I could clock up 12 hours training a week.

My current commitments mean that I just do not have that much time to train. That doesn’t mean I don’t have time to cycle though, I just need to find a plan which takes less time. I liked the British Cycling plans – they were to the point, achievable and easy to follow. However, they have now been totally digitised and linked to the Training Peaks software…and they cost money. I may need to rethink what I use this winter. My husband, with the same time constraints as me, swears by The Time Crunched Cyclist by Chris Carmichael.

There are plenty of plans out there, but be realistic when choosing one.

Once you have your plan, you need to continue the realism when you try to follow it. You may well not always manage every training session in your plan so prioritise which ones you really need to do. For me, aiming for criterium races, that means trying to do all the interval sessions even if I can’t manage the longer weekend rides. It’s not ideal, but it is enough for what I want to do.

Another great tip is to look at your plan for the week or even for the day and work out bronze, silver and gold aims. Bronze is the bare minimum you can get away with, gold is achieving everything on your plan, and silver is somewhere in between. Accept that sometimes, Bronze is good enough and congratulate yourself for your success.

Take Advantage Of Any Opportunities

Ultimately, to train to ride a bike…you need to ride a bike. So take every opportunity to ride a bike, even if it is not the ideal ride or the ideal bike.

Ideally, at the weekend I would head out on my road bike and ride a route with the distance and terrain suited to my training aims. In reality, sometimes I head for a family day out with my bike on the roof and I cycle home while the family drives – I still get to train and I don’t miss out on time with the family.

Work can get in the way of cycling too. I love to coach but sometimes find myself bizarrely jealous of my clients as they ride and I coach. Fortunately I live 20 miles from the Fife Cycle Park which is an ideal distance to ride there and back. I get a 40 mile ride in myself. Ok, so that usually means riding my gravel bike with heavy panniers, but I look on it as strength training and it is certainly better than no ride.

And remember, a cycle in the rain is better than no cycle. Rain happens, you’ll dry out.

Be Prepared

Make it as easy as possible to get on the bike. That way you do not spend precious time trying to find the kit you need.

Bike set up on the turbo trainer
Ready to ride

If you are going to turbo, ideally have your bike on the turbo ready to ride. It helps if you have a bike you can dedicate as a turbo bike, leaving you another bike for the road. It helps if you have a garage where you can leave this set up. If you do not have these luxuries, make it as easy as you can on yourself. Have a turbo wheel so you just have to change a wheel, not a tyre.

If you are going to rain on the road, have your clothes easily accessible, including all the extras you need for the winter – know where your overshoes, gloves and ear warmers are and always put them away in the same place. Keep your spare tubes and other kit for rides in a saddle bag so you know it’s there, or keep it in a bag handing on the handlebars to stuff in back pockets on your way out. Don’t put your bike away wet and filthy, give it a 2 minute clean when you get back and put your lube bottle in the bottle cage to remind you to give it a quick oil before your next ride.

If you waste time preparing then you won’t have time to cycle. Make it as quick and easy as you can so that your precious training time is spent training.

Above All Else…Do Not Procrastinate!

If you are going to train, don’t think to much, just get out and do it.

Wake up knowing that you are going to head to your garage and train after you put the kids to bed and do not doubt that plan for one second. Remind yourself throughout the day that you are going to do just that.

Resist the urge to start an argument with yourself along the lines of I really need to train today / but I’m quite tired perhaps I could do it tomorrow instead / but I really should and I might feel better for it / but Bake Off is on tonight and I really just fancy a cup of tea on the sofa…. Ring any bells?

Head out, get on with it, feel good about it. If you really don’t feel good when you start then that is the time to stop. Don’t stop before you start.

This goes for social media procrastination too. The worst thing you can do is to ‘quickly’ have a look on Facebook, Twitter or Strava before you get your training kit on. Time speeds up when you access social media and before you know it, it’s too late to train. Switch it off, check it after. If you’re on a turbo, check it while you cool down if you must.

What To Do When You Cannot Find Time To Cycle

If you follow the guidelines above then you will find time to cycle. But you may still not always find the time to cycle. You will get ill, your children will get ill, meetings will overrun. You are unlikely to complete every training session you planned to do.

Keep it in perspective. This is a hobby and not a job. If you have to miss a session, don’t give yourself a hard time and don’t try to cram tough sessions into two consecutive days. Even if you have to miss a week or even two weeks then just let it go and pick up where you left off.

The Final Word

Remember, cycling is fun. It is the best hobby in the world (in my opinion!).

If it stops being fun and becomes a chore then you need to rethink your approach or take some time off the bike.

Now get out there and cycle!

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