I hated school, it felt tedious and boring. This is what most kids say, and the same as most kids I enjoyed spending time with friends and had PE as a highlight of the week, unless it was football, like a true cyclist. I found most subjects boring and avoided homework at all costs, doing it in class as the teacher was collecting it. I wasn’t, and hopefully still am not, stupid, but a distinct lack of interest or joy meant I never really performed well. I wasn’t a bad kid, in fact I was a really good kid, just a bad student. I was predicted As and Bs mostly but in the end only achieved two Bs, in physics and maths, but maths was on my second attempt having to resit the exam when I was seventeen.
Motivation was anywhere but on my studies for most of my schooling, it was on friends, video games, girls, and my bike. Exams and the real world that comes after was a weird concept that never seemed really after twelve years of the same routine and my life mapped out from the age of four to sixteen. Teachers, my parents and my peers would talk about how we need to put in the effort and time to the exams and how they matter for the rest of our lives, but I always shrugged that off. I will get round to revising eventually, I thought, the exams aren’t until May. The real ones weren’t until May but the mock exams, a complete dress rehearsal for the real ones, were in January. I remember sitting in that exam hall, an eerie silence as the magnitude and weight of these life changing exams hit my unprepared mind. A genuine fear turned me pale as I flicked through the exam paper.
We got the results of our mocks back and, unsurprisingly, I failed most of them. I laughed this off, of course, but in my head I was terrified. Terrified of the scale of the failure and how I would let myself and my parents down. It quickly became apparent that these exams mean very little once you leave school, but at the time, they were everything. This is where I found my motivation, motivation to fight off the monster that is perceived failure and disappoint those who believed in me. I studied, I revised, I had more than enough time and even balanced it well with my racing. I passed everything and even surprised myself in some subjects. I did not achieve what the school predicted I would, but I did what I could and achieved what I did.
It never took the monster of failure to motivate me to ride my bike and train. That was something I wanted to do, I enjoyed doing, motivation seemed to just be there. The motivation to do the turbo sessions after school and the races at weekends. I wanted to win, I enjoyed pushing myself and relished in the suffering of a brutal turbo session as a kid. The sessions worked wonderfully with track and crits in summer and cyclocross in winter. Short and sharp sessions on the turbo and fun with friends at the velodrome or in the woods on the CX bike were my bread and butter, and enjoyment is all you need to do sport as a child. In my last year as a youth rider, around 15 years old, the sprint talent for the intensity of the track and crits stared to dwindle, and I needed to start doing road rides for the much longer races I had in my sights for my next year, my first as a junior.
I rode, and I worked, and I pushed, and I improved. As I improved, I became more motivated to push and the results came flowing. This motivated me to push even more and ride the wave momentum to the top. But I pushed too hard. The momentum took me to a dangerous place which I wish I had recognised sooner, or listened to those who saw the signs at least. I gave myself overtraining syndrome and chronic fatigue. Motivation is not always a good thing, and motivation without knowledge is a dangerous path.
After time off, I was itching to ride, to feel that process and improvement, to achieve those dreams. But something was different. The ride itself felt different. I was itching to ride, not to race, but simply to feel what a bike ride made me feel again. I was so far behind where I was, and so far behind others I once rode away from that I had to find the enjoyment outside the competitive environment, the motivation couldn’t come purely from racing, but it felt natural that it didn’t, a more adult view of the sport I loved.
This is when I found the motivation that has driven me to this day, the sheer beauty of a bike ride, the serenity, the way the world seems so much clearer, the mind focused but also allowed to ponder life decisions with much more clarity. It’s not for a race, not for training, but because of how it makes me feel. This has evolved into a drug like passion for riding, which lends itself to training nicely, but the love of riding is what keeps me training. The junior me, who trained full time to race, would be puzzled by the adult me, who trains because he loves riding, and has the opportunities to do it full time, which in turn, allows me to love every day and do what is required to perform in those important races.
I think it is worth thinking about what motivates you to ride your bike, whether it’s health, competitiveness, it’s your job, or because it’s just what you do, or, simply, because you enjoy it. If you know why, you can assess its value to you, whether you think it is worth the energy pursuing, and if yes, then you can focus yourself on that and give it all you have got. Motivation comes and goes, and can be found from different places over the years, but knowing where that comes from is meaningful. And what’s meaningful to you is your motivation, and the pursuit of meaning is all we can ask for. Even if it is just riding a bike.