When I came to Athens, I was expecting a few weeks of riding solitude. Real tough guy stuff; up at the crack of dawn, Rocky-style, doing solo rides. And sure, there’s been some of that. Maybe not the up-at-dawn part, but plenty of solo rides down long rolling roads. However, I’ve also found quite the opposite. In just a couple of weeks, I’ve discovered an incredibly rich community of cyclists, gone on quite a few group rides — all of which pushed my training and fitness to my absolute limits, and then beyond. I’ve had some of the best conversations I’ve ever had about gender and cycling, and picked up some seriously valuable training advice. I’m feeling healthier, waking up happy, and being more productive in my work, especially in my writing.
So yes, traveling to train is clearly agreeing with me. And sure, it’s not a culture shock like, say, traveling to Europe might have been. But there’s still a whole new community for me to explore down here. And thanks to the cycling world, it’s been almost impossible for me to not meet new, amazing people.
Admittedly, the weather could be better. We’ve had some rainy, gruesome days down in Athens, and it hasn’t been quite as warm as I would have hoped. More often than not, I’ve been the nutty one who’s going without legwarmers despite everyone’s urging to “put on some kneewarmers for God’s sake!” But I’ll be damned if I go back to Massachusetts without tan lines. They may not be much, but I swear my legs have gotten a shade darker after only two weeks and countless hours outside.
It has warmed up though: as I write this, it’s 65 and sunny outside, and once I eat, I’m heading out for a nice, long ride. Solo, this time, since yesterday’s second ride of the day was three hours spent hanging onto a wheel for dear life, maintaining power outputs that I didn’t really think I was capable of. I guess that’s another plus side of traveling to somewhere you don’t know very well: when you have no idea what route you’re going on, you have no choice but to keep up with the guy in front of you. Well, I guess you could ask him to slow down. But what cyclist would ever admit to needing a break?
After my last article where I spoke to a few coaches about their experiences with travel for training, I had to get a few more opinions. After all, I did take a month out of my life to do this traveling-to-train-in-warmer-climate business, so I wanted to get as much validation as possible! United Healthcare cyclist Jake Keough gave me his take on travel, though I’m pretty sure that with his travel schedule, even going home counts as travel for him. After jokingly asking me if I was trying to get his opinion because I was rethinking my own travel plans, he told me:
“Seriously though, I think there are a few good reasons to travel somewhere to train. First off is weather: obviously if you cannot ride your bike outside and you are trying to prep for racing, you need to be somewhere warm to train. Second is race simulation: if you are training for a mountainous event, and you live somewhere flat, you should maybe go to the hills and vice versa… Third is acclimatization: this falls in line with the weather, but also altitude and or time zones. To be prepped for a specific event, it may help to train under similar conditions.”
I’ll trust the guy who won Speedweek overall down here last year, and that includes trusting his recommendation on a great restaurant along the criterium course in Athens. Since I’m coming down here again in just a couple of months for Speedweek myself, I guess I’m taking advantage of all of the reasons that he listed for traveling.
The man responsible for me finding a place to stay down here, Shawn Adams, a coach for Cycle-Smart, also weighed in on my decision to travel, though I admit I might have stacked the deck in favor of travel by asking him.
“Training trips are relevant for everyone, whether you’re a world tour rider or a cat 4 cx racer. The benefits are that you get to get away for the distractions of normal life and focus your energy on the bike. If you are from the Northern part of the country you can get a break from winter and come back refreshed and motivated for some of the dreaded cold winter rides.”
He’s absolutely right. I know that going home, there will still be a bit of bleak Massachusetts winter waiting for me. But after the past couple of weeks, I’m actually excited about training again. It feels like it did when I first started riding with a team and every ride was new and exciting. Instead of being annoyed that I have a three hour ride on tap, I find myself looking forward to it.
Also, it’s pretty awesome to realize that even if I eat everything that I want to eat in the course of a day, with my training schedule, I still end up burning off more than I’m taking in. So the progression from off-season stupor to race-ready is happening without me feeling deprived at all. Usually, there’s a mental and physical fight when I go through a few off weeks and realize I’m painfully out of shape. There’s a part of my brain that says, “You’re … fine. Sure, you’re not in amazing shape, but do you really need this? Let’s go make cookies instead of riding.”
Down here, I haven’t heard that voice once. The only thing I feel every day is excitement about riding.
I’ve also had the time (and inclination) to catch up on my reading, and the house I’m staying in is the perfect place for that, seeing as my room has an entire bookshelf of cycling training manuals and old issues of pretty much every cycling magazine ever published. I think they’re a good influence on me. It’s hard to fall into bad habits or decide to skip a workout when there’s a shelf of sports psychology books staring you down.
I feel ready for the rest of the season, and even other areas of my life have started getting sorted out thanks to my being down here. There’s no better time for reflection than when you’re on a road that you know goes on straight for an hour and a half and all you need to focus on is turning the pedals.
There’s only a week left down here and I’m planning on making the most of it. I already don’t feel ready to leave, though I go home to yet another adventure: moving to another cycling mecca, this one in Western Massachusetts. In the most real way imaginable, this trip down to Georgia has been a real turning point in my life, since I won’t be going back to the same place when I get home. For a cyclist, it was the most perfect transition imaginable.
My favorite song happens to be titled Going to Georgia, by The Mountain Goats. You can guess what’s been on constant loop on my iPod this whole trip. And for me, the first couple of lines are perfect for summing up how I feel about being here, and about going home to start this new chapter in my life:
“The most remarkable thing about coming home to you is the feeling of being in motion again / it’s the most extraordinary thing in the world.”
Thanks, Athens, for the most amazing experience I could have ever hoped for.