Words: Tom Southam Photos: Wig Worland
There is a game a good friend of mine likes to play. While we sit about together in the bike riders’ twilight, the long afternoons that we pass away “resting” while the rest of the world industriously turns, he sits surrounded by a pile of his old training diaries and encourages me to “pick a date – go on – pick a date from any year and I’ll tell you what I was doing on my bike”. He will then promptly read out a perfectly descriptive vignette of a moment in time, sometimes many moons old, which tells a story of a day on the road. It is amazing how just a few well-chosen words not only take him there, it can take the listener there, too.
I recognise the stories, made up of efforts, times, intervals and heart rates, because I like to play this game too, albeit at home and without an audience. Up on a shelf I have ten full seasons of pedalling, catalogued: “Training diaries: 1994-2003”. They are a written record of almost every ride I did, from kid through to professional bike rider. Leafing through these in the odd private moment takes me way back.
“Thursday, May 26th, 1994. Mileage: 10 (St Just run, slightly shortened), Weekly total: 22 miles. Weather: Breezy, cold, overcast. Notes: Back was awful again. Went well on big chain ring but on hill I was shit, couldn’t get any rhythm. Been ill, only just recovered. Bad day.”
This extract is from the first diary that I ever kept, in what was my first year of competitive cycling. I was 12 and had just started to progress from sporadic forays into the countryside wearing a woollen Peugeot jersey and jeans, to donning Lycra and stringing together what I thought I could call training rides.
If you grow up through bike riding you don’t have much time for looking backwards. One thing that does become apparent when you do get to take the occasional glance at your life, though, is that each year has a definitive shape, texture and feel.
Years passed don’t just blend into one another; each one is markedly different from the next as so many things change from year to year. Firstly in the massive physical improvements you start to feel as you grow, then in the teams you ride for, the different jerseys, the bikes and the little details like the cycling shoes you wore and how they hurt your feet, or cool bits of kit that you had. There is also the wonderful expansion of your geography, your view and understanding of the world filling out as you ascend through the ranks as a rider.
Each year has a structure; the winter signals the rebirth, the hope and aspiration that sees you ploughing through all weathers to be ready for the new year, each spring heralds a damp wet windy beginning, each summer lifts successes into new light, and each autumn sees hope having a quick glance up the road ahead. For most bike riders this is all clearly mapped, plotted and recorded for posterity, in notebooks, in journals, on wall charts and more recently in the electronic seas of the World Wide Web.
The collection of training data has always existed; what has changed over the years are the fields of data collected, and how and why they are interpreted by each individual. The mind of the bike rider varies wildly. Trying to look beyond their shades to work them out is a waste of time; if you want to know a bike rider, just flick through the pages of their training diaries. There you will see the blueprints, not just to a career in pedalling, but also to the mind of the riders themselves.
Extract from Rouleur 26, out soon.