Monday, August 11, 2014

The Summer Lull

After several years of roadcycling, you start to see patterns: strengths and weaknesses, highs and lows, energy surges and dips - the mysterious ebb and flow of the drive and desire to be on a bike. One thing I've noticed in myself - though it took me some time to acknowledge - is the summer lull.

I fought it at first, so counterintuitive of a thing it seemed. After all, summertime is the best time to be on a bike. The long days. The dry weather. The scenery at its lushest. The abundance of group rides, with cycling clubs at their most active and cycling buddies with free time on their hands. In the winter, it feels natural to hibernate and take a break from the bike for a bit. But the summer seems like the time of year to take advantage of and spent every spare moment you have in the saddle.

And yet, quite reliably, there comes a time - typically in July - when something in me snaps and I go from being on my roadbike every single day (and thinking about being on my roadbike when I am off it), to being out only occasionally, if at all. Instead, I start to crave other activities. Swimming in the sea. Forest walks. Lying in the grass with a book. Friends suddenly find that they can easily lure me out to help shop for baby furniture and kitchen appliances. "Out riding much these days?" they ask, already knowing what the answer must be if I'd agreed to do this in my spare time.

Oh I still cycle for transportation of course; every day. But those waves of restless energy that compel me to pedal, hard as I can, over winding country roads till exhaustion for no reason at all except cycling itself? No matter how I spin it, they've abandoned me.

The first summer it happened, I panicked. What was wrong with me, was I sick? Or (worse) was I sick of bikes? Did I try so hard at something I can never be good at anyway, that I simply burned out?  Well, fine then. Maybe I was not meant to do this after all. Maybe utility cycling was enough. Feeling like an outsider to the athletic side of things, this seemed a reasonable conclusion.

But no sooner did I become resigned to this fate, then the summer lull ended. It ended as suddenly as it began. No pep talks were needed, no guilt trips, no encouragement. Those waves of restless energy, that compulsion, that boiling insanity - it was all back. One August morning I simply woke up and got on my roadbike …and practically never got off, till the winter frosts set in.

The following summer, this pattern again caught me by surprise and worried me. Only toward the end of the lull did I remember the same having happened the previous year and relaxed a little. And sure enough, it ended a month later, as before. After that, while I didn't exactly welcome the summer lull, I would expect it and stopped trying to fight it. Last year I hardly touched my roadbike from mid-July till mid-August - a month of rest sandwiched between periods of hyperactivity. This summer, the lull came a bit earlier, so that I already snapped out of it last week.

Why does this happen to me at a time that for many cyclists is their peak riding season? Probably because my body cannot sustain the intensity that begins in late March or April and grows through the early summer months. And as bodies go, mine must be an "all or nothing" kind of customer: Unwilling to simply cut back, it allows me to overexert myself day after day and month after month, then simply gives out - with-holding whatever cocktail of hormones is giving me the drive to ride until it's ready to sustain me through another 4 months of madness till winter.

The summer lull feels not unlike overtraining or bonking, only less intense but deeper-rooted. In one sense I feel more "normal," like cycling is not ruling my life. In another sense, I feel flat, empty, depleted. More disturbingly, the sight an smell of my bike lose their visceral effect on me. But when it returns, it does so with a vengeance. I don't need to wonder when the lull is over; when I'm pulled toward the bike again like a magnet, I know.

25 comments:

  1. I find that I have the same summer lull. It lasts from somewhere around the beginning of July to at least the middle of August. Worried me too when it first happened years ago.

    In my case, I'm pretty sure it happens due to a combination of a very active non-summer cycling schedule combined with a real distaste for the sameness, heat, and same heat of summer.

    It's a good time to ride easy, go swimming, and drink cold beer while looking at the water. Autumn will come again.

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  2. The sight and *smell* of your bike?

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  3. If the weather is very hot, or I'm lured by other things, I can find myself in the lull Velouria describes. Conversely, I go on riding "binges" at unexpected times, such as the days after (American) Thanksgiving and the middle of February (if there's no snow or ice).

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  4. I find this lull you're describing totally normal!

    It is logical for the body to cut down the rythms when it's the middle of the summer..
    You said it yourself " I start to crave other activities. Swimming in the sea. Forest walks. Lying in the grass with a book". These are all relaxing things for the body, things that won't give you a heatstroke!

    It's what nature "demands" your body to do!

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  5. Love this post. It's good to know I'm not the only one, and it's not just with cycling. In the spring, I'm also excited with anticipation for things like yard work and golfing with friends. By mid-summer I hit a wall, and I'm in that funk right now. In late summer and early fall, a new kind of energy returns -- not as intense as at the start of spring, but still good. As I've noticed this pattern in recent years, I've told my wife that if there are house projects to do, be sure to catch me in the spring. Nice post.

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  6. Interesting to read these responses, because from cyclists I know in person I did not get the impression that this is normal or typical. There are usually loads of events on mid-summer and it seems like everyone's out cycling their asses off. Makes me wonder whether there are some cyclists who do not experience lulls, or are theirs simply timed differently.

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    1. Timed differently. Experienced athletes will take time off strategically, ensuring they do not experience a lull at the height of the season.

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    2. I understand that part. But there is also a matter of duration. I typically spend a good part of the winter off the bike, but that does not equip me to cycle through March-November continuously. Yet I know riders who have no problem with that at all.

      But I guess if I were to take a strategic break, it would be right around the time of the summer lull anyway. I prefer to ride in spring and autumn to the height of summer, so if I had to make a conscious decision to sacrifice a month July would be it.

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  7. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." … Ecclesiastes 3:1 (and, of course, Pete Seeger)

    ~ David M. in Saskatchewan

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  8. I think this is why athletes have off seasons. It takes a toll both physically and mentally and putting it aside to recharge is always the best medicine. Also, strangely, variety in my life always makes it more interesting when I get back in the swing of it all….It's as I'm a different and better person and the excitement is new or on a different level than previously. I like that!

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  9. Did you replace your saddle? This one looks like it has less sag. Just wondering.

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    1. Nope. Could be the angle of the shot.

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  10. I get a couple of these a year. never paid much attention to when, but it's noticable. i also get this with types of riding. i'll get "tired" of road riding and ride my mtb for weeks or months, without touching the road bike, then it will switch one day and I'm on my crossbike for everything and not touch my mtb for weeks or months. I think it has more to do with getting bored of the same, and looking for variety. I'll even consider running! it gets that crazy.

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  11. My lulls tend to happen in the summer when the heat and humidity flair up. Over the last 4 years the bulk of my miles have occurred in the spring and fall (visits to the Ortho depending...) when the weather is cooler and its easier to avoid roasting out on the road. Winter time I'm usually on the mountain bike bouncing through the woods without any obnoxious bugs (and occasionally by the light of the moon).

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  12. I think it is natural to have these lulls in energy - we are not machines. I don't drive, so my bike is for transport and fun but when it's 40 degrees Celsius here I don't ride for pleasure; the summer drains my energy though others love it - we are all different.

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  13. Is this related to why I sometimes fill a page or two in my sketchbook everyday for a month and then forget where I laid it for a week? Or why I have a house 65% full of hand-made furniture and a basement cluttered up with the unfinished remaining 35%?

    I think it's because when we get to choose to do it or not we sometimes remind ourselves how much we love it by coming back, which requires(duh) we put it down for a time. I see the local pro's out ALL THE TIME, the fast local amateurs only most of the time. If you gotta' you don't let yourself ask yourself if you wanna'...

    When you get to choose to do it or not you suddenly have the gift of wandering off once in a while which I think is fantastic. We venerate the pro's for their commitment but that commitment isn't really about the bike for most of them so what we really share isn't riding bikes, it's getting our behinds out of bed to go crack rocks for another day. That's why some of them are no fun to talk about bikes with.

    I think your lull is just the normal ebb and flow of a deep and dynamic love affair with something that makes your life better. Give me the lover who I get to pine for once in a while over the co-worker who's cologne I can't take for another second...

    Spindizzy

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  14. I wonder if - perhaps just a bit - cycling might feel like a job to you because of this blog. Perhaps you're responding to a cycle that is even more deeply ingrained in you than the riding bug: the summer break.

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    1. I get asked that sometimes, but can honestly say that cycling in itself has never felt like a job.
      I do not need to ride 200+ miles a week in order to write this blog (in fact I have less time/energy for the blog when I'm on my bike that much), so it's entirely self-inflicted.

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    2. wow, 200+ miles a week is hurclean for one who is in a lull! makes me feel pedestrian.

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  15. This is a lot of words to describe addiction.

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  16. Enjoying my lull here, too. Though, when my other bikes arrive next week, I feel that lull will be over with and I'll be back to riding like I normally do.

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  17. This is my virgin cycling year. No summer lull for me, but I guess that is beginner's enthusiasm. But I do only go out two or three times a week :-)

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