Popcorn and cycling


Words by Rebecca Charlton, TV Presenter, journalist and procrastinating cyclist. 


Friends of mine often refer to their ‘Popcorn Brain’ - a term recently used to describe the constant stimulation we’ve become accustomed to in the digital world. We’re so busy darting between a plethora of tabs, chats, slacks, wattsapps and emails that our attention span for the mundane has become compromised. Of course, not everyone succumbs but with so much choice, potential distractions and information overload at our fingertips decisions, in my mind, have become harder for us all. 


There is a link to sport here and it’s not all that tenuous, I promise. Unless you’re lucky enough to live on the Côte d’Azur, the weather at this time of year doesn’t always evoke a strong desire to get outdoors and battle the elements and when it’s not as simple as chucking a jersey and shorts on, the decision process can lead to some serious procrastination - ‘Do I go out on the road bike?’ ‘Is there a risk of ice?’ ‘Maybe I’ll just pop onto Instagram first...’ ‘OK, so others agree, it’s definitely not cool to ride in this weather, way too risky.’ 


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‘Oh, Carol has gone out, if I don’t go out I’ll get dropped next time I ride with the her’. . ‘I could ride a ‘cross bike, oh I’ve got a rear flat and time’s getting on’. ‘Shall I hop onto Zwift? ‘Oh I haven’t switched to my turbo skewer’. ‘I should probably do some strength and conditioning, I read that’s important - maybe I’ll benefit from a core session’.


By the time you’ve made the decision to ride it’s lunchtime. Now it’s looking like it may get dark soon and you haven’t charged your lights so you do nothing and scroll through Instagram instead only to discover everyone else went out, had a great time and the ice was a false alarm. Anyone else found themselves wrapped in this self-perpetuating circle? Asking for a friend. 


I started racing when I was seven-years-old - mostly in circles - round a tree and calling it cyclo-cross or on my local velodrome. Since those days my career as a journalist has progressed from coveting a role in the junior press pack to reporting on cycling. I talk openly and frequently about all the wonderful things cycling brings and my adoration for all facets and disciplines of this wonderful sport, so why is it that on some occasions I just can’t get myself out of the front door?


The ‘Popcorn Brain’ can extend to sport and exercise. In fact, which is it?


Are we enjoying sport, a ride with our friends, playing on bikes and book-ending it with superb coffee, or are we viewing this as exercise, necessity, a way to be a little bit healthier after ‘too much’ indulgence. 


I’ve never been a climber, give me a flat road and a head-wind any day - actually while we’re wishing for things, make that a tail-wind - but for years I felt like I had to find ways to be a better climber, to force myself to revel in an incline, but in all this I never celebrated the fact that I had a reasonable kick for the town sign sprint at the sniff of a coffee stop (yes, that’s about as serious as my cycling career got). The truth was I still hated hilly rides, and forgot the things I might not only have been quite good at, but most importantly enjoyed. I worried far too much about what everyone else thought and what everyone else was doing. 


In a stage race you’ve predominantly got the sprinters, the climbers and the GC riders, right? So why do *we* expect to be able to do it all? I read a quote online the other day that said...


“imagine if we obsessed over the things we are good at.”


There’s a thought. 


Let’s be realistic, goals are brilliant, but I scrapped the new year’s resolutions this year and started ramping things up in February and by that I mean, consistently making it out of the door without weeping over the process that involves painstakingly pulling my overshoes on for 20 minutes and finding two matching gloves. 


I’ve always cited Albert Square’s fictional mainstay Peggy Mitchell, and said when it comes to ice, risking injury or anything that takes away the love, stick to your guns because at the end of the day, as dear Peggy would say:


“leave it, it just ain’t worth it.”


Riding to please someone else, punishing yourself because you didn’t ride enough miles to burn off that stuffed-crust pizza or coasting into a situation that makes you feel unsafe is not motivating, in my experience. Instead channel the beat of your own drum, or in this case, cadence. Ride as far and as fast as you want, focus on your goals, make them realistic and for want of a better phase:


‘don’t measure yourself with someone else’s ruler.’ 


Follow riders that genuinely inspire you, make a plan to get out of the door and be excited. If you love sprints and not hills, choose a different route or ask others to regroup at the top of the climbs. Overthinking can derail a potentially great bike ride. Do what you love. Remember why you started. Keep it simple and don’t allow Strava, Instagram or Carol from down the road to force you off your own positive path.


So how can we avoid the thought-popping and procrastination? Evidence shows it can be as simple as starting with porridge. ‘Hanger’ is a term I’ve heard more often than ever among cyclists and it’s understood that the decision making process can become even harder when we’re hungry. Get up in time for a good breakfast and you’re likely to feel more positive about getting out and achieving your planned goal or simply pedalling for some precious ‘you time’. I joke about that elusive glove that always halts me getting out of the door but as trivial as it sounds, decisions over what to wear or lost items can have an impact.


This month I’ve organised all my cycling kit so I don’t lose those essential items on the morning - yes, I’ve even employed the Marie Kondo approach of deciding which overshoe set “sparks joy” and the two left feet with the holes in had to go. I've made plans to get out with other people so I stick to it and don’t tidy the sock drawer instead and I’m attempting to bring my scrolling screen time down from a majority of the day to something less horrifying when my iPhone insists on reminding me of the percentage of hours wasted - will it stop the procrastination? I’ll report back in my next blog, just as soon as I’ve decided what to write about next…


- RC


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