As the year draws to a close there is no doubt that on the road and trail, performance wise, 2016 has been an incredible year. So many achievements in only my second year of racing. I must be on cloud nine? But as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pinching myself – what the hell have I done! But it’s been a transitional year both on and off the bikes.
And the truth is it has been a very lonely year too, well for most of it.
Time trialling is a solitary way of racing, but I love it. Just me, my thoughts, racing plan, strategy, focus, delivery, bang! Someone asked me the other day what did I think about when I did the National 100 miles back in August. The truth is quite a lot. A little over three and three quarter hours goes pretty fast, but that’s because you’ve prepared yourself and trained for the event. It’s not like sitting on a turbo waiting for time to pass. There’s way too much going on. But that particular loneliness came in the form of having no teammates, despite my best efforts to formulate a TT team (I really want to compete in a team time trial). The irony was that “Team” JMC comprised of one rider racing on his own in Scotland. Jonny No-mates.
Running a one man cycling consultancy is a lonesome business too. Yes, it was interspersed with sometimes welcome distractions, like taking the kids swimming on a Tuesday, or doing the shopping and the occasional hoovering, but most nights apart from Thursday I’d be busy working away in my office on my own until the the 22nd hour of the day before retiring and relaxing with a book or a beer (and sometimes both). Don’t get me wrong it is living the dream in many respects, but there was nobody to bounce off and to communicate your passion for cycling with someone who understands what you are doing and why you are trying to do it.
It’s easy to become disconnected and withdrawn in this situation and slowly that’s what happened. I mastered the imposter syndrome with regards to the racing. I couldn’t quite comprehend what I’d achieved at national level. That wasn’t me. It’s a fluke. Every time I win it’s a fluke. I’m becoming consistently flukey as I won ten time trial races this year.
And then a change occurred. I was asked in the summer to coach a female specific cycling group. I’ll be honest I was in two minds about this. But I was encouraged to go ahead with it. Good advice and curiosity always gets the better of me anyway, I simply can't resist a challenge! There’s no better way to improve your coaching than to get out of your comfort zone. So I braced myself and as per usual jumped straight in with two feet.
After the first session, I was pleased to have survived, by the end of the first block, I was starting to look forward to my Wednesday nights as I could see progress and my audience were warm, positive and generous. They listened, questioned, collaborated, took the mickey out of me, in a fun way. Week by week they continually improved as cyclists as I did as a coach. It was yet another win-win.
After the first block I decided to leave it there. My work was done and I felt I’d created a solid enough platform for the group to run itself. My style of consultancy is to teach people who to do it themselves. No black box, no black magic, nothing mysterious or bamboozling. You could argue that it’s financial suicide, but I don’t work just to make money, I work because I’m passionate about cycling and if people like what they see they will pay me well for delivering high-level professional cycling consultancy. Proof is always in the payment. Best form of feedback. So far it’s working very well indeed. Long may that continue!
So I tried to extricate myself from the group. I was categorically told, I was going nowhere. “You’re our coach now and we want to learn more!”
Crickey, what have I started? Ok, time to raise the bar then. So I started to really challenge the group and myself as a coach. They won’t want me back for third block or a fourth!
And then my professionalism (which arguably and probably came across as robotic and distant) took a real hit. At the Ian Brodie memorial 10 mile time trial, I retained my trophy, breaking my own course record in the process and was then presented with a whole host of trophies I had won from the previous season that had made it to the engravers and back. It was embarrassing. I basically cleaned up. I was even awarded a trophy for a female race (collecting it on behalf of Amanda Tweedie). As the audience started to shrink in size, probably fed up with the same guy yo-yoing to and from the stage I became a bit more comfortable. But I had acquired a helluva lot of silverware.
This was when a few of the regular cyclists from the Wednesday group wandered up and started to quiz their coach about the trophies and genuinely congratulating me on my haul. I was humbled. What a lovely gesture to show such interest. We then staged a photo for the group’s Facebook page (see above), which is my favourite photo of the year as it sums up the alter-ego that I will never have!
At this checkpoint in time I then realised you could coach and also have a laugh. And since then boy have we laughed! From staging a hilly time trial in the dark, banging pans and playing trombones, to sitting on top tubes and steering the bike (a la Sagan) in the dark (of course), to riding railway sleepers in the snow and then wet roots off road, again in the dark. It’s been a blast! I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve become reconnected and back to being my true self, which is having fun and having a laugh! Life is for living. We're a long time dead!
More importantly though, I’ve made some great friends. And these new friends have been there when I’ve needed them in different capacities along with many old friends who I know I can rely on. That’s the thing about true friends, it’s give and take. Evens stevens. Quid pro quo. Over time it balances out, but I’ve had to lean on quite a few just to get through the but it’s been the warmest and brightest Autumn and Winter I’ve known for years and I look forward to repaying the goodwill I’ve received.
In fact “Friends” is an album I’ve been listening to since early October. Different songs spookily representing different stages and feelings over the past couple of weeks. The soundtrack to the last three months. Uncanny.
And the timing couldn’t be better. As 2017 rapidly approaches, I no longer feel isolated or lonely. Instead I feel totally energised and serially optimistic (more so than usual). With a new venture looming in January working in a team with another two business partners and fellow directors to racing with new road team, GTR (the WhatsApp banter has me weeping with laughter on a daily basis), to coaching the Wednesday crew who are desperate to now learn more off road skills, next year cannot come soon enough.
And that’s not because it’s been a bad year, far from it. It has been truly amazing. It’s just that life, business, racing, is all the better when you can share it with friends.
Proper friends, real friends!