Sticking To It


By Kelly McPherson — Cycling is a tough sport. It isn’t super beginner friendly. You either win or you don’t. You either get dropped and ride alone or you don’t. There isn’t much reward for not losing as badly as you did last time. Attrition is high as people leave for a variety of reasons ranging from injuries, life situations or just plain couldn’t handle getting dropped … again.

Unfortunately, the only way to really get good at something is to make sticking to it a consistent habit. Whether it is getting in your miles, that next interval, hanging onto someone’s wheel or even getting to the finish line, to be successful you have got to be consistently sticking to it. If you are ever, and we all do sometimes, considering quitting, below are some things to take into consideration.

Kelly McPherson at the summit of a climb. Photo courtesy Kelly McPherson

  1. What is the worst thing that could happen? When thinking about quitting, think about the worst thing that could happen if you stick with it and the worst thing that could happen if you don’t. Can you handle those consequences? If you keep riding while you aren’t feeling good, what will happen? You might get sicker? Is that ok? Maybe it is if you are riding in one of your target races. Maybe it isn’t if the training plan calls for a few easy miles.
    In the first case, you need to decide what is worse, not finishing the race or getting sicker. In the second case, you need to decide what is worse not getting the planned miles in to post on Strava or getting too sick to ride a more key workout later in the week. I was riding Tour de Park City several years ago and I got to a climb that was completely demoralizing. I have never been a good climber. It was hot and I was out of water and I didn’t know where the top of the climb was. I ended up flipping about a mile from the top and heading back. By the time I got to my car, I was questioning my right to be on a bike at all. I felt like such a loser! I was completely frustrated with myself for quitting. This was a turning point for me. Now, when I am tempted to quit a climb, I remember this frustration and it becomes the worst thing that could happen if I quit. Most of the time, now, I choose to continue on.
  2. Find your why. Why are you doing this sport, this race, this workout, this interval? Finding and tuning into a good reason why you are doing what you are doing is important. Is this workout key to being ready for a target race? Is finishing this race something important to you? Will hanging onto that wheel, right now, be important? It is also important to find a reason that doesn’t have anything to do with anything you can’t control if you want to stick to it for the long haul.
    Be warned that if you are working to win the next race or to beat that crazy fast person, that will keep you motivated until you win or you beat that person or you get too old or too tired for it to remain a possibility. Then you will likely quit unless you find a more sustaining why. My whys are deeply personal, almost spiritual. I don’t ride to win, which is a good thing as I can count on one hand how many times in the last four years of racing that I haven’t been dead last. I do see progress, though. My consistent training is starting to pay off. I was only last by 9 minutes at my last race instead of 20-30. Progress! That’s another “why” to stick to it!
  3. Remember that quitting can become a habit. Whatever you do over and over will become habit. If you quit once, it will be easier to quit again the next time and the next time until quitting becomes your normal. The sticking-to-it habit is a little harder to form because it often hurts. Giving up a quitting habit takes time and effort, but it is well worth it. 
    For me quitting hanging onto the group and allowing myself to drop has become a quitting habit. I get nervous in the group, and even though I really want to be there, I end up dropping and riding alone because it is more comfortable. I have recently identified this as a bad habit and am working on fixing it. It will take some time and a lot of hard work, but I will stick to it. For now, if anyone sees me actually riding in the group, know that I have been making countless successful decisions to stay there.
  4. Make your choice and own it. Don’t let quitting just happen. Don’t just stop training, because you can’t seem to get out anymore. Don’t just quit an interval because it hurts. Make it a choice and then own your choice. If you are choosing to continue training, choose that and make a plan to make it happen. If you are choosing to quit an interval, know why this is the best choice for you and don’t regret it.
    Many years ago, I had to make a choice about whether or not to continue in triathlon. I had an injury and the doctor had told me to never run again. He told me that if I continued to run, I would need additional surgery and then I wouldn’t likely be able to swim or cycle either. So, for me, choosing to quit triathlon was the better choice. Choosing to stick with it would mean that I would be done with all sport and my health would likely deteriorate rapidly due to the inactivity. In this case, I didn’t feel that the worst thing that could happen was worth the consequences and so I chose to quit. At the same time, I chose to start cycling.

If you ask any successful person in any field, not just athletics, what the secret to their success is, they will likely tell you that it is some variation on not quitting and consistently sticking to the behaviors and habits that lead to success. Yes, you might be gifted and have immediate success, but without consistently making choices to keep working, you aren’t likely to be performing long term. The best thing to quit is quitting!

Kelly is a 40+ cyclist who lives in South Jordan UT with her husband of 27 years and 5 kids. She has a BS in Health Education from the University of Utah and loves to stay healthy and fit and take as many people with her as she can.

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  1. Yes, Ma’aam!!! You go!! I’m well over halfway through my 81st year and wish I had had your insight at your age. But, better late than never. I began a focused effort to change my lifestyle after losing my wife 14 years ago. A few trainers I worked with stressed the importance of determining why I was doing what I was. I eventually developed a “Memo to Self” to keep my focus. A few excerpts:

    “The investment which produces conditioning requires a motive. That motive must be from me to me, by me, for me. Motives thrust on me by others or adopted through a sense of obligation, guilt, comparison to others, or peer influence are not sustainable.”

    “I cannot be what I used to be and I won’t try. That is not a valid reason for not being everything I can be, which I will be.”

    “A choice to invest effort presupposes rejection of a choice to do nothing. Do not entertain the fantasy there’s anything involved besides choice.”

    “Absence of a choice to invest effort presupposes a motive for doing nothing. Name it.”

    Admittedly, not the kind of thing most folks will tolerate coming from others so just address them to the person in the mirror when you get the opportunity!

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