Interview: James Golding: Lockdown life and shifting goals
Finding it hard to stay motivated during lockdown? We’ve got some brilliant advice from endurance athlete and cancer survivor James Golding on adapting to change, staying positive and working with what you have.
Lockdown has meant everyone’s plans have shifted. Holidays have been cancelled, races postponed, and even weekend ride plans with our friends are off for the foreseeable future.
But imagine if the thing that’s been cancelled is a huge event that you’ve been training and planning for for months if not years. You’ve got a support team assembled, your kit is primed and prepped, your training is designed so you peak at just the right time, then the goal literally shifts.
That’s the situation that James Golding confronted when the emerging Covid-19 crisis meant he had to cancel his gruelling Race Across America in 2020.
Bring it on
James is no stranger to extreme challenges. Since taking up cycling in 2009 he’s cycled across the USA, even returning to complete the fundraising challenge for MacMillan Cancer Support after being knocked off by a truck. In recent years he’s gained the Guinness seven day cycling world record and placed third in the grueling 930 mile Race Across the West in the USA.
The legendary Race Across America, or RAAM, was to be his next challenge, and he wasn’t just looking to compete in the 2020 edition of the race; he was aiming to win it.
“Race Across America is the world’s toughest bike race. It’s an ultra-endurance event which runs from San Diego in California right the way across to Annapolis, Maryland, and it’s just shy of 3,100 miles,” explains James.
“You have to complete it in under 12 days. We were aiming to complete it within nine days. That involves riding in the region of 22 hours a day and getting one or two hours of sleep a night.”
Plans were in place, he had a team working around him, and everything was set. Then Covid-19 hit, and with the situation rapidly evolving, James and the team took the difficult decision to pull out of the event, which was itself cancelled two days later.
“It got to the point where it would have been selfish for us to consider going,” he says. “There were far more important things going on in the world, and with a 9 person crew it would have affected their partners and children too.”
“Announcing it was hard, but once we had, the feedback we got from the public was that they supported the decision and I felt a lot better.”
James is no stranger to struggle, setbacks and illness. All the achievements above came after a cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery in 2008/09 that left him severely ill and with a very low chance of survival. Survive he did, though initially the disease left him unable to walk, let alone ride a bike. Through hard work and a lot of determination, he kept pushing until he was not only fit and healthy, but strong enough to tackle some of the toughest challenges in the world of bike racing.
What’s refreshing is that James strongly feels that everyone has the capability to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals, despite what the world throws at them.
Adapting to the new normal
So how has James been coping with the new normal and the shifting goals we’re facing at the moment, and how does that translate into advice we can use to help us get through?
1. Zone your home
There isn’t a lot of spare space in most homes, particularly when you’re sharing it with partners and kids, but giving each purpose or activity it’s own home can help you keep your focus where you need it to be.
“I’ve noticed that in the last few weeks, everyone has gone ‘okay, this isn’t going to go away any time now’ and we’re the same. So now it’s like ‘okay, that’s going to become the office, that’s were the kids will play, and the garage is sorted for me to train.”
If you are able to set up some space dedicated to working out, it’ll help with motivation. It’s easier to work out if you don’t have to dig your kit out of a cupboard to start with.
2. Be flexible and train with what you’ve got
“I’ve been doing a lot more training on the Wattbike indoors, but while the weather is good I’ve been using some time to go outside as well for about 2 hours. The idea is I’m splitting my time between outside riding and inside on the Wattbike.”
“That also depends on what time in the morning I can get out,” laughs James. Since he has two young children in lockdown with him and his partner, this can be a limiting factor on getting training time.
3. Accept the change in focus
James freely admits there was a sense of disappointment when he cancelled his 2020 RAAM, but it was tempered with a wash of relief too.
“How can you stay focussed on an event like that when you can’t ride the 8 hours a day you need to? How do you walk out the door to train when your children are going wild and your missus are looking at each other like rabbits in headlights?” He explains.
So accepting the situation, adapting what you can and remembering what’s important will help see you through.
4. Set yourself stepping stones to your goal
“Anyone can achieve any goal that they set themselves”, James assures us. “When I went to do the Race Across the West in 2019, I quietly said that I didn’t mind if we messed it up, because at the end of the day by doing that it means we don’t mess up RAAM. If I couldn’t do 330 miles a day then, I’d struggle with RAAM.”
“They’re stepping stones. It’s the same whatever distance you’re looking at. It’s how everybody gets there. You sign up to a 40-mile sportive, then an 80-mile sportive, then before long you’re signing up to the Dragon Ride 150.”
5. It’s not a race
Okay, RAAM is a race, but it’s not full bore for the whole duration.
“It’s more like a two-day race with a seven day lead up. If you race out of California through to Utah you’ll have blown up before you hit Wolf Creek Pass [about ⅓ of the way] and slower riders will be coming past you” says James, explaining his approach to RAAM.
“You’ve got to keep your head, ride sensibly within your limits then see where you are.”
And while that advice holds true for bike racing, it’s not too wide of the mark when it comes to coping with the current situation either. It’s a marathon not a sprint, so take your time, pace yourself, work sustainably and keep yourself healthy. Most importantly, work out what works for you.
Things are changing rapidly, and while a lot of what we love is limited at the moment, things will change for the better. We will get through this.
For James, the adventure is by no means over. The win on RAAM is postponed, not cancelled, and he and his team plan to tackle the challenge in 2021. Watch this space!
About the Author: Trek
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