If you just read Coach John Hughes‘ article, The Big Ride: Mental Tips to Help Any Rider, you know that this past weekend I did my own Big Ride. It was in the couple of weeks leading up to that 2-centuries in 2-days ride that Coach Hughes and I were swapping thoughts on how important the mental side is when riding big events.
I told him that it was crystal clear after the Tour de Wyoming last summer (click to read my follow-up piece on that ride) – which I rode only a couple of months after clavicle surgery and not anywhere near enough training – that it was one of those seminal events during which you learn just how far your mind can take you when your body is screaming to stop.
After my ride this past weekend, I thought it would really bring Coach Hughes’ article to life to, point-by-point, describe how I put his tips into practice on the ride. That follows. [Full disclosure: the return leg of the ride was cancelled due to some nasty weather that included thunderstorms. Which actually brought into play Coach Hughes’ point about adapting to conditions out of your control. Yes, I had trained hard and was prepared to push myself for 2 consecutive days, but I and all the other riders had to accept the situation at hand and live to ride another day.]
Get Organized Early.
I’m always more anxious about the logistics of preparing for a big ride than I am about riding. For this event, which included an overnight stay at a huge 4-H camp in rural Georgia, and the strong possibility of riding day 2 in the rain, I planned accordingly.
For one thing, each rider was limited to one bag only. And I wanted to pack as lightly as possible, so I limited myself by choosing a smallish bag. Then I used the Notes function on my phone to list every single item I needed to bring, and everything I needed to do before leaving. That included cleaning and thoroughly checking over my bike, charging my computer and lights, and making sure all of my cycling gear was washed well in advance so I could choose exactly the kits I wanted to wear on Day 1 and Day 2.
Then I went through my list and only checked off the items as I completed them and/or packed them, point by point. In short, I’m not at all a morning person, so I get all of my stuff together for a ride the day or evening before – all the way down to already making the coffee so I only have to turn it on, putting a bowl and the cereal out on the counter for breakfast, setting out my travel mug for a to-go cup of Joe, etc.
Have a Plan.
My buddy Bill and I had been training for this ride for a couple of months. We’ve ridden together for years and know each other’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. And we’d done numerous rides together leading up to last weekend, including several long (62-to 75-mile back-to-back days) rides, and the previous weekend planned our own century, riding it much like the actual event – which required mandatory check-ins at each rest stop. On our “test” ride, we stopped every 20 miles or so, ate a bit, rested briefly, and continued.
And, of course, we discussed the event at length, formulating our plan for how we would ride it. The plan was to “feel out” the first leg, and the beginning of the second leg, sorting out who was of similar ability and pace, presuming thatsome “rabbits” would peter out, while other riders would be able to maintain a reasonable pace for the entirety and would be happy to have company to help share the load.
We found our group about mid-way through that second leg, roughly 20 to 25 miles in – and the five of us finished together, sticking close from that point on. (One other rider cramped up about mid-way through and dropped out of the group.)
Set Your Expectations.
Bill and I didn’t really have a time goal, but we did hope to at least try to ride with the lead group. And we knew it was going to be a hot, humid day, so with a 7:30 a.m. start, we did not want to be on the course any longer than necessary. And since neither of us had done the ride before, we didn’t really know what to expect in terms of difficulty (even though we knew the 100 miles included 4,500 feet of climbing).
And drink! We knew it was paramount to stay hydrated on a day that was super humid to begin with, and would be very hot later on. We made sure to eat at least a little something at each checkpoint/rest stop, and drink continuously throughout the day (both water and sports drink). I even ate a Krispy Kreme doughnut at one rest stop; it was quite tasty! I also ate plenty of salty stuff along the way.
Pace Yourself. (And Ration Your Matches.)
It turned out that those 4,500 feet of climbing were tough, longish rolling hills that continually tempted you to push your power (and burn your matches) to maintain nearly the same pace. That’s fine if you’re riding 45 or 50 miles, but keeping in mind that this was the first of 2 consecutive centuries, it would have been folly to try to keep that up for the entire day.
Among our group was my buddy, 50, and 2 guys and a woman (all probably 20 years younger than us). All three were strong, but one of the guys was a beast – and unfortunately a terrible group/paceline rider. Each time he got on front, he accelerated – even on the hills. He repeatedly busted up the group.
From about 65 miles on, I had had it with him and just rode on my own after letting him and a couple others expend the energy to pedal away – then I would regroup at the next stop. We would all start the next leg together, until he did the same thing at the next significant climb. We managed to stay together over the last 14 miles – ONLY because we repeatedly (verbally) reined him in.
Tip: If you make a “compact” with other riders to form a group for a ride, you need to honor that commitment by not just doing your share of work, but also riding “correctly;” i.e. not blowing up the group by putting the hammer down, etc. Ride alone if you want to do that. Otherwise, tailor your riding to the group you’ve chosen to be a part of.
Divide and Conquer.
This is an absolute key to almost any long ride. Whether you focus on the crest of the next hill, the next store stop, the next 10 miles or the next rest stop, breaking down a long ride into a series of shorter riders makes it eminently easier to accomplish.
Such was the case with this ride, to be sure. There were six checkpoints/rest stops along the way, with the longest distance between any two of them at just under 20 miles. During the second half of the ride, they become increasingly welcomed, and necessary.
I’ve always been the type of rider who feels so much more comfortable knowing exactly how long a climb is, or a ride segment is. It just eases my mind and lets me concentrate on that specific section. With my mind at ease, I seem to be much more capable of handling any kind of distress or difficulties that tend to creep up farther into a ride.
Accept the Ugly Middle.
For me, on this ride, the ugly middle came almost exactly at the mid-way point. My knees and legs felt pretty good. My back and neck felt pretty good. But my crotch started to get a little uncomfortable. I knew it was nothing serious, so I accepted it and just kept on chugging along. Just as Coach Hughes says, I always seem to catch a bit of a 2nd wind near the end, which I did on this ride, too.
Manage Problems. (Manage Discomfort.)
I didn’t have anything that rose to the level of a “problem” on the day. Other than the heat and humidity, the only issue I had was the crotch discomfort, which I handled in a couple of different ways. First, at the mid-way checkpoint, I pulled out my little baggie of chamois creme (thanks to Sheri Rosenbaum for that recent Quick Tip!), applied it and trashed the bag. The QT worked great.
Then, as the ride progressed, I realized that I was seldom getting down into the hooks and drops, and I started doing that, in addition to using the other bar positions for a few minutes at a time.
Changing position and using those I hadn’t used much really worked well to help deal with the crotch discomfort. Even if your intent is to stay comfortable (which, for me, often means sitting up, with my hands on the hoods, and maybe on the tops from time to time, don’t overlook the benefit of “rolling forward” and getting down into the drops and hooks. It’s a good way to both stretch your back out a bit, and also to change the portion of your anatomy with the most pressure on the saddle.