Saturday, July 11, 2009

Leave With The One What Brung You

Mental preparation is the most difficult and the most necessary preparation for long distance bicycle riding. For starters, riding long distance can be boring. Hours spent sitting still and pedaling circles can be mind numbing. Some riders use headphones and ipods to fill the monotony.

Personally, I believe headphones, or even ipods with external speakers are dangerous for bicycling. Problems with traffic, road surfaces or even with dogs and squirrels can come up quickly even when you are paying attention. The last thing you'll need is to be distracted by music or pod-casts. However, those cyclists who listen to the wind when they ride, while certainly safer, will be bored stiff after a while. And allowing your mind to drift will result in a slower pace, and therefore more time on the bike than you wish. Train your mind to pay attention during the long hours of riding it will take to be successful in long distance cycling.

Learning to ride alone is also an essential part of training. During the recent Superman Ride in Metropolis Illinois, I rode briefly with a rider who complained of having to ride alone for a portion of the ride. He had cycled nearly half of the ride with others, but then gradually was out-ridden and had been riding alone for several miles when I caught up to him. He said that the time spent riding alone was much harder than the group riding had been. I agreed but warned him that unless he was prepared to ride alone, he would never ride enough miles in training to be successful. The cyclist who is unwilling to get dressed and take the bike out for training without support from others will always ride at less than her potential. The cyclist who is unwilling to train alone will finally wind up riding alone when the group he is riding with drops him half-way through the event.

Fair-weather riders will not reach their potential either. Train yourself to ride when it's too hot for reasonable people to be out, or too cold for all but penguins, or when the rain is coming down by the bucket. Train yourself to ride in the dark, or against the wind. If you only can ride when the temperature is between 65 and 80 degrees during the daylight in dry weather with a light wind at your back, you'll have difficulty finding events to participate in.

Finally, train yourself not to quit. During training, try to identify those things which will cause you to quit during an event, and decide ahead of time to press on through them. While test riding my route to Metropolis, and later riding down for the event, I identified an intersection where I might quit. My route down took me on the New Columbia Road and I saw the intersection where the event route turned onto that road and led towards Metropolis. I knew that if I wasn't mentally prepared to make that turn to the right towards Metropolis, it would be easy to turn to the left toward Vienna and home and cheat myself out of 50 miles. I decided ahead of time to turn right.

There were, however, two other opportunities to quit I hadn't anticipated. When I arrived back to the start/stop location at the park, I took the time to refill before I headed out. A River To River Cycling Club rider rolled in and began putting his bike on his vehicle for the trip home to Marion. He called out to offer me the opportunity to quit and ride home with him. I replied, "Dance with any boy you like, but leave with the one what brung you." He smiled, recognizing the "no thanks" I was implying. I had already decided to ride the entire distance, I wouldn't quit here. The second opportunity to quit was on the way home at Tunnel Hill when I flatted. I stopped to replace the tube and I was unable to find a drop of shade so I just began fixing the flat there on the side of the road. As I was refilling the tire, I made some mistake or other and blew the tube off of the rim, ruining it. I had another tube I could use, but just at that moment, a pickup truck stopped. The driver said that he was going to Marion, and if I wanted I could throw the bike in the back and ride in with him. I replied, "Dance with any boy you like, but leave with the one what brung you". He didn't get it, so I said, "no thanks" and he drove away. I replaced the blown tube and finished the ride home.

If you only prepare physically for an event or ride and neglect your mental preparation, you will not achieve your goals. Be prepared for boredom, loneliness, and a desire to quit to attack you throughout the event at various times, and probably more than once. You can use my mantra if you like: "Dance with any boy you like, but leave with the one what brung you". Or make up one of your own. Ed Pavelka, author of Long Distance Cycling says, "just finish the damn ride". Either way, prepare mentally. As they say, "it's 10% physical and 90% mental". Be prepared and you'll always "leave with the one what brung you".

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