I’ve recently entered the 505 km GrapeRide Ultimate ride, which will take place at the end of March. The distance is two-thirds longer than anything I’ve done before. It also has the added feature of being ridden throughout the day and night, with riders having no sleep at all, something I’ve never experienced. It’s going to be really hard for me. Strategy and tactics will be vital to my finishing and doing so within the set time limits. The strategizing applies to both the body and, more importantly, the mind.
I have worked out a strategy for the 101 km circuit itself, and also for each of the laps.
In regard to the circuit, the race consists of a 40 km flat; hills for about 30 km broken up by a shortish flat in the middle; then another 30 km flat. This is my strategy for the circuit.
- I feel that the key point in each lap will be the end – the 101 km mark. Here I need to resupply myself and probably have about 5 minutes rest and stretches. However, the most important thing will be, no matter what, to continue on. No matter how shit I feel, don’t even think of not going on; just cycle out once my 5 minutes is up and trust to the momentum of the circuit to get me through.
- The key thing for the first 40 km should be on generating an absolutely positive feeling, coupled with a focus on efficient riding style. There should be no self-doubt or any negativity about the ride ahead. Count myself lucky to be rested and on the flats, and make the most of the respite before the hills start. This is the section that I will be making the most time-gain in (depending on the wind).
- The tactics for the hills should be easy – just get to the top of them and down again. I don’t find that I have any mental problems with hills, even when really tired. All my being is focussed on getting to the top, so there is little room for the sapping negativity that can sneak in with long rides on the flats. However, I should again concentrate on efficient riding – use the legs, not the arms! Half way through this stretch will be that short flattish bit which should be a welcome respite – use it to make up time! Overall, I don’t see any problems with this 30 km section mind-wise, although going downhill on the windy and rough roads could be a bit of a worry and will slow me down at night.
- It is the last 30 km flat that worries me the most. There’s a risk that, having finished the hill section, I will think that it’s now just an easy 30 km flat to the end and will under-estimate it. If anything, it is this section that will break me. So I just won’t let it. My tactic: treat it as the hardest section; expect it to be a struggle; each time feel damn proud when I finish it; and my treat when finishing it will be, after a short rest, the excitement and joy of being able to extend my distance record by another 101 km as I set out on the next leg.
I suspect that a race of multiple laps rather than one single route is mentally harder, but I can turn it to my advantage by treating each lap as a separate race and having a completely different approach for each. So, what will be my strategy for each lap?
- Lap 1. Positive thoughts and efficient riding! Enjoy the ride and take in the views. Know that I can think of no better place to be. In regard to racing tactics, keep with the bunch as long as I can do so comfortably. Later on, if there is anyone going around my speed, stay with them and share the load. The key point, though, will be not to be pushed into going harder than I should. If the pace is too fast, drop off. There’s still a hell of a long way to go! Concentrate on efficient riding and no unnecessary expenditure of energy.
- Lap 2. The mental focus on this one will be on getting as far into the hills as I can before darkness fills. I will let this thought fill my mind and use it to replace any negative focus on the very long way still to go. Once again, efficient riding style and positive thoughts. At some stage the lights will have to be turned on. I may also have to take some extra clothing in case the night drops the temperature too much.
- Lap 3. I suspect that this will be the make-or-break lap. I have to finish it and do so in a positive frame of mind! This was the circuit where I understand that, two races ago, six out of thirteen riders pulled out. My guess is that it was a mix of physical exhaustion and the mind-sapping effects of sleep deprivation. So, my general strategy will be just to keep to the approach outlined above for the general circuit. Focus on each section of the circuit and not on the long road ahead. Know that at the end of this lap I will be entering wonderful unexplored territory. But concentrate just on getting to the end of the 3rd lap. Once at the end, rest, refuel, stretch, psych up, and then, without any hesitation, set out on the 4th lap. Some intake of coffee may be a good idea, but in the end I have to accept that the circuit will just be bloody tough.
- Lap 4. Yay, 4th lap! Further than I’ve ever cycled before! This should be the mind-frame. Celebrate, don’t lament! Moreover, dawn will show itself on this lap – enjoy it and let it recharge me! And keep that food coming in. Finally, know that, once you’ve finished this circuit, you’ve made it. The 5th lap will be a piece of cake.
- Lap 5. The last lap. No piece of cake! I’ll be sore, sleep-deprived, and exhausted. But it will be my last lap and I should be able to recharge myself with positive comments from those doing one lap. Use those comments, they’ll be my fuel, so feel grand and tremendous and just push those peddles to the end! I will have done 505 km!
And the key thing to remember all the time? Cycling rule no. 5 – “Harden the fuck up!” If it wasn’t tough, we wouldn’t be doing it. So while doing all I can to prepare for the race, I cannot avoid the fact that the bugger will hurt. Accept it!
What else do I have to remember in terms of strategy and tactics?
- Absolutely important will be continual intake of food. Don’t forget it; don’t put it off; and drink/eat even if feeling unwell. The whole race depends on it!
- Watch out for cramp. Have electrolyte tablets handy in case needed and do frequent stretches on the bike.
- Remember that I get cold really fast. Make sure that I have enough clothes should I have an unscheduled stop, such as for a puncture repair. Don’t dawdle too much at the end of each lap. If I do stop for long, make sure that I wrap up in warm clothes or a blanket. Also, at night wear too many clothes rather than too few. I just do not have the natural insulation to keep me warm!
- How do I keep awake? This worries me. One important thing to do is to keep up the food intake, so that physical exhaustion does not contribute unnecessarily to the sleep deprivation. The fact that my main food source (Hammer Perpeteum) has caffeine in it should also help with this. However, it may also be useful to have a coffee at the end of lap 3 (and maybe even lap 2), especially for morale purposes. Make sure that I get really good sleeps in the nights before the race and a nap the morning of the race.
- It is important to ride efficiently and pace myself for the ride. I have a tendency of riding too hard in the early stages of a race. Also, I’m not an efficient rider, but have a tendency to use my arms too much to support myself – watch it, there’s a long way to go!
- Speaking of morale boosts, I would love to have Led Zeppelin ripping through the night for even a few minutes during the 4th leg. However, this may be a bit of a dream.
- Support is important. But I don’t want Helen to be too exhausted the next day, because I will be a write-off then. I will be able to resupply myself at the check-in place, probably loading up with 3-4 bottles each time. I could also leave spare clothes there, spare equipment and maybe even a thermos of coffee. So a little bit of negotiation to make sure that Helen gets as much sleep as possible.
- A key part in all this planning is my likely times. These are what I estimate:
- Start 2:00pm
- Lap 1: 4:00-4:30 hours (6:00-6:30pm)
- Lap 2: 4:30-5:00 hours (10:30-11:30pm)
- Lap 3: 4:30-5:00 hours (3:00-4:30am)
- Lap 4: 5:00-5:30 hours (8:00-10:00am)
- Lap 5: 5:00-5:30 hours (1:00-3:30pm)
- Total 23:00-25:30 hours.
- Unfortunately, there are two key times I have to beat and half of my expected time-range would not meet it. I need to have started on my 5th lap by 9:00am; and on the 5th lap I need to have left Havelock by 2:00pm. My concern is the first condition, which gives me a maximum riding time of 19:00 hours for the two laps, i.e. an average of 21.3 km/hr, including rest stops. This could be a real stretch goal for me over that distance!
- Lastly, never let the speed slip. Don’t coast, keep the peddle rhythm going, keep stops short, and always be focussed!