The downs in training usually come from the long hours being combined with cutting oneself off from social contact. The two sort of go hand in hand! This time around, I’ve had a very short time-frame to move from nil fitness to race readiness for the 640 km Taupo Maxi at the end of this month, so have followed a very focussed training plan that left no room for social riding. The whole thing can become a joyless grind, with me hanging on out of desperation to be fit enough for the next race. However, this isn’t clever and is hardly a recipe for the long-term. In future, I need to build far more social contact into my riding, perhaps through a combination of the odd ride with the 60/40 group, participating in randonneur rides, and maybe going with the odd riding buddy. I also need to find a way to build up base fitness that doesn’t impose too much on my time with Helen, maybe by commuting to work by bike. If I can’t get this sorted, long-distance cycling is going to lose a lot of its attraction as the years pass.
What really started me thinking about this, however, is just how low and fearful I feel in the weeks before a race. The fact that I’ve tended to enter races where it’s touch and go whether I can finish is a major factor, combined with the fact that a DNF (Did Not Finish) is just not acceptable. The moods are usually kicked off by a hard pre-race simulation ride or practice race to test my readiness. These make me realise not only how unready I am but also just how much it hurts. Such was the case last weekend, with the ride ending prematurely and with me deciding not to enter this month’s event. I’ve since changed my mind, but when reflecting on this, I suddenly realised how familiar it all was. I was going to do exactly the same thing before the 1,010 km Graperide earlier this year and also felt dearly tempted to do so in in events previous to that.
Are there any ups then? The highest is definitely when you cross that finish line. Not only has all the effort finally come to an end, but the sense of achievement is immense. The sheer joy of crossing the line in the Graperide and last year’s Maxi is still seared into my memory. I can tap into that feeling, even now. However, the end of races is not always such a pleasant experience. You are in a state of utter physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, which can easily tip you the other way. This happened in my first 500+ km ride, when no familiar face greeted me at the end, no-one knew what I’d just been through, and I felt no connection at all with all the one-lappers around me. It took me a long time to get out of that pit.
There are other ups as well. They’re not as intense, but definitely enough to have kept me in this sport. Strangely enough, I'm usually pretty high and feeling strong when standing at the starting line. I work hard to get myself into as positive attitude as possible and it usually works. Deciding to do a near-impossible ride and then planning and kicking things into action is also pretty exciting. Indeed, most part of the race can be alright, with the intense focus on executing well made battle-plans giving a lot of satisfaction. However, perhaps greatest is the sense of contentment that comes from feeling confident and believing in yourself. I've by no means turned into a braggart, as it’s not in my nature. But it’s really nice to quietly realise that you have it in you to achieve whatever challenges may be flung your way.
My conclusion? It’s useful to know that you have these ups and downs, as you’re then far better able to manage them!