I found myself making plans the other day. This sounds like something most people do most days, but these plans were different. I’ve been healing a pretty serious injury for the last 18 months and a different one for 12 months before that. The specifics aren’t important, at least not for this article, but what it’s meant is a constant scaling back of plans, rather than building toward the type I look forward to most: bike rides, hills, interesting people I haven’t met yet, soaring through stunning landscapes and the sense of achievement as you do something you weren’t sure you could.
I caught myself mid-way through the making of said plans and realised I’d turned a recovery corner, one I’d been looking forward to for a while. This is one where you know that even on the bad days you can still do your favourite things. There’s still a lot of work to do but, like the first switchback at the bottom of an iconic climb like l’Alpe d’Huez, it’s an exciting corner to reach.
I’m not sharing this background to navel gaze. More to give this article some context. This blog is the first in a series about building or improving on a current level of fitness while aiming for a challenging experience or event.
Cyclists are often quick to whine about their current level of fitness (or the weather, or the cost of a new piece of shiny kit); wishing things were better than they are. This is something I’ve never really understood, mostly because it sucks all their enjoyment away from the fitness, strengths and experiences they have.
Fitness, form, speed or whatever you want to call it, comes from lots of different places. Sure, there’s a physical element, but psychology and mental strategies, bike set up, nutrition, riding skills and an ability to retain a sense of perspective also play a big part. So does being grateful for your starting point, your current form and the opportunities that lie in front of you.
If you can jump on a bike and make plans for pain that is of your own choosing, you’re doing pretty well. These were the plans I started making the other day. Starting with some local mountain bike events, motivated by the chance to ride L’Etape Australia on the road bike in December and, with a little luck, several other experiences from there.
The L’Etape Australia routes take in 126 or 157 hilly kilometres through closed roads in the Snowy Mountains. It’s like riding a stage of the Tour de France but much closer to home.
I’ve ridden road bikes for more than 20 years but never done anything like this before. I’m curious about what it’s like to ride big hills in a crowd, to ride that kind of distance, what the experiences of other people at the event are like, and the different strategies people can call on to make the experience the most fun. L’Etape Australia is supported by SBS, so it is good timing and a good fit. Plus, I’m genuinely excited about it, which makes the training 600 per cent easier (give or take).
During the lead-up to the event, this blog series will cover topics such as finding a coach, on and off bike nutrition, training with power, bike fit, bike prep, mind prep, cross-training and finding a quiet confidence. I’ll call on the insights of people much smarter than me for most of these articles but making a commitment like this starts with taking stock.
Tips for taking stock
Be honest. Allow your thoughts to play out until you understand what motivates them, what you’re motivated by and what you’re scared of. I find a long, solo bike ride invaluable for this. Acknowledge negative thoughts or limits in your current ability, but try to use these insights constructively.
Be realistic. What do you want to achieve? Is it possible in the timeframe you have in mind? If you’re not sure, or prone to under or over-estimating your abilities, check in with people who know more about your goals than you do or who know you well enough to give you a well-reasoned answer.
Start when you’re ready. With so many fun experiences and events on the cycling calendar, there’s often a temptation to do too much too soon. Listen to your instincts, and if you need more time, take it. But fill that time with small steps that help you reach the bigger ones, those small steps can be a lot of fun too.
This series is not about being super-hero fit, race-winning fit or being your best self. It’s about different strategies you can call on to scaffold the fitness you have, to keep a sense of balance and to enjoy the different experiences and opportunities that come with that. If there are topics you’d like to see covered, please let us know in the comments on the Facebook post accompanying this article and I’ll see what I can do.