About a week ago I said yes to a ride that I’m not sure I can complete. If you’ve been involved in this sport for even the shortest of time frames, you’ve probably done something similar: A bunch ride with people of unknown, but probably quite fast, fitness. A mountain bike ride on terrain that may or may not be outside your skill level. A half day event or multi-day charity ride.
In this particular instance the ride in question is a 290km one-day road epic, with 4,000m of climbing, a group of people who seem quite nice, and a collective aim to be back by dark. In other words, further than I’ve ever ridden in one go and further than I’ve ever climbed in one go.
Replace the specifics of this ride with something that makes you equal parts excited, curious and a little jittery.
Spurred on by the idea of said ride, you sign up. Then, almost immediately if you’re completely out of your depth, you wonder what on earth you were thinking.
Fortunately for me, this moment came during an hour-long commute to work. This was precisely enough time to think through some reoccurring thoughts and replace the stress response with a far more reasoned one.
Can I do it? The person who invited me seems to think so. The other people who said yes seem to think it’s possible. Based on previous rides I feel like I can comfortably do the first third, should be able to complete the second third, and look forward to discovering the final third. I answered that question with a yes.
Do I want to do it? Yes. It’s been a while since I bit off a big biking challenge. I got ‘marathoned out’ a few years ago, after racing several on a mountain bike. But, as I had a chat with my fears, excitement and instinct, it appears like the desire for a long, challenging ride is in a happy, healthy place.
Is my equipment up for the job? I went through a checklist of parts on my road bike that may be worn, accessories for a longer ride that differ from a shorter one, and things that make a lot of kilometres far more comfortable, like a new chamois and favourite ride foods.
Any ‘nos’ soon became ‘yeses’. Positivity increased further as I remembered how a challenging ride goal has a way of making you maintain your equipment in ways that keep on giving far beyond the ride itself.
Is my body up for the job? There’s not much time between now and the target ride to perform fitness miracles, but there is enough time to sort out a few niggles. I made a mental note to see a trusted health professional about a lingering joint pain, and a second note to book a massage a few days before the big one.
Riding is such a strange and repetitive activity to put our bodies through. While you can only do so much training, a massage is a secret weapon for recovery, fatigue and better consistency in the long run. A good diet and good sleep goes without saying, but once again, having a goal that scares you can force you to shake these parts of your life back into shape as well.
Is there a bail out plan? Well yes, there are many. There are bail out points on the ride, but I don’t need to know too much about them just yet. More importantly, doing the event is a choice. If something doesn’t feel right between now and then, no one’s forcing me to attend.
By the time I reached my destination, any thoughts of self doubt were replaced with a methodical curiosity. Glad for the motivation and caretaking that comes with a challenging goal, I also felt glad to be a cyclist.
This is a sport full of challenges, and one of the best things about it is that any time you overcome one, there’ll always be more. A distance, a hill climb, a personal best time, a new location, a new group, a different discipline, the list is far longer than any single ride.
Some people get so down about this. They’re so hard on themselves for what they can’t do (yet), rather than wholeheartedly enjoying the journey to something, or somewhere, new.
There’s a good chance this ride won’t work out as optimistically as my thoughts would like it to, but, following a series of yeses to my most worried thoughts, I’m certainly attracted to giving it a shot.
If you pick them well, the best challenges are often the ones that are a little bit harder than you think you can achieve. I hope that next time you say yes to a ride that scares you, the experience, the preparation and the journey put an overwhelming number of ticks in the achievement column, too.