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Cycling: The Positive Mental Attitude Needed to Go the Distance


With my wife pushing the outer boundaries of her abilities on a bicycle – and riding faster than some of the guys, we’re getting into some awesome conversations about those abilities.  We had one yesterday on the way down to our nephew’s graduation party and picked it up again on the way home.

My wife had a tough time down in Kentucky on that 53 miler.  She was on the edge for much of the last 48 miles.

I went into the 102 miler the day before, nervous as a cat with a long tail in a room full of knitting grannies in rocking chairs.  I was riding that exceptionally hilly track with a couple on a tandem and my buddy Chuck.  They’re stronger than I am.  Chuck is a freaking mountain goat on two wheels and Diane and Adam are so strong on their tandem, they can almost make hills tough.  Given a stretch of downhill, they can smooth out rollers and make even single bikes work on all but the gnarliest climbs.

Here are a few things I knew going into that ride:

1.  It was going to be hard.
2.  It was going to be fast…. My buddy Mike doesn’t climb well so he slowed the ride down last year.
3.  I was going to spend a portion of the ride in the red zone and a greater portion on the edge of that zone.
4.  I was going to have to eat just right to fuel the effort without overdoing it.  Overeating on a ride like that is just as bad as undereating.
5.  There was a fair chance I was going to get dropped.

That last item is a ride killer.

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After 60 miles I was in fantastic shape.  I was strong and feeling good and we were over most of the hard climbs.  I had to be careful here.  Too much celebrating that I’m feeling good (especially so early) can lead to a collapse when things get tough… and they did get tough.  Just five miles later.

We were into another set of hills that I didn’t remember from the year before and the climbing was starting to take its toll.  We had just ten miles to the next rest stop so I started breaking the ride down into sections.  “Just hold on till the next rest stop.  Get some food in you and go from there.”  I did, it was just a half an hour.  The last 27 miles and change was changed to 25 in my melon.  I don’t have to worry about two miles, so it was going to be about 15 miles to the next rest stop.  50 minutes, give or take.  Rather than take my time at the rest stop, I used the portable facilities, got my food (a banana, two pieces of watermelon and finally a pickle), refilled my H2O bottles and got on my bike – we were off in about five minutes.  Dawdling too long at stops causes the muscles to tighten up and makes starting out again painful.  This is a common mistake among noobs.  Get in, get out and get going.  I glued myself to the tandem’s wheel.

I was developing a gnarly saddle sore, my legs hurt a little bit but other than that, I was able to keep up pretty well.  Then we hit the 80 mile mark.  Just twenty miles to go.  Then the positive mental training I’ve done over the years took over.

“What’s 20 miles?!”  “If I do 20 miles, I’m bummed out before it’s done.”  “I can do this last chunk.”  “Dude, I’m going to make it.”  “This wasn’t near as bad as I thought it would be.”

I did start struggling again but by the time that section hit, I only had 12 miles to go (plus the extra two that we’re still not worrying about because anyone can do two miles)…  What’s twelve miles?  Nothing.  It’s a warmup.  We’re not even talking about 40 minutes.  “I can do this.” “No chance I’m giving up my draft now, I’m all over this.”

This is the part that my wife struggles with because she doesn’t have the experience I do in tackling the mental aspect of a hard ride when things start getting tough.  Her knee-jerk reaction is to keep going negative which can lead to throwing in the towel.  Fortunately, on her Sunday ride, when she hit that block, she had me and I fed her the positive which helped to drown out, or at least dull all of that negative.

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Eventually, with enough wins under my belt, I learned the difference between feeling bad and truly being gutted and done.  I know that I can push through feeling bad and even some being done – as long as I’m fueling properly, I’ll have more in the tank.  On the other hand, if I bonk, I bonk.  If my wife had, she’d know I’d be there to ride with her.  As long as she gives her best effort (and after all of the miles we’ve ridden together, I know – because I’m struggling too) I have no problem sitting up and taking it easy with her.  That’s not what happened though.  She hung on like a champ and did the full 53 miles with the group and learned that she’s stronger than she thought.  She gained a little bit of positive knowledge for the future.  She learned that “done” isn’t always done.  Sometimes it’s just “I feel bad, this hurts”.

Now, I had to learn this all on my own.  My wife gets the minor benefit of my sharing my experience.  Still, she has to change that tape she plays in her head that says, “I can’t”, and that’s really the biggest battle.  In time, with enough wins under her belt, she will get to that point where she knows the difference between her body saying, “F— You, I’m done” and her mind saying, “This hurts and I don’t like you very much”.

That’s the positive mental edge needed to go the distance.

One thing is certain; If I never challenge (d) my negative thinking, if I always gave up when I started feeling a little rough, it would have taken a whole hell of a lot longer to become as strong and fit as I am today. No doubt about it.

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4 Comments

  1. wanderwolf says:

    Cool part is, the more you practice pushing past that “I’m done” moment, the easier it gets to overcome it the next time! Positive attitude is like any other muscle- stronger with training 🙂

  2. it’s the way you write. definitely. i totally dig all the descriptions and the one-liners.

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