Only a couple of days before the big day! PLEASE have a look at my JustGiving page for the charity I am supporting. Genie’s Wish really deserves the donations, so they can improve the lives of people with terminal and live limiting illnesses. Thank you so much, Nick xxx
So the day’s nearly here and how do I feel? Anxious? Intimidated? Excited? A bit of everything?
Actually I’ve been pretty knackered, coughing my lungs up, and feeling ill. I probably caught a bug on the flight out to Portugal then got sick at the end of my final hard training block. The COVID lateral flows are negative, but perhaps it’s they’re false-negative. In any case, I’ve been off my bike for a few days and it’s hardly the final week I had hoped for. Thankfully it’s improving now with only 48 hours to go.
At least all the real training is in the bag. As I posted on Instagram before I got sick, I know I’ve done everything I can. Now it’s just about mind games and getting the job done.
Over those last 40 weeks of training, I’ve had plenty of time to think about the mental game, and I’ve learned a lot from others along the way.
The best opportunity was a 600km effort I did six weeks ago, on a hilly Audax ride round the Pennines and Lake District.
I used my road bike and it wasn’t a race, but riding non-stop and self-supported for 24 hours was perfect to learn more about how it feels to keep pedalling all day and all night.
Here’s what I think I’ve learned:
1. Save Your Mind Bullets
24 hours is much too long to sustain a hyped-up, dig-deep, go-get-it attitude. If you’re well prepared and pace it sensibly, there’s nothing difficult until at least the halfway point.
So just follow the pre-ride routine, roll though the first few hours, watch your pace and keep eating and drinking. It’ll get tough eventually, so save that mental energy until it’s really needed.
2. Accept the Difficulty
Nobody can ride this long without discomfort – it’s part of the game.
Along the way, you know you’ll have:
- difficult sensations: sore feet, legs, backside, shoulders, neck; heat and cold; nausea…
- difficult feelings: weariness, anxiety, doubt
- difficult thoughts: “I’m so tired…I can’t sustain this…I’m getting weaker…there’s so far to go…why the hell am I doing this…”
- difficult impulses: to sit up, ease off, miss a feed, extend a break, stop completely
Trying to crush or deny these difficulties isn’t sustainable. It might work for a while, but then the mental battle just becomes another source of stress.
If you can, it’s far better to acknowledge and accept the difficulty, then move on regardless: “Ah, here’s a tough patch. Oh well, it’s not a surprise and it won’t last forever. Now, let’s try to focus on…”
3. Focus on Something Helpful
It’s best to have this pre-prepared. Positive thoughts don’t tend to come naturally when riding alone at 2 am!
Confidence: “I know I can do this. I’ve done everything I can to prepare, my plans are tested, and there’s no way I’ll quit unless I have to.”
Opportunity: “Finally, here’s my reward for all the hard work in preparation. I’m lucky to be here: fit, healthy and with the choice do do this.”
Support: “My friends and family are on my side. They want me to succeed and I want to do them proud. The other riders are on my side too, so let’s support each other and feed off the positivity.”
Physical: “Remember: smooth pedalling, steady pacing, nice aero position, relaxed shoulders, steady breathing…”
Bite-sized pieces: “…15 mins between feeds, 1 hr between laps, 2 hrs between pit stops… Almost done 1/4..1/3..1/2..2/3..3/4…”
4. Keep the Harsh Motivation in Reserve
Sometimes harsher, more aggressive motivation can work too. Pressure, targets, the risk of failure, and competitive urges are all powerful forces and they can certainly help to dig deep.
But they’re also mentally tiring and not sustainable for hours on end. It’s best to use these thoughts sparingly, and only when really needed:
- “If I ease up now just because it hurts, all that training will have gone to waste.”
- “If I come up short because I didn’t commit 100%, I’ll regret my weakness tomorrow and forever after.”
- “If I let my friends and family down now by screwing this up, I’ll be ashamed to face them in the morning.”
- “Look at those others suffering – it doesn’t hurt me like it hurts them. Let’s show them what a real athlete looks like.”
- “Stop whingeing Nick. Just turn the pedals and do as you’re told. You’ll stop when I say you can stop.”
5. Remember Your Why
I find this the most powerful of all. As I wrote in part 2, I’ll just try to keep coming back to what I said at the start:
“Because this is who I am, someone who takes on challenges and sees them through.”
Next time: Did I make it to the start line? And how did it go???!!!