You know that you are getting to the pointy end of your training when you do your last hard ride and make a start on tapering for the big day! In less than two weeks’ time I will be lining up to start the Peaks Challenge. This week’s theme focuses on the concept of “redesigning your brain”, i.e. how easy is it to train your thought processes. Todd Sampson has made some interesting documentaries on the subject which are available through the ABC. “What does this have to do with riding a bike?” you might think. My answer would have to be, “everything”. My efforts on the bike last week reflect my thought processes more than my physical ability.
After my epic adventure to Esk the previous weekend, it was expected that I would feel tired. Thus when it came to Tuesday’s training session, I didn’t have high expectations for my performance. It involved doing three kilometre tempo/threshold efforts in one of my favourite areas, Long Pocket. Liz had paired me up with Anne, Kim and Deb – who are all strong riders. Anne was in ominous form on Tuesday and it took a bit of tenacity to try and stay with her as she led out the first two efforts. Then I surprised myself being able to hold out well for the third effort, even though internally I was thinking, “my crabs are smashed”. This led to an interesting conversation on the ride home with Liz – can athletes be taught the art of digging in and withstanding discomfort or is it an innate quality?
Liz’s take on this question was that it could be learned. I agreed, pondering, what is it exactly that makes people want to make an effort to do something well? I also pondered the idea of internal and external locus of control – that is, motivation for those with an internal focus comes from within and externally focused people seem to do better when their motivation comes from an external source e.g. other people driving them. In this week’s training I was about to take a lesson in what I fondly call, “bulldog tenacity”.
Five Coot-tha front repeats loomed on Thursday’s program. When I saw it on the list, I felt quite nervous – not because I was worried about completing them, but rather that this was an opportunity to beat my best time up the hill, set in 2013. I knew I had been riding well and that the time was within reach, but that to do it, it was going to require effort – and that effort was going to hurt! Upon meeting the girls, I was a bit morose, explaining that my mental dogs were out and about, howling. I drifted back a little bit and tried to gather my thoughts. Once I had decided that I was heading up that hill, I blocked all thoughts of it being painful from my mind.
“Average power screen on!”
I imagined myself riding like Peter Sagan up that hill, making it look effortless (NB, it wasn’t!). I looked at my Garmin. A few seconds less than my PB!
“Wow that was hard,” I thought, “but now I can relax”.
I continued the efforts and started gearing myself up for number five which was an “as hard as you can go” number. I spotted Anne in the distance. I inched closer to her wheel. Soon we were riding side by side. My legs were screaming. Suddenly a voice in my head yelled, “come on!”. It was my inner Lleyton Hewitt. Tennis player Lleyton Hewitt was legendary at his attempts at self motivation where he yelled at himself to lift his game.
I drew a deep breath and tried to put as much force through the pedals as I could. To my surprise, the bike responded and I jumped away. I kept pedalling, thinking my chest was about to explode.
“Surely I’m close to my PB again,” I thought.
I glanced at my Garmin – I had recorded a similar time. I was thrilled!
When I managed to upload my data to Strava, it appeared that I had knocked 30 seconds off my previous best. No wonder it hurt! The girls were very kind, congratulating me and allowing me to swan around in a haze of endorphins for a few days. Achieving that goal gave my confidence a big boost. However, little did I know that I was to be tested on my last hilly ride before my Three Peaks taper.
Liz had organised another ride up the Oxenford side of Tamborine, Beechmont, Binna Burra and back home via the Maudsland rollers. Leaving from Oxenford, Liz, Anne and I were in the company of strong men, Glenn and Dave. Inspired by my Coottha success, I went for gold on Mt Tamborine. However, I was to pay for it later, struggling up Beechmont and then Binna Burra. Liz kindly suggested that I was fatigued and that it was normal to be feeling this way two weeks out from an event. Knowing that she was right, I tootled up towards Binna Burra with Anne, marvelling at how strong I could be one minute and how broken I could be the next. However, I decided to accept it rather than question things too much. The descent off Binna Burra involves some climbing and I was quite slow. However at one point, I found myself with a bit of momentum and suddenly I had forgotten that I was feeling bad as I flew past Dave up a hill and across the other side.
We headed towards Upper Beechmont, where the terrain still undulates and the road is rough. Suddenly, Glenn, Dave and Liz flew past me. Thinking that I wanted to get back to Oxenford as soon as humanly possible, the old racing cyclist instinct in me kicked in and I jumped on Liz’s wheel, absolutely determined not to be dropped and not to struggle. To my amazement, I was hanging in there. Where did I suddenly get this second wind from? We headed down the hill towards Lower Beechmont, and then onto Maudsland. Glenn was putting in a solid effort on the front and I was again determined to stay with him and not get dropped. Soon Liz, Glenn and I had split our group and knowing that suffering a bit would help get me back to base faster made the decision worthwhile. I ran out of steam on one of the hills but was able to catch them on a downhill where they’d had to stop at traffic lights.
Finally we reached home base in Oxenford. I was tired but elated. How had I been able to manage to dig deep when I felt like I was shrouded in a mental wasteland on Binna Burra? Upon reflection, I think it comes down to desire. Improvement in endurance sports, particularly racing, requires athletes to learn how to “suffer” appropriately. That is to learn to push past perceived boundaries (within reason). If we don’t learn this skill and how to accept discomfort during certain parts of our training, we never improve. Liz always reminds me that digging deep and hurting on the bike isn’t a permanent phenomenon and does come to an end. I held that thought in the forefront of my mind as I self encouraged; “just get over this hill, recover on the downside!”, every time I thought I wasn’t going to be able to hang on during a climb. This innate desire within me to keep improving on the bike, whether it be in fitness or in handling skills is what drives me to push myself past my perceived limitations. What is wonderful is that fitness isn’t ageist – you can improve whether you’re 18 or 84! Having had such a good preparation has seen my confidence grow and I’m so grateful to feel this desire to improve and “go for it” starting to come back. I have missed it!
Now I’m into a ten day tapering process. It feels a bit strange, but I’m looking forward to freshening up for the big day. Thanks to everyone for sharing in my journey so far and looking forward to checking in next week.