Mind Games

Having become a member of the cycling revolution as a way of keeping fit an early retirement gave me the opportunity to extend the time spent on the bike and as a result the mileage increased.

The more miles I cycle the more I want to cycle and as the distances increase so does the time available to contemplate life. Time on the bike may be therapeutic but the greatest obstacle to overcome is the human brain. In the cold light of day the thought of cycling 100 miles is daunting but the legs and body can take more punishment than the mind. I think the person that coined the malapropism of  “trick cyclist” for psychiatrist had got it about right.

There are many ways documented to distract the mind and put you in the zone but I can speak only of what has and has not worked for me. I am as far as you can get from an elite athlete but do have a competitive streak, mainly against myself.

To start with I even found training difficult and the thought of cycling for more than a couple of hours had me convinced I could not do it. I used to concentrate on the minutes counting down which was a big mistake, I needed a training partner to distract me.

For this aspect I found Strava, the online training app that monitors your performance. People either love or hate Strava but it works for me. There are very few roads that do not include a Strava segment. it does not matter that I am 384/750, the achievement comes from trying to beat  my previous best time for the segment. I have something to concentrate on, visualising the section in advance and deciding how to ride it. The mental stimulus of improvement is a powerful driving factor and has certainly helped my training and fitness levels improve.

The next obstacle was distance and the first important lesson I learnt here was to make sure the body was fuelled. My first attempt at 60 miles nearly came to grief because I forgot to eat or drink !! How can you do that ? quite easily, you need to train your brain for that aspect too and I found it a challenge to remember to fuel up at the regular intervals required but once this becomes second nature your physical requirements are catered for and its only your brain to worry about.

Having taken it steady and got my mileage up I found that the best motivator was to set a target and try to achieve it. I decided to take the plunge and go for the 100 mile barrier by entering the Lincoln Grand Prix sportive. I like to think that for anything I attempt I am fully prepared so with this in mind I plotted out a 100 mile circular course and set about proving my legs for the distance. I set off on my own with food, drink and GPS and as I knew the course I was just enjoying the countryside. The first fifty miles just flew by and it was all going well, I was eating and drinking without a care but at sixty miles I started watching the GPS, well my brain became fixated by it, the mileage dragged and I forgot to fuel and when I eventually reached home it was as a wreck with severe cramp.

For the actual Sportive the event went well, I had the belief I could do the distance and as well as the distraction of riding in company I made sure the fuel was taken on board every thirty minutes. The other major breakthrough came when I switched the Garmin to display the route map and no ride data, this for me was the single most helpful act in distracting the mind from the distance goal.

In company the time and distance pass quickly, chatting or just following the wheel in front, even on tough climbs the ability to concentrate the mind on reaching small targets, that telegraph pole 100 metres ahead is enough to overcome thoughts of physical pain.

Self esteem also has a part to play in achieving the goal, if your bike is prepared for the challenge and you have the right clothing all these small gains can help the mind believe it is fully prepared and able to succeed.

I found it inconceivable a few years ago that anybody could cycle over 150 miles in a day and while it takes a great physical effort the mental fitness is just as important. Cycling has rewarded me with a level of personal achievement I would not have believed possible but it has been a learning curve for the brain as much as the bike.