Every time before a big training ride I get scared.
It’s not that I worry that I’ll be run over by a car or get lost and forget to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find my way home. No, it’s the fear that I will fail. That instead of riding for X hours I will have to quit halfway through. That I won’t be able to ride up a big hill and have to get off and push my bike. That I will not be able to live up to my own expectations and instead of setting some new PRs will slow down so much that I consider whether I should even share my ride on Strava.
You know what? I have never quit a race. I have never given up during a training session. I might not feel great at some point and slow down and yes, I have sworn my way up many hills and questioned my own sanity and decision making capability, but I never got off and walked up the hill.
So why do I have this fear before every big ride that I will fail when there is no evidence in the past 3.5 years of (serious) training that I give up easily or struggle to complete a task? Why do I worry so much about running out of food and water when every 5km I pass through some village where I could – if it all turns to crap – knock on someone’s door and ask them if they’d let me fill up my bottle?
And why do I worry about how to get home if I can’t go on anymore when my country is criss-crossed by railway lines, with tickets available on my phone or for purchase with the cash and credit card I always carry with me?
I don’t really know the answer, but every time before a big ride I get scared that I can’t do it. Even if I’ve proven myself wrong every time.
The fear isn’t crippling, it’s not keeping me at home, I will ALWAYS do my training (unless I’m unwell), but the mental chatter that goes on as I get myself ready to head out the door is something I am curious about understanding.
Facing my fears again and again
It is getting easier because the big rides aren’t just occasional anymore. They are becoming routine and instead of trying to prepare for all eventualities, I pack the minimum supplies (2 spare tubes, 2 CO2 cartridges, cash, cards, ID, 2 bottles of water, some food, my phone, basic tools) and plan my routes so that I will with certainty pass through civilization in regular intervals. This ensures a steady supply of pretzels, water and gelato.
Looking back at my past training gives me some confidence because I know that I can without a problem spend 6 hours on the bike and still smile afterwards.
Maybe some of my worries come from being ‘unsupported’ during my training. My rides are me, myself and I. No one to help, no one to fix things, no one to feed me.
In my big races there are mechanics, regular food and drink stations, and there are other riders around me. When I train and hit the road at 6am on a Sunday morning, Franconia is still asleep and there is literally no one around until the church bells are calling people to the service at 8.30am.
I shouldn’t worry, really. I can fix a flat tire (I’d be screwed if I couldn’t) and google maps takes me anywhere I want. I know I have the fitness, the stamina and willpower to get to my destination and I’m also just ridiculously stubborn and will not give up.
Letting fear give way to anticipation
So with anticipation and even a little excitement, I look forward to tomorrow’s ride. 5-6 hours. A 134km route. Hopefully that will only take 5 hours. I’d be happy with that. And if I feel good, who knows, I might even extend to do 6 hours all up.
I sit here with a full stomach because for the past 3.5 years I haven’t just eaten to not feel hungry but to fuel myself for the next training session.
I also feel buoyed by a great interval session this morning which gives me confidence that my speed is increasing and helped me understand what it feels like to push that little bit harder.
What’s left now is to prepare my snacks for the ride, get my gear ready, put one bottle in the fridge and one in the freezer and get some sleep before waking up at stupid-o-clock to head out on the road and get some miles in those legs.
The fear I have feels almost irrational and makes me laugh about the lack of trust I have in myself and my ignorance to what I’ve achieved on the bike in the past. Yes, it didn’t involve medals but it did involve countless hours of training by myself. Honest kilometres without a draft. It involved Mt Ventoux, the famous mountain in Southern France – and even that place didn’t make me get off my bike and push. And after I climbed the summit, I rode for another 130km.
So here’s a little kick up my own behind to stop worrying and start believing and to convert that energy into power and speed.
Parallels to other areas of life
There are times in everyday life when we feel inadequate, incapable and pushed to the limits. We don’t feel good enough and we come close to crumbling under the pressure of expectations. Most often they are our own but sometimes also those from the outside world.
For me cycling and talking about cycling is not a way of demonstrating particular toughness to the outside world (although it has gained me a lot of respect from male acquaintances in the past), but rather proving things to myself. It also helps me to have small successes as someone who only became a competitive athlete in my very late 20s, because the confidence boost and things I learn in cycling translate into many aspects of my career and personal life.
Exploring these parallels and (hopefully – oh see the doubt creeping in again?) inspiring others is what I aim to do here.
I don’t expect praise and applause. I wanted to write about my fear in the hope that it helps someone else.
Thank you for reading