I have always loved watching cycling, with the Tour De France being the yearly highlight. So, in 2015 I eventually decided to try road cycling for myself and bought a bike on the Cycle to work scheme. I immediately became hooked. A 10,mile ride at the weekend quickly became 20, 30, then 50. Maybe I could even ride 100? I entered local sportives and races and soon realised that the longer the race the better I did. Perhaps I was an endurance athlete? In 2017 I took the plunge and entered 2 endurance races. City to Summit, an ultra-duathlon from Edinburgh Castle to Fort William, and Revolve24 a 24hr bike race round Brands Hatch. I performed better than I could have imagined in both, so it was decided, going long was my “thing”.
Fast forward 3 years and I’m starting to consider myself as an ultra-endurance athlete. Having now competed in several 24hr to multi day (non-stop) cycle races. A couple have been supported but most have been unsupported where you have to “forage” for food and water as you go. This is done usually from service stations and mini stores. The rule is you can use any shop etc as long as it is available to all racers. So, no friends and family waiting to give you a pie en route. Not always easy depending the route and time of day. Night-time in the remote location can mean some tactical rationing at times!
These races have taken me to many countries. And I find that even although you are racing you go slowly enough on the bike that you have time to take in the beauty of the landscape that you are passing through. Whether it’s the small, cobbled villages and olive groves of Portugal or the epic desert vitas of Oman. However, this year has thrown me, like many, a bit of a curve ball when it comes to racing. Due to Covid19 travel restrictions have meant that to compete I have had to venture into the virtual world. I jumped into the deep end and took part in the Virtual Race Across America. A race that I could not have entered in reality due to the high costs involved. This was an excellent chance to go up against the best in the world for a fraction of the costs. Plus, it was much more logistically friendly as it all took place 10m from my house in the garage. After 12 days, of 20+hrs a day, on the turbo trainer I had to sprint to secure 5th place. It proved to be quite a surreal experience and even although it was so close to home, and therefore easy to give up, it taught me that the mental aspect of racing was just as important, if not more than, the physical one.
Due to the length and nature of these races the old adage of “every day is a school day” fits very well. As each race is very different, the location, length, or the result/outcome there are always lessons to be picked up and things to take away.
What I have learnt
A few of the things I have learned along the way would be –
Have a goal to focus on, it will give you motivation
Make it tough but realistic. This will make you work hard for it. If it’s unrealistic you will just end up being disappointed. But be honest with yourself.
Focus on the whole picture
You can’t achieve a PB every day. There will be bad days as well as the good. And it takes both to make improvements. Train hard, rest hard, eat well and sleep well. The rest will take care of itself over time.
“Eat the elephant”
If a goal or task seems too big to tackle split it down into bite sized chunks. A 600-mile race is just 6 smaller 100-mile rides. Complete one and move onto the next. Learn to go outside your comfort zone, even slightly. This is how you change and progress.
Looks can be deceiving
When trying to assess the competition all the best, most expensive, equipment does not make you fast. It’s the body and mind that does that. Try to look beyond the surface.
Always have a plan
Take the time to put a plan together. It saves time in the long run. But learn to be flexible at the same time. Adhering stringently to one can be as bad as having no plan at all. This will help to be productive in training and racing. Its amazing how much time is lost through faff.
Look at what went right and wrong in a race
Often the biggest lessons and improvements come from things that don’t go well. Learn from these and move on.
But most importantly focus on the good stuff
Do what makes you feel good. If you do this getting motivation to progress is much easier.
Due to Covid I have been working from home since mid-March. I think the last few years of training has helped me adjust to this in a few ways. Much of my training and even racing have been spent on my own. It can be hard finding people that want to do the miles and time required. However, I can draw parallels between this and training/racing in ultra-endurance events. The main points would be-
Ok today I want to achieve A, B & C. Therefore, I need to be up and at my workstation by 8am. If you don’t do this you will struggle to get out of bed and get started.
You cant smash a personal best every day in training, so why arrive at work each morning with a ‘to-do’ list that matches the most productive day you’ve ever had? Working on both a micro and macro level will boost productivity. Trying to maximise, every single day, is a one-way path to burnout.
Plan your day, avoid distractions. Distractions will disrupt your flow and steer you off-course. They can rob you of time unbelievably fast. Try to stick to the plan and avoid un-necessary faff. Or you will end up wondering where the day went.
Structure and Routine
Following on from planning and minimising disruptions it is important to also take a break. The key is to keep it structured. This means that you keep energy levels topped up. The same goes for overall daily routine. Getting up and going to bed at the same times each day helps you to be well rested and stops you fall into the pit of being tired during the day.
Nutrition and Rest
This may seem like a tenuous link to working, but if you eat well you will have more sustainable energy levels throughout the day. Highly processed foods rich in sugar are great for a short-term energy hit but the crash that follows is not productive. Coffee is often used to counter this but again too much or consuming it late in the day will impact on sleep and therefore energy levels the following day. Neither are good for health in the long term.
Break it down
Like an endurance event a big task or project can be daunting. Where to start? But if you break it down into manageable bite sized chunks it will be less overwhelming and easier to plan out and therefor make a start.
Remember to enjoy what you do. Have a goal that motivates you.
Take a chance and don’t be afraid of change. If you never try you will never know!
“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit… There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of them, only that they are done consistently and correctly and, all together, produce excellence”. American sociologist Dan Chambliss
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