Winning the battle… against me

I doubt myself. A lot. Half the time I don’t know if I’m crazy for even thinking what I want to do is possible… and half the time I’ve already talked myself out of it before I’ve even started.

Anyone that does any sort of endurance riding knows that eventually it comes down to, not a physical battle, but a mental battle against the “you can’t’s” in your mind. Against your mind trying to tell your body that you can’t do it. Against the fatigue, the (possible) boredom, the need to give up and just stop. Against the possible misery of a ‘bad’ ride, ‘bad’ weather, ‘bad’ legs, ‘bad’ coffee… you name it, we’ve thought it. The negative self-talk that can undo even the most physically strong person.

This is true for me as it’s true for a lot of people. My anxiety about riding long starts usually a few days before the ride even starts, and part of my challenge begins well before the ride even starts. I find it requires an intense amount of mental energy and dedication to be able to do these rides. I tend to go very very quiet on the days leading up to them as I start to mentally sharpen my focus… and simultaneously try not to let my anxiety overwhelm me. My family is now used to this, and often they only require a little reminder that ‘Mummy is focusing’ and let me be.

The Mental Prep

After I finished the apocalyptic (see: very hot and very windy) 600km ride and backed it up a couple weekends later with another brutal 400km (video coming!), I felt ready. At this point, the 300 was an ‘easy’ ride, and one I was very much looking forward to. I’d chosen a route I’d done before in an area that I loved riding, and it was going to be the ‘cherry on top’ of my qualifier rides. I’d also checked the start list and knew that ‘Lethal Leigh’ was going to be riding it too, which meant I’d have a great partner to ride with.

However, it was not meant to be. The raging temperatures on the scheduled ride weekend meant that for safety reasons the ride organiser cancelled all the long rides, and our ride got re-scheduled to the next weekend… which also had raging temperatures (see 42 degrees and windy) forecasted. Leigh decided not to hedge his bets against the ride running again and headed off to Bright for some riding. And as it turned out a lot of the 300km riders thought the same and chose not to re-register.

Right. So I was now mentally preparing to ride solo* for at least 230km, as I knew the first 70km to Violet Town would most likely be with Audaxers doing the other distances before we went our separate ways. In terms of my prep there isn’t much difference riding with a group to riding solo, aside from making sure I brought my headphones and downloaded a Spotify playlist or two. And because I’d done this route before, I knew where the stops were, where to get water and food, and the distances between stops. I was ready.

*I’m not really a solo rider, much preferring to ride with a friend. Even if the two of us hardly speak the entire day, I find it comfortable to ride with someone near me. Not particularly a lone wolf.

The last time I’d done any ride near this distance was over a year ago in Denmark when I rode a solo 200km. Which was fine. A bit lonely, but fine.

And then the night before the ride started we got an email from the ride organiser saying that there was bushfires in the Strathbogie-Merton area. “At the moment there are 2 fires in the area that are not yet under control. There is also an air quality warning for the area with smoke and poor air quality in the area. These fires could affect the ride tomorrow…. will check again tomorrow morning and will also try to do up some alternative routes if the area is deemed unsafe.”

Right. It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine. Anxiety started rising a little. But I knew, I knew, that it didn’t matter, it was just a control issue. And funnily enough the section in a book I was reading dealt with that same issue.

“Peace is accepting today, releasing yesterday, and giving up the need to control tomorrow”

Lori Deschene

So with a deep breath I double (triple) checked the start time, my alarm time, and settled down for bed. And crossed my fingers that the fires would magically disappear and the ride would go back to the original route that I had mentally prepared for.

The Off

With the amazingness of an experienced ride organiser, Rodney had been up late preparing all the new routes, so that when I arrived that morning they were completed and ready to ride. Unfortunately the fires hadn’t settled enough for him to be happy sending us through the Strathbogie’s, so we would add on an extra two loops nearer to the end of the ride to make up the distance. The weather was amazingly glorious: after a 42 degree day the cool change blew in some magic and it was about 15-20 degrees all day long. Perfect.

The first 40km was fast. Like, actually fast for an Audax start: the first 40km were at over 33km/h. Not really a good pacing speed for an all day ride… and I was trying not to over-think it. Trying and failing.

  • Was I going out too fast?
  • It seemed fast… but I wasn’t really dying so maybe it was okay?
  • Maybe I should pull off from the bunch and ride at my own pace
  • I’m pretty sure I want to hang here when we turn into the wind… but will I blow my legs out before we get there?
  • Is that a cramp? My legs feel funny. Maybe this isn’t a good idea…
  • My heart rate only says 145… surely this is harder than that? Look at how fast we’re going!

Silently I questioned the decision I had made to stick with this group and also mentally smacked myself in the back of my head and told myself to smarten up. I knew I had matches to burn today and was fighting fit. I would be fine.

And I was. Heading into the southerly meant the group slowed down to battle the wind into Violet Town, and I just hung out until coffee time.

At which point I realised that out of the group that had hammered it to Violet Town very few of us were actually riding the 300km. Only five in fact. Scott had the new map loaded onto his Garmin and suggested we ride together, so the two of us set off towards the next checkpoint in Ruffy.

But Scott wasn’t quite feeling the ride the same way that I was, and was feeling the wind and the hills quite a lot. He suggested that perhaps I might want to go on ahead if I wanted. I said it wasn’t a race and I was okay to ride at this pace… but then up and over the hills I went and he disappeared. So I punched on towards Ruffy, thinking we’d reconvene at lunch time. But that wasn’t meant to be either, and after a few words of encouragement for Scott I headed off. 140km down. 170km to go.

Flying Solo. And saying ‘what if’?

From Ruffy it’s a relatively downhill run, which is heaps fun, except it started raining. So slowing myself down on the descent I settled into a pace that was working for me. Spotify playlist in one ear (and the other free to listen for traffic, of which there was very little for most of this ride) I ticked along towards the next checkpoint. It was a little soggy, but nothing dramatic and it cool enough that I’d pulled my arm warmers on, but warm enough not to have to dig out the rain jacket.

And then the negative self-talk kicked in. Why I’m not sure. I wasn’t feeling particularly sad or gloomy. In fact I was having a cracking ride! Maybe it was too good… was I going too fast? The guys always give me grief about ‘playing to the numbers’ but I still have a habit about going out too hard too soon and then paying for it later, so I’ve learned to pay attention to the things that I can. Like my heart-rate… which was in tempo. Hmmm… maybe I should slow down.

(Slows down…. a little…)

Spotify delivers another banging tune, and I’m off again like a rocket. Sigh. Slow down Tiffo, you’ve got 150km still to ride today. So I battled my own sense of enthusiasm and tried to find a comfortable pace as I ticked along towards Nagambie.

But somewhere along that section I started asking what if. What if I *could* hold this pace? What if I *could* actually ride like this? I’d never done this before, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be done. And this was a pretty good ride to test things out on. After all, if my legs popped then it was pretty darn flat back to Shepparton, I could always just take it easy and nurse myself back if I blew up along the way. Besides, if I kept up this pacing I’d make it back to Shepparton before the sunset. Heck, I might even make it back before 8:30pm!

No more I can’t. Now it’s what if? Did that completely quiet the negative thoughts that kept suggesting that I was doing something stupid? Nope. But I just bundled them up and put them in a corner room in my head. And then I flew.

My family had come out to stay the weekend in Shepparton so had gathered with friends of ours near Murchison, so I got a cheer as I flew past, which was pretty amazing!

By Rushworth I was starting to feel a little tired, so I spent a few minutes resting before carrying on. A smart move, as it meant I was mentally fresher for the ride past the Waranga Basin Reserve, which was quite a pretty section to ride through.

And then I felt the wind. And it was a tail wind. A TAIL WIND!! Huge grin on my face I kept motoring, and took a glance down at the Garmin. Doing some rough calculations in my head, I wondered how close I’d be to my original estimate of 8:30pm… and realised I was no longer aiming for an 8:30 finish. I could possibly crack 8:00pm, making it a 13 hour elapsed time 300km ride.

Could I do it?

Probably should stop pulling over to take pictures and crack on with it then eh?

At the 300km mark I pulled over to text my husband and let him know I was getting close… and pulled my cleat half off my shoe. What the actual…? Luckily it wasn’t the foot I usually step down with, but still. This wasn’t ideal! Just over 10km to go… and one foot not securely attached.

Well, who wants an easy finish anyways? Though it did make for an exciting trip through Mooroopna with all the traffic lights knowing I couldn’t put any pressure down on my foot because who knew what it was going to do?

But my luck held, as did the cleat, and I managed to get into Shepparton without any issues. Rounding the corner I saw my family ready to cheer me in. I rode towards them, managed to unclip without toppling over, and threw my arms around my kids for a massive (albeit sweaty and probably rather gross) hug.

Post-Script and Stats

So that’s all four PBP qualification rides done, which means I’m now able (once all my rides are homologated) to represent Australia in France this year.

I’m feeling pretty amazing right now, and absolutely thrilled that I managed to open up the throttle and hold it for so long. Was it a wise pacing strategy for a multi-day ride? No way. But for today, just for today… it felt like what I wanted to do.

Stats for “Tiffo’s Flight” after Ruffy

  • Distance: 167.5km
  • Elapsed time: 6 hours 30 minutes
  • Average speed: 29.3km/h
  • Average heart rate: 148
  • Average temperature: 17 degrees
  • Highest temp: 23 degrees

Overall ride Stats

  • Distance: 308km
  • Elapsed time: 13 hours 2 minutes
  • Moving time: 11 hours 17 minutes
  • Average speed: 27.3km/h
  • Average heart rate: 147
  • Calories burnt: 5802
  • Average temperature: 17 degrees

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