Training. It's a somewhat alien thing to me in practice, I have to admit. I am starting once again to think about larger goals and with that comes the admission - like it or not - I'm going to have to train for those goals. The slog of intervals, long indoor sessions between loads of laundry when there is snow on the ground, cross-training, carefully following the new dietary plan I'm now six weeks deep into, etcetera. All the while, I have to come to grips with my tendency to go "all or nothing". The same way it's personally hard to stomach missing a few days of commuting, I have to allow myself a few hiccups now and again. Also important is staying injury-free. Nothing sets plans adrift like an injury - so I have to remain vigilant with stretching and making smart choices. I'm exhausted of worrying about things like "fit" and aches and pains... but the reason I do is because I still haven't figured out how to go through life without the bike underneath me - and being forced to figure out what that's like scares me. Thankfully, those issues are fading. Above all else -- patience. Rest means rest, ride hard means ride hard... even if the results aren't immediately apparent.
I have spent the last few weeks stoking the mental fires with inspirational tales read from many other blogs, videos, documentaries - from Tejas 500 exploits to cross-state record attempts to P-B-P, to RAAM, to RAO, Furnace Creek, with a range including epic DNF stories as well as winner's tales; looking for patterns, tips, ideas, thought processes, catch phrases, and things to put way back in the subconscious to dig out later on - when times are low. Among these is a recurring theme that shows my past approach to preparing for something like a 500-mile ultra: I haven't done enough. I see tales of riders "cooling down" before race-weekend with a 400km at a slow pace. I see stories where riders head out for personal 24-hour runs to try and get 300+ miles with as few stops as possible, as check-points in a training season. Sacrifice. Things like my double MS-150 come to mind... overnight permanent rides... laps at Longview Lake at 3AM... it's time to bust this stuff out again. Showing up, paying the entry fee... sometimes that's the hard part: committing... but I've done that before. What I need to do differently is commit with both feet - jump all in... but, still, find that balance to ensure I stay sane... and that the steps on the way to the goal stay fun.
Commitment... no, I haven't committed yet. I'm still leaving myself that "out" - but I have a loose timeline around that notion. I know, personally, that if I haven't figured myself out by such-n-such date sometime in late spring 2012, then I'm simply not serious enough. If some of those early training checkpoints reveal results that don't point towards a finish at the bigger goal, then I have the flexibility to push it out another year. Progression. Learn from the past.
Interim goals are good for the big goal. That was also a recurring theme in the stories I'd read. This is also echoed from people I know personally that have tackled big rides successfully in the past. Have "tiers" and extend them to training. My secondary goal of achieving a 2nd RUSA R-12 is a good step. Another interim goal of completing a full SR-series (200,300,400 & 600km rides in succession) is perfect. The RUSA-oriented goals will help tremendously... but they "stop" around June and the big ride is in the fall. Where I've fallen short in the past is filling that gap between early summer and "goal weekend". Maybe trying to find a regional 12 or 24-hour race is a third interim goal, or keeping the R-12 streak going with longer permanents? ... In any case, these "smaller" goals position myself for the bigger goal and provide a way to measure success if, for whatever reason, the big goal doesn't work out. In this way, one can look at the whole year and NOT fall into depression if all the boxes aren't ticked. Further, take that approach into the ride itself: goal #1 = finish... #2... finish in less-than XX hours... #3... finish before someone else in my age group... whatever you like. Even if I tank goals 2 and 3, the ride as a whole isn't a "failure". Perspective.
The fun factor: setting a goal to have fun is still a goal... slate-in fun, casual, recreational riding to force a slower pace and remind myself why I like riding to begin with. This is easy... rides I'd normally do ANYway, but "use" them smartly to offset the tedium of "training". Being serious about my goals for 2012 doesn't have to mean that I'm no longer having fun, or am no longer considered fun by others... not that I'm worried (ok, I kinda am), but I still don't want to take things SO seriously that I'm worried more about watts and weight than I am about friends and family. Balance.
Technology... on the subject of watts, a lot of the stories I've read from winners of long events show a subtext of a strong, rigid training regime - complete with HR and power-based training goals, plus the expensive equipment to back them up. I have to remember a few things: what is MY goal? Win? Finish? ... the latter, for sure. I'm not certain I can keep things fun if I throw a lot of numbers into the game. Hours at the computer, uploading data, comparing rides. It's hard to hash out this thought process without flopping between "not wanting to really do the full effort" and still being "serious about my goals". Will throwing a bunch of technology at my goals yield better results? Better compared to what? My gut tells me that training for efficiency, training to stay on the bike and moving, training to smile in the face of hardships, training for consistency, keeping myself healthy.... THESE things will ultimately yield a better event and a better me, rather than trying to measure and quantify every last detail. Keeping it simple might entail just knowing how much nutrition I need per lap, remembering to hydrate - which are still things to consider seriously... but I think I have to draw the line on wondering how many watts I'm generating on that last roller after turn #3, for example.
Equipment matters... but it also doesn't matter: another interesting theme, for every winner that crossed the line with top-dollar gear, power-measuring hubs and $1000 carbon disc wheels, there would be another winning story from someone that didn't mention equipment at ALL, wherein I'd come across a photo from the race and see them riding a bone-stock, middle-of-the-road bicycle. This is important. If I think for one second that my fenders are going to slow me down, I have to look at the rest of my training more closely. I am not strong enough or fast enough to have the difference between finishing and not finishing be anywhere on the bike. I'm reminding myself right here and now: save the money, save the hassle, save the heartache... and just work harder. Equipment that's worked for me in randonneuring works fine for whatever else I'm planning. Sure... after 36 hours of riding those "fancy bits" might have put me ahead in my age group... but that's not the prime directive. Run gear that supports a finish... and, conveniently, that's the kind of gear I already run today.
So, how does one become "serious" without being too "serious"??? Structured, but simple?
These are questions perhaps only I can answer. Maybe the answers lie beyond 200km. Maybe the answer is within the 200km... create the template, and run it - over and over - until you reach 500 miles... or 750 miles...
Above all else, though: this time, don't be afraid to execute.
An accomplished ultra-rider created a new ultra-cycling event for 2012 (Ultra Race News - Mt. Rushmore event) and summed it up best, indicating that a good, hard event will strip a rider to their absolute core, showing them themselves for what they are. Maybe, at previous attempts, I was afraid of what I'd find... I think this time around, I'm more confident in the answer.
Clearly, I still have unfinished business... I'm not even sure if it has anything at all to do with the bicycle. I still feel this unmistakable pull towards physical frontiers... distance, effort, suffering... and the smile that comes afterwards. It's not about money, clearly... I've never won a dime riding a bike, and don't plan or expect to. It's not about medals... they are merely "things", symbols of something I've never been able to describe about the rides themselves. The Tejas 500 trophy... if that happens to be the goal I pick for next fall ...is also just a "thing", yes... but I want it because of what it might come to symbolize. Partly, deep down, maybe the drive comes from not wanting there to be something out there that "beat me". I will probably tackle the Knob Noster 200km permanent again even though I'd privately vowed that I would not, for this same reason. Face the demons... remember my failure at the cave.... blah blah blah. Maybe I'm making up for the things in life that DID beat me, things I can't go back and repeat. Maybe I just like the challenge. Maybe I don't know at all what the "why" is. Maybe I am just chasing shadows.
Funny thing, though... this time, I feel like I'm catching up.