This year I’m participating in the Whistler Gran Fondo for the third year in a row. I’ve noticed that, similar to processing grief, I’ve gone through five stages of psychological preparation for Saturday’s event.
Stage 1: Relaxed.
I don’t need to train, it’s just a group ride.
“Yeah I’m doing the fondo! I’m in it for the afterparty. Not too worried about the ‘race’. Last year I did it off the couch and I was alright.”
At this stage, I know it’s not technically a race. Besides, I’ve done it before. I’m considering it a group ride. I’m not going to worry.
The first time I did the fondo was a week after I raced at the Tour of Alberta. I was damn fit. I finished sixth. The second year, I was fresh off the couch, having retired from cycling three months prior and enjoyed some summer indulgence. I finished sixth. Clearly, since I had done just as well as the year before, I could conclude that training doesn’t set me up for success any better than drinking beer does. My result certainly had nothing to do with a much shallower field.
I would apply last year’s technique to this year’s fondo, aiming to hit my third sixth-place finish in a row. 6-6-6. The number of the beast. Hmm.
Stage 2: A Change of Heart.
Maybe I should train.
I’ve got a month until the start of the fondo and I’ve just landed in Vancouver. My teammate, Brendan, who I can always trust to be just as undertrained as me, has just completed a 25 hour week. He’s been training hard.
Okay, Brendan’s training. I need to train. I’m going to get home tomorrow and slam out a 25 hour week too.
Stage 3: Group Rides.
Okay. 25 hours was way too ambitious. I’ll just stick to three group rides a week. But I’ll ride hard.
In this stage, I treat every group ride as a race. I practice tactics. I need to win. Group rides motivate me to ride hard – way harder than I’d ever ‘train’ on my own – and if I ‘win’ I build confidence. In the absence of races at this time of year, this is the best I’ll do. And I’m not one to complain about having group rides instead of races.
Stage 4: (Over) Confidence.
I’ve ‘won’ like six group rides in a row! I’m so fast. Plus I got a KOM from Nate Brown, so I’m probably faster than I’ve ever been. Maybe I should have signed up for the Vuelta a España instead of the fondo.
I might win!
Stage 5: Doubt
I should have started training earlier. I haven’t done enough. Everyone else has been training more. Jordan Cheyne will be there? Oh dear.
This is actually a super common pre-race stressor: comparing yourself to your opponents and their preparation. It’s hard not to do.
I feel awful and the fondo is in two days. I ate dairy yesterday in a lapse of self-control. It didn’t go well. There’s no way I can beat these other guys. Why did I have the audacity to think I could win?
Stage 5b: Acceptance.
This isn’t a totally separate stage from stage 5, because I still have my doubts, but I’ve simply accepted them. You always have your doubts before the race. You always stress. But you stress about things beyond your control.
The best you can do is acknowledge them, and continue doing what you know works for YOU.
Once the gun goes off, it’s anybody’s race.
For real tips about fondo riding, check out my article from last year!