By Amber Pierce, Colavita | Bianchi Women's Pro Cycling Team
… every path to a goal has a beginning. Meet yourself where you are. Decide to begin. The first steps are hard and feel very far way from where you want to be. But that is the nature of a path: you are always furthest from the end at the beginning…
You don’t have to be fast. You don’t have to beat anybody.
And keep going…
I wrote those words in 2015 as I was coming back from injury and felt as though I were starting from zero, despite a decade of professional racing under my belt.
We all start from somewhere. And wherever you are now is a good place to begin.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering signing up for one of the Farm to Fork Fondo events. I highly recommend you do! To sign up for a Farm to Fork Fondo is to give yourself the lasting gift of experience. The beauty of this particular experience is that it encompasses the journey leading up to the event, as much as the event itself. (Not to mention the powerful sense of accomplishment and personal growth that will stick with you long after the ride!)
Through blog entries here this year, I hope to support your fitness journey with some lessons I’ve learned. Trust me: even if you don’t race, you can learn something from me. I’ll help you avoid mistakes and circumvent some of the trial-and-error of preparing for a big ride, so you can have the best experience possible before, during, and after the event.
I am here to meet you where you are, and to support you in getting to where you want to go. Let’s begin, shall we?
Preparing for and riding a big target event successfully involves much more than just pedaling your bike. I’m going to lay out a plan for how to prepare your mind, body and bicycle for the big day: what to do before, during and after the event to get the most out of it.
Mental preparation is arguably the most important component of your preparation, and we can break this down into two tasks: 1) set goals, and 2) create rituals.
Set Goals: Ask Yourself Why?
To commit to a goal is the crux of good mental preparation. There is much on the interwebs regarding what constitutes a good goal, but in my experience, what matters most is the WHY behind the goal. Why have you set this goal for yourself? What makes it important to you? How will reaching that goal bring meaning to your life?
I suggest you start there. Your answer to Why? will fuel your commitment to your goal. On days when the sun shines and stars align in your favor, this won’t seem to matter much. But on the days when everything seems to be falling apart – and trust me those days will come – your Why will make the difference between giving up and getting out the door and will become the key to consistent progress on your path.
Set Goals: Challenge Yourself
The goal you set for yourself should pose a challenge. The aim is to accomplish your goal, and if your goal doesn’t challenge you, reaching it won’t be much of an accomplishment. On the other hand, be realistic. What target will stretch you and make you grow without overwhelming or discouraging you?
With all of this now in mind, complete the following sentence with your goal and your why:
My goal is to ____(BIG GOAL)_____, because _____(WHY?)_______.
Remember, these are personal. Focus inward here. Remember that setting a goal for yourself that will bring you a sense of fulfillment is not selfish. When we think of selflessness, we think of giving -- attention, time, care, charity. We forget to include the need to invest in our capacity to give. When you set a personal goal and take time for yourself to pursue that goal, you become a healthier, happier version of yourself -- a benefit to every person and relationship in your life. It is not only okay to set goals and take time for yourself, doing so is also essential to showing up for the people in your life. It is okay. In fact, it is the opposite of selfish.
Set Goals: Break It Down
After you’ve given all of this some thought and set your Big Goal, break down what you will need to do to achieve the Big Goal. Then, keep breaking those sub-goals down until you’ve got a list of daily actionable objectives you can accomplish and track.
This is crucial practice for the pros, and can benefit anyone. Rituals, routines and habits – these are powerful tools to help you consistently do what you need to do each day to reach your Big Goal.
To implement new practices in our lives, we change our usual patterns; instead of operating via auto-pilot, we must actively make new or different decisions. Each time we consciously weigh and form a decision, we use energy. Trying to implement lots of new practices means lots of new decisions, which can lead to a very real thing called decision fatigue: you literally tire of making decisions and slip back into old habits, because habits require very little thought or energy.
You can use this to your advantage by forging new habits. I prefer to think of this as creating personal rituals. Ritual connotes mindfulness. My morning coffee is certainly habit, but when I feel present in the moment and enjoy each sip, it becomes a soothing ritual. When you create rituals around your rides, for example, you minimize decision fatigue and promote mindfulness.
On the day of the fondo, you will want to devote all of your mental energy to the ride. A morning ritual can ground you, helping you feel calm despite anticipatory nerves, and focused on the present rather than on where you packed your socks. Likewise, an evening ritual the night before the event can help you not only get a better night of sleep, but also ensure you don’t forget anything when you pack.
The key is to develop and hone your rituals in the months and weeks before your target event, so that on the big day, they have all become second nature. As you begin to implement new rituals, you can still run into decision fatigue, so start small. Make one small change consistently until it becomes a ritual. For example, the night before you plan to ride, mindfully set out your ride gear, visualizing the route you’ll take. This will soon become ritual, and will reduce the number of decisions you must make the next day: what to wear for your ride, where to find the gear, and where to ride.
Here are a couple of examples of my pre-ride rituals to get you started. The trick is to find what works best for you and start with small changes.
- prepare and eat favorite pre-event dinner
- check the weather forecast and pack gear for the following day (I recommend using a checklist*)
- check over equipment
- charge bike computer and/or phone
- pin numbers to kit or put them on the bike
- prepare bottles with hydration mix and a bottle with recovery mix
- lay out what to wear in the morning
- confirm route and timeline for the next morning (either for going out to train or for getting to the start venue)
- wake up in time to prepare and eat an easy, healthful, carbohydrate-rich breakfast about 3 hours before the ride
- do something calming to fill the time between breakfast and getting to the start venue (e.g. stretching, yoga, or reading)
- head to the start venue according to plan
- use the restroom
- do a final bike check
- change into your ride gear
- check pockets (food, phone, wallet, keys)
- go to the start
*I like to save different checklists on my phone, so I don’t forget anything:
- what to pack the night before
- what to bring on event day
In the same way rituals help you create mental space, using written checklists saves mental energy by outsourcing memory. Let the phone do the work of saving those checklists, rather than your mind. The more space and clarity you can create in your mind, the more mental energy you can direct to tackling your objectives.
PRO TIP: Find buddies!
As you formulate your Big Goal, your Why, and your rituals, bring in your support system. Share your goals with positive people in your life who will support you in your journey. As you build your rituals, invite your roommate or significant other to join you in, say, waking up a bit earlier to make a healthful breakfast or taking time to prep for your ride the next day. Team up with a training buddy to meet for a weekly ride. You’ll get a huge boost from the additional moral support and accountability, and chances are, you’ll be able to do the same for them!