This post is part of a series where I’m overthinking my approach to training for the 2021 Six Gap Century ride in North Georgia. All time spent thinking and writing probably would have been better spent on the bike.

Grit? Focus? YES!

Lots of people could do a ride if their life depended on it. Granted, they may not do it fast, and it would involve a lot of pain, but they could do it. But building the mental muscle to finish when you don’t have to is a different animal. I’ve had it before. I can have it again. But how am I going to get it? And how do I reach a point that will allow me to actually enjoy the event on race/pain day?

One of the best things I’ve learned training jiu jitsu is that you have to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” That’s something I’ve always known intuitively, but I really love the way that statement sums it up. You can’t prepare yourself to do something that is hard by staying in your “happy place” during training. You have to get to the discomfort and then force yourself to stay there. Repeatedly.

Of course, this has to be tempered, especially when training the cardiovascular system. You can’t spend hours in Zone 4 or Zone 5 every day. And that’s what I’m trying to develop a strategy around. How can I build up some mental toughness, even on my easy days? How do I create mental discomfort and focus?

I remember reading Chrissie Wellington’s book where she talked about Brett Sutton shutting athletes into what was basically a dungeon and having them run a marathon on a treadmill. No TV, no music, no phone, no motorcar. I’m pretty sure lights were available. This was all geared towards building mental toughness and focus. I’m not trying to win an Ironman Championship, but there are things here I can replicate.

For me, that means riding alone (no conversation) on a trainer (not going anywhere) in a 6×10 room (nothing to look at). I think I’m cheating a little by using Zwift and streaming music while I’m training, but I’m not Chrissie Wellington either. Zwift is actually the biggest cheat here because it gives me lots of metrics to consider while I’m riding–HR, power, w/kg, cadence, etc. This data keeps my mind occupied, but I wouldn’t exactly call it fun.

But it does to is keep me focused on the right things. I anticipate the biggest challenge on pain day is managing heart rate. Normally I’d say power, but with no power meter on my bike I’m going to need to be able to make the correlation between heart rate and power. It’s sort of like how NASCAR drivers don’t have speedometers. The real goal is to keep the RPMs under control–go as fast as you can while not over-revving the engine.

So all the other aspects of training (climbing, saddle time, intervals) are all built around this building of mental toughness. The trainer and Zwift lets me kill 2 (and on some rides 3) birds with one stone.

“Yeah, but you aren’t getting better at bike handling and actually riding the bike.”

I can’t refute that, but in my next post I’ll at least address it.