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Intelligent Cycling Training—Mental

What To Do When Cycling Stops Being Fun

edited by John Hughes
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

John Hughes is the author of Distance Cycling and many articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for He is a veteran of Paris-Brest-Paris ’79, ’87, ’91, ’95, ’99, Boston-Montreal-Boston ’92 (course record), Rocky Mountain 1200 ’04, Furnace Creek 508 ’89 (course record) and ’93 (first place) and the Race Across America ’96.

“Who said it was all fun?”—John Hughes
During any ride of three hours or more, part of it won’t be fun. The first part is fun - your legs are fresh, you’re well rested, the morning is cool. Then you reach the ugly middle: legs are tired, the day is getting hot, and it’s still a long way to the finish. Finally, you reach the last part: the day cools down, you start to smell the barn, and you ride a little faster.

Not having fun? Recognize this is part of the rhythm of a ride - you’re in the ugly middle.

“When did you last eat?”—Warren McNaughton
Not having fun? When did you last eat? As your blood sugar drops, your legs feel heavy, your brain slows down and your mood falls. Your brain can only burn glycogen for energy, and if you’ve been pounding the pedals for hours and not eating, you may have run out of glycogen.

Not having fun? Eat carbs now!

“Just ride to the next Time Station.”—Lee Mitchell
Does the finish line seem very far away? You can’t possibly ride that far? Or, at least not in the remaining time? Why are you using precious energy worrying about the rest of the ride when you could be using that energy to pedal up the next hill. When your mood goes sour and the end seems endless, focus on short-term goals.

I crewed for a rider at the Furnace Creek 508 who was very sick on Saturday and said he couldn’t possibly finish. “Okay, but I want you to ride to the top of this climb” I replied. He grudgingly complied. “Just ride to the top of that next rise.” Wearily, he pedaled on into the night, one hill at a time, walking parts of the 5000 foot Towne Pass. On Sunday, he continued to ride one section at a time, until he reached 29 Palms and qualified for RAAM.

Not having fun? Forget the agonies tomorrow will doubtless bring, and climb this hill.

“I’m going to cross this one off the list.”—John Bailey
Okay, you’re riding in the present. Just climbing one hill at a time. But the hills seem impossibly steep. Especially with all your randonneur gear on your bike. You can barely turn the cranks.

Not having fun? Think of all you’ve put into this ride and resolve to finish it and check it off the list.

“Quit bitchin’ and start singin’!” — Lulu Weschler
You do have a choice. You can choose to grumble and think negative thoughts. Or you can choose to lift your mood. At times like this, Lulu Weschler usually breaks into song, cheering herself and those around her.

Not having fun? Quit bitchin’ and start singin’.

“Somewhere there’s a group riding your speed, and it’s probably behind you!”—Kim Freitas
Are you struggling in a pack of obsessed riders, hammering relentlessly, oblivious to the scenery? Are you coming off the back on every turn and sprinting just to catch the caboose again? Behind you there is a group riding at your pace, and they are having fun.

Not having fun? Ride your ride.

“Don’t quit because of anything that will heal within two weeks.”—Lon Haldeman
Okay, you’re riding your ride, staying in the present, climbing one hill at a time. But your body hurts in ways you’ve never hurt before. Your handlebars are sticky from up-chucking. You are thoroughly miserable and sick of this stupid sport. Can you still turn the pedals? Then what’s the problem? You came for a bike ride and you can still ride your bike. Just accept that part of any big event will be unpleasant and may be very painful. When I struggled in RAAM ’96 Lon Haldeman told my crew “Don’t let John quit because of anything that will heal within two weeks.”

Not having fun? Accept it and get on down the road.

One or two of these phrases will work for you. Next time you are on a century or brevet and aren’t having fun, imagine I’m a little bird on your shoulder, repeating your key phrase. And you’ll keep going!

More information
Mental Training Techniques

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Originally printed in UltraCycling