With a summer of riding behind you and the days still fairly long, this time of year is ideal for long, challenging rides. Here are some tips to help you ride to the challenge of a sportive, a long-distance time trial or a charity ride.
Know your terrain
A key cause of stress prior to an event is the fear of the unknown. So it's really important that you have a sense of the route you'll be riding and the challenges you are going to face along the way. Doing a reconnaissance visit before the event (even in the car) will allay your fears and allow you to prepare.
Set yourself a realistic goal
Effective goals should motivate you because of the challenge, but they also need to be realistic. A good rule of thumb that I've employed in the past is a 10 per cent rule. In my experience, setting goals of greater than a 10 per cent performance increase can often be unrealistic. For instance, if you have never ridden 100 miles in less than sux hours, cutting 10 per cent off that time (to target just under 5hrs 30mins) is pretty challenging for most. Of course, in some instances, 10 per cent may not be challenging enough, so it's important you establish your own goals that take into account your personal circumstances.
Segment the ride
Armed with a knowledge of the course (step 1) and a knowledge of your own performance goal (step 2), you can begin to segment the ride into interim stages. Breaking the ride down into stages helps motivation. Getting to 100 miles can seem a long way off, but segmenting the ride into 20-mile blocks can help. Give yourself target times and build in your understanding of the course. For instance, the bit between 20 and 40 miles could be hilly, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
Be good to yourself
Big rides require you to maintain motivation. One source of motivation can come from 'extrinsic' (outside of oneself) rewards. Rationing your food treats to provide 'pick-me-ups' at the right stages of the ride can be helpful. Not letting yourself tuck into the fruitcake until you are at the 50-mile mark can add a certain spice to the miles preceding it!
Refocus and replan
Unless you are extremely lucky, something will not go to plan, be it a flat or simply slipping behind your target times. The key to maintaining your focus and getting the best possible performance is replanning as you go along. In training rides, practice adjusting goals and split times as you go. If the 100-mile time trial goal of 4hrs 30mins is now unachievable because of the flat, then adjust to 4hrs 35mins and make that happen. This is a tricky task: adjust too early and you risk lowering your sights, too late and you risk chasing the unobtainable, leaving you disappointed. Of course, you can also adjust your performance goal upwards if it really is your day!
Ask for help
Many riders forget that having someone there supporting you offers a lot more than full water bottles and the occasional encouraging cheer. It's a well-known psychological phenomenon that people perform better when they have an audience, and having a support team can, therefore, increase your concentration and motivation, as well as help you to be well fed and watered.
The long rides are the times when our mental state can have the biggest impact on our physical performance. A 2% decrement in a 20-min, 10-mile TT performance caused by a poor mental state will only add 24 seconds to your time. The same decrement on a four-hour, 100-mile time trial will add nearly five minutes. Not only that, but telling yourself how poorly you are doing in your head will make the four hours seem even longer. Ensure you have the ability to correct negative self-talk and 'restructure' thoughts into more positive statements.