"Always do what you are afraid to do." — popularized by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841)
What was the best ride you had this year? Was it something you planned, perhaps with friends, or was it just an accident you stumbled across? Chances are, it was the former. So why not cook up something even better this year?
Here, three experts weigh in on how and why you should sign up for a new challenge right now.
Whether you raced dozens of times last season or never signed up for a single event, consider something a little outside your comfort zone for next year. That could be pushing yourself to improve on what you're already doing, with a faster 10mi time trial or a better finish at that one local event. It could also mean trying something completely new, like a brand new discipline. Cycling coach John Verheul says it's worth signing up for an event that "that challenges us to the point of questioning whether or not we can complete it."
"How can we grow as athletes, as people, unless we challenge ourselves to accomplish that which we thought impossible?" Verheul said. "In signing up we are setting that goal for ourselves, and announcing to the world — or, just the people who look at the pre-reg lists — our intent to complete this event. In making such a public assertion there is then already accountability. We can't 'un-sign up', because that's admitting defeat before we try."
Stage 5 of the 2014 Breck Epic took riders to nearly 12,000ft / 3,650m
There is no shortage of cool events these days, regardless of what continent you live on. Here are a just a few suggestions:
North and South America
- Dirty Kanza 200
- Breck Epic
- Levi's Granfondo
- La Ruta de los Conquistadores
- Crusher in the Tushar
- Leadville 100 MTB
- Campangnolo New York Gran Fondo
"Reach out to your cycling community and ask about epic, challenging events, or spend some time searching on the internet, then pick one or more based on a challenge that really resonates with you," Verhuel said. "It can resonate for a number of reasons, but the one that should always be present is, it should seem like a really cool thing to finish that event."
TransRockies - now called Singletrack 6 - is a multi-day adventure
Get a plan
Once you've got a target, a destination on the calendar and on the map, next you need to figure out how you're going to get there. Sure, you can just "ride lots" and wing it, but you'll almost certainly have more fun by showing up prepared.
"Being fit gives you options: when you’re more fit, you can decide how hard to go. When you’re not prepared, you have one speed and the event is going to more of a survival ride," said Jim Rutberg, editorial director for Carmichael Training Systems. "Preparation gives you confidence, and confidence gives you the ability to handle adversity. That’s important in challenging events because you can be virtually guaranteed that something will go awry. The longer the event, the more likely that you’re pre-event plan will go off the rails – even if only a little bit. When you’re really fit you can handle the adversity better. You can go a few extra miles if you take a wrong turn. You can power through the rainstorm. You can chase in the wind after your mechanical.
There are all manner of training plan options out there, from freebies you can get in magazines to stock plans you can buy online to the dedicated services of a coach who can create one for you, and tailor it to your changing reality as the season progresses. Personally I've found TrainingPeaks to be helpful for mapping out the road to a big event. You can buy plans or create your own, then adjust the timing to hit your peak on race day. I found myself using their relatively new iPhone app quite a bit this year. Whatever your preferred method, put together a plan.
"A training plan helps you learn about pacing," Rutberg said. "Intervals are all about hitting a specific intensity and holding it for a given amount of time. If you’re paying attention you’ll get a feel for what’s sustainable for you, what it feels like to go above lactate threshold, and what it’s like to recover from big efforts."
Rally your friends
Once you're fired up, get some friends on board. If you have been riding a while, someone has probably turned you on to a cool event. So return the favor, and pay it forward, getting some other riders fired up about a big event next year.
"It is always more fun to share the experience of a challenge event with friends and teammates," said Frank Overton, owner of FasCat Coaching. "You can laugh through the suffering and difficult moments and draw inspiration from positive fun when you have friends to ride with. There is a plethora of events to rally your riding peeps: any fondo or sportif, any century, and even mountain bike races like duo and four-person team competitions. Nearly all 24-hour races have these categories nowadays."
Recruiting friends to ride or race an event together will also have another benefit — built-in training partners for the year ahead.
Riding is always more fun with friends
Enjoy the process
Once you are locked and loaded, enjoy where your training and wandering takes you — both on the bike and in your daydreaming. Often what I've most enjoyed about big events is the exploration of new areas or types of riding that I wouldn't have done otherwise. For example, while getting ready for the Leadville 100 MTB last year, I ended up on all sorts of trails and backroads I had never explored, as the challenge of a new event forced some creativity into my typical routine of riding road bikes. Turns out there is a big world out there, with all kinds of great riding.
Since you're already at your computer, now take the next step: start fueling your fire by checking out some race websites. Then email your riding buddies. Get after it!