The other day I rode to Noosa. It was a pretty recreational ride, just long, about 190km but that included a beer and burger stop at 135km, a coke at 165km, and a couple of other refresh/bush wee type pauses. It was one of those days where I could have ridden hard all day, feeling relatively ‘no chain’.
Bike races are funny things, in the road it’s not necessarily the strongest that wins due to these things they like to call ‘tactics’ (which I am not all over), but inarguably you have to get to the finish and that requires suffering. On the mountain bike it’s about who can be the suffering-est for the longest.
Plan as you may, it’s a rare thing that a ‘no chain’ day lines up with your race. Training and peaking correctly puts you in a good position for having a great race, but it’s often difficult to get all the planets aligning at exactly the right time. I would have loved to save my ‘no chain’ Noosa ride up for an upcoming race, but it just doesn’t work that way.
So what to do? Well training for racing is not just about coaxing the most out of you physiologically, but also about getting comfortable with the deep discomfort that comes along with bike racing.
Just as having time off the bike results in a bit of physical detraining, it also means you lose touch with the sensation of the burn of racing. It’s often said that the first race back after time off is the hardest, but when you’re going full gas no race is really harder than any other. When you’re fitter you just go faster for the effort, and after a few races are better acquainted with the pain.
Given that as humans we are hardwired to avoid pain and unpleasant experiences, it really is true that committing to training and racing bikes is actually a bit mental. The feeling of having a ‘no chain’ ride is amazing, but if all rides were like that we would fail to develop the right skills to deal with the discomfort of maximal effort come race day; and as such we often learn the most about ourselves and have the best mental training when fatigued and sore.
There is a caveat; multiple sessions of feeling fatigued and sore can lead to overtraining and illness so planning out sessions with adequate recovery time is a must.
There are hundreds of different ways to suffer and train the pain station in cycling. Some examples of sessions used in different phases of training programs to have both physical and mental ‘pain training’ elements include (but of course are not limited to):
Anaerobic Capacity efforts.
Being able to tolerate discomfort is a huge skill. By getting through discomfort on training days better equips you for racing ‘in the box’. Enjoy the ‘no chain’ days but remember that out of the comfort zone is where the magic happens.