|Consider The Source!|
The rules set out by Charlie were simple: List a point briefly, then add in an explanation for it.
So, with no further adieu, here in no particular order are my "11 Lessons" for your perusal.
- Know Your Equipment: As a mechanic, it sometimes amazes me that guys are futzing with things or getting knocked out by simple mechanicals right outta the gate at events I've been to. It goes without saying that you need to dial in your fitness, but you also need to dial in a good, basic knowledge of your rig and how to adjust it, repair it, and maintain it. It may save you an event, and it will satisfy your need to know you can trust your steed. Definitely spend some quality time getting to know your bicycle!
- Know What Equipment Works For You Ahead Of Time: This was one of my earliest lessons in long distance riding. You can go to forums and ask, you can go to your bike shop and ask, and you can ask your buddies, but you need to do due diligence when it comes to finding the right saddle, grips, pedals, clothing, not to mention training, and nutrition. Definitely ask, and listen, but you'll eventually have to put in a lot of training/experimental hours/miles in to find out what works, and what doesn't. There is no "easy button".
- Make A List, Check It Twice: I once ran into a fella that was a self-supported road touring machine. This guy had done thousands upon thousands of miles of touring, and when he found out I was going on a long trip by bike, he suggested I look at his list. He made a list of everything that went in each bag, and checked it off twice before leaving on tour. Sound overly-anal? Well, try it. You won't forget anything, and you will also have the opportunity to make a visual check on the amount of crap you are packing. (Hint: You may want to leave some of it behind!) How can you logically add or subtract from your kit without careful analysis? The list helps.
- Aretha Said It: RESPECT: Like the others have said, if you are not a bit nervous, fearful, or anxious, you may be setting yourself up for a fail, and you definitely aren't up for a true challenge. Challenges should be a bit scary, really. Then there is the respect you should have for the fellow competitors, the respect you should have for the venue, and the respect you should have for the volunteers and event leaders. Respect!
- Only The Lonely Can Play: While some of the most rewarding times at these events is the sharing during the suffering with fellow competitors, you should be prepared to be alone. Very alone. The ebbs and flows of long events sometimes will leave you out there by yourself, with no one at all in sight. I think this hits folks hardest that train all the time with others, but either way, its gonna happen. Don't let it sink you. I would advise that this is a gift that allows you to get to places within yourself that you otherwise would never get to. It is a gift that can't be found in our crazy, fast paced culture. Embrace the loneliness and find peace in it.
- You Can Choose Your Attitude: This can be a part of #5 above, but it goes beyond that. Sometimes situations arise that are negative, not of your choosing, and uncomfortable. I was in a night time gravel grinder where it was raining so hard I couldn't see five feet in front of me. It was pitch black, I was wet, and it was sketchy as all get out. At first, I was annoyed, but then I chose to marvel at the situation, and I actually laughed out loud. I could have pitched a fit and decided to quit. It was my choice. The rain wasn't my choice. I changed what I could change- my attitude.
- Break It Down: Others mentioned this as well, but it bears repeating. Look at the event before going into it as a series of challenges. Make little things that are achievable that when they are accomplished make you gain confidence. Got to Checkpoint #1! Woot! Now what is next? Do the next little thing, and add it to the list of accomplishments. I remember one time on a long ride I looked at my computer and thought I'd like to see it read in the 40's for mileage. Okay, when I got there, I decided that I could get it into the 50's, and so forth. It can be anything, but breaking an event down into bite sized chunks is a good strategy. What was that old saw about eating an elephant again?
- Have A Plan: Work The Plan: Be Free To Change The Plan!: I think having a strategy going into an event is a good thing. That could be who you want to ride with, how you want to break the event down, (see #7), or what your nutrition plan is. Of course, having a plan doesn't do you a lick of good unless you can implement it. Practice "the plan" on a training ride or three to see if it needs tweaking- or not. (See #2) Finally, don't be afraid to adjust the plan during the event to allow for circumstances beyond your control, or to take advantage of opportunities. (See #6) Holding doggedly onto a plan that no longer will work due to changes in body functions, mechanical issues, weather, or what have you isn't going to lead to success. Be free to change when it makes sense to change.
- The "One Hour Rule": I saw this pop up in a few of the others lists. I agree- Give yourself an hour to calm down, assess, rest, and adjust your plan, (see #8), before you decide to pull the plug. You still may end up doing just that, but at least you can rest assured you gave it the proper amount of time to make a decision. I came to this place at the DK 200 a year ago. I came into Checkpoint #1 dehydrated, weak, and dizzy. I ate some food, drank a lot of water, and rested for an hour. I didn't feel one whit better after an hour, so I pulled the plug. Maybe I would have come around though and been able to continue. I wouldn't have known had I stopped right when I arrived at the Checkpoint though.
- Consider An Exit Strategy: In these ultra long, self supported events, being able to extricate yourself from the course safely without issue is a good plan to have. That may include having a person available to come pick you up. It may mean that you have to be ready and willing to ride yourself out to civilization. This not only makes you responsible for you, as it should be, but it takes a load off other competitors, and the folks running the event. Like the commercial says: "Know When To Say When", but also be able to take care of your own business if you do say "when". I don't think this is a negative or defeatist attitude, I think it is just being courteous and thoughtful towards the ones you love and love you, and your fellow racers and the directors of these fine events. (See #4)
- Be Thankful: Finally, I think this is the most important lesson. Be Thankful for your health, your opportunities, your folks that love you that allow for this weirdness, the fellow racers, the volunteers, the directors, the places you get to see, the experiences, and the successes and the failures. Express the thanks in practical ways and in ways that are sure to be appreciated by others. Look around you while you are in an event and be thankful you are doing what you came to do and prepared to do.