The Soapbox: Pulling The Wool Over Your Own Eyes

Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me again, it’s a pretty good trick.

Just a little way back, at the Mont 24 in fact, I overcooked my goose slightly. Getting a bit excited, I pushed myself into the anaerobic zone a couple too many times and ended with cramps in my face (not legs, face). It was a new one for me.

Needless to say, the last few kays of that lap were a bit of trying experience and I found myself resorting to one of my standard mind tricks to get my slightly nauseous butt through the remaining five or so kays. I began breaking the rest of the lap down into little chunks, digesting each bit of the trail, one small section at a time, rather than concentrating on how far I still had to go. It became a race to the next corner, the next switchback, rather than a race back to the transition area.

I find myself doing this quite a lot, particularly on the road bike, or when faced with a mother of a climb. For me, it’s a really effective way of finding the motivation to keep digging deep. Pick a spot on the trail or road 50m up the climb and keep reeling it in, like some tractor beam out of Star Wars. Tick it off then pick another. Repeat, repeat, repeat. The brief self-congratulatory buzz of achieving each small milestone gives me the motivational kick needed to achieve the next. It’s self-fulfilling and, while I’m clearly living in denial about how big the climb really is, it works for me every time.

The other trick I find myself pulling…on myself… (geez, my psychologist wife would have a field day with this) is to lie about how many gears I have. Essentially, it’s all about denying myself the use of the granny gear if at all possible.

Sounds stupid, but for me, the moment I drop into my lowest gear (especially if I’m at a race) it’s like I slip into a state of defeat. I lose the will to put any grunt through the pedals, and suddenly it just feels like pure suffering. I sit down and find myself in a funk, like a petulant teenager being forced to do school sport. It hurts.

On the flipside, if I know that I haven’t used my lowest gear yet, I feel like I’m still in the game, like I’m having a proper crack at it. I know I could just adjust the limit screws on my derailleur and take the granny gear out of the equation, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about not feeling beaten!

It’s also about having the reassurance that you’ve got somewhere you can go to as a very last resort. At some stage, we’ve all pushed at the shift lever in vain, hoping against all reason that we’ll find another, lower gear there. By keeping my granny gear ideally untouched, I have that mental safety net – I know that if things get really hard, I’ve still got one more ace up my sleeve to bail me out.

Whether I’m just good at tricking myself or perhaps just very gullible, playing these little games has become part of the way I deal with tough times on the bike.  What works for you?


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