Misery Training

When I sign up to ride a long-distance cycling event I accept that it’ll be a challenge to complete it. That’s a given, yet I still find myself day dreaming of how it’s going to play out, and in my mind’s eye the challenge element rarely features: the weather is fine, I’m feeling strong, and my bike is running beautifully. And to be fair to my mind, most the time cycling is like that with few dramas. Come mid-race reality though and it’s pissing down with rain, you’re feeling like crap, and your drive chain sounds like a bag of spanners you’ve got to be ready, and that’s where misery training comes in.

muddy field with rain teaming down onto cattle feeder

The concept of misery training was introduced to me by my wife who, while she plays it down, is a bona fide kick-ass ultra marathon runner. It boils down to seeing all that goes ‘wrong’ when preparing for an event as part of the training process and knowing that overcoming any trial or tribulation will only stand you in good stead come race day.

Weather is the most prevalant source of misery. If the weather turns just seeing through a training session as originally planned will help: take in that summit or complete that full loop regardless. And make the most of it. Sure you may only 10km from being home and dry but play it like you’re not. Get those full waterproofs on and griz it out, perhaps even taking the opportunity to make it worse: If you know a route that’s gonna get muddy or boggy then don’t avoid it. And if you’ve a choice to make, ride into any headwind too. Choosing to make yourself a damp, sweaty, muddy mess is all good preparation for when you can’t make that choice for yourself.

Beyond the weather though misery may need to be induced:

  • Hike-a-bike for the sake of hike-a-biking. The climb you possibly could ride while fresh legged is going to be a pain when tired or fully-laden so fake it while you can. Push from the right of the bike, push from the left, or shoulder it. The longer the uphill slog, the better. It’ll be horrible. You’ll appreciate it.

  • I’m told by people who understand these things far better that I do, that you can’t turn your body into a fat burning machine (it already is one) but that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace some of the dubious training advice put out there to purportedly foster this: Let yourself get hungry. You’ll know what you need to eat to stop yourself bonking but don’t do it. Take yourself further than you ought and then look to make amends. It’s good practice for when that checkpoint was further than you’d thought, or the café was closed, or you lost your last flapjack. Knowing what it feels like to run on empty is vital. As is knowing that you can and will sort yourself out once you can fuel yourself up again.

  • Mechanical issues are trickier to replicate in training, so it’s often a case of being grateful if or when they do occur and using such moments wisely. Let that tyre fully deflate so you can make sure the mini-pump you’ve been carrying around for years still works. Be grateful for the opportunity to try out whatever tubeless plug system you use. Pretend that your tyre hasn’t sealed and stick in a tube anyway. Or perhaps stop and re-align that annoying but not ride-ending brake rub while you’re still trailside as practice for doing it were it something more serious.

In the words of (I think) Ian Walker, it’ll never only get worse but learning to endure miserable situations really helps for next time they occur.