How Do You Know When You’re Ready?

Over the weekend, someone told me I was a strong cyclist.

My initial response was to laugh. And then to downplay. “Oh, um, not really. I mean, not outside, so much.” (We were in the midst of a three-hour indoor ride.) “And I’m only really good at hills. I mean, I just started riding a bike two years ago.”

Her response: “Wait, seriously? That’s crazy!”

Yeah, it is kind of crazy. It’s hard for me to believe how much my relationship with cycling has changed in two years. Sometimes when I’m wondering why I have this blog, I remember that it’s a record of my evolution from non-cyclist to half-Ironman finisher. Bringing my bike home, riding clipped in for the first time, my first bike commute, my first 50-miler … it’s all here, and I’m so glad it’s all somewhere.

But even though I can now largely look at cycling with a “look how far we’ve come!” mentality, I’m definitely not at the end of that story. I’m not confident in my abilities on new routes. I don’t often ride with groups. People from my tri club have been posting awesome rides all (sunny, dry) winter long, and I haven’t gone to a single one. I may be able to get myself out the door and to my job and up Twin Peaks and over the bridge (if I really have to), but when it comes to riding with other people, I’m absolutely petrified that I won’t be able to hang.

A while back, one of the club’s coaches posted about a ride she was going to coordinate: two 80-mile days of riding to Santa Cruz and back. All women, all for fun, etc. My heart wanted to say “sign me up!”

My brain, on the other hand, had some other things to say. Like: “You can’t handle that!” “You’ll hold everyone up!” “You seriously think you can ride further than you’ve ever ridden … twice?”

I ended up sending an email (“I love biking, but I’m slow…”) and getting an encouraging response back (basically, “as long as you prepare — which you will — you can absolutely do it and won’t be holding anyone up”). And still, I’m waffling. When I look at it objectively, I know I can; I’ve climbed more, I know the first and last 25 miles of the route pretty well, and while I haven’t actually ridden 80 miles ever before, I’ve a) come close and b) learned what to expect from myself when adding distance on the bike. But I’m still not convinced I’m ready.

Since it’s not a traditional race or ride, I haven’t had to register or commit; I have some time to make my decision. So in the meantime, I’ve done the only thing that I think makes sense: Start training as though I’m going to ride and save the actual hard decisions for later.

So far, training has looked like this:

  • One long ride every week
  • At least two back-to-back riding days per week
  • At least two shorter rides per week

Those principles have played out differently every week, depending on weather and friends’ interests and personal schedules. Last weekend was a 50-“mile” computrainer ride of the Wildflower long course route on Saturday and a 12.5-mile trip up Twin Peaks (not long but plenty of climbing) on Sunday. The weekend before that was all trainer hours during our one rainy spell. Before that, I knocked out my longest continuous ride ever — well, continuous minus a stop in the last hour for pastries — of 60 miles, riding through the Chileno Valley to Point Reyes.


Over the course of the month I’ve been seriously considering this, I’ve seen some progress. Back-to-back riding days are starting to feel normal. I’ve learned the value of having two different sets of shorts with different, uh, seam patterns, but other than that, it hasn’t been as painful as I expected. (The worst part seems to be sitting down on the saddle for the first time on day two; once I’m actually riding, I’m fine.) I finished 60 miles knowing I could ride for another two hours if I really wanted to. And I had my fastest-ever trip up Twin Peaks the morning after the long computrainer ride, which still wasn’t that fast but must mean something.

It’s about to be a lot harder to get in those long rides, since I’ll be captaining for a training group again this spring and arranging my own workouts around that. But I’m actually excited about shifting around all the puzzle pieces — riding longer on weekday mornings once the sun starts rising a bit earlier (… and before it starts cruelly rising later again), riding up to Marin for group workouts (and taking the ferry home!), catching up on TV shows on the trainer after biking home from work.

I’d love to ride 80 miles at least once before the ride, and I’d love to do one bigger (50 mile Saturday/40 mile Sunday?) weekend. I’d also really appreciate if the weather could be nice the weekend of March 22, because one thing I’m still not into at all is riding in the rain. But I’m slowly building the confidence that I can actually do this thing. I realized the other day that it would be roughly my two-year anniversary of clipping in for the first time. What a way to celebrate

10 thoughts on “How Do You Know When You’re Ready?

  1. outside time says:

    Huh. I am thinking a lot about this kind of thing — the ways we tell ourselves we aren’t ready, and the places we look for permission or proof that we are. All of this rests on the assumption that people to which you compare yourself actually are ready — they’re all strong cyclists who can definitely, easily ride 80 miles back to back (which sounds extremely fun and hardcore, btw.) I seriously doubt that’s true — “fun” rides attract a motley crowd. But now I’m noticing that other people have different standards for when they consider themselves “ready.” I see now how conservative I am, in that, to my mind, I’m not “ready” until I really, really prepare and am 200% confident I can hang. And this has kept me from doing a lot of fun things over the years.

    Anyway, all of this is to say that I think it’s fine to give yourself the time/space/patience to do what you have to to feel confident, but that the lurking insecurity that keeps you from registering is not an objective measure of your actual readiness.

    tl;dr version: I think you should do the ride!!

    • kimretta says:

      I’m totally conservative with this sort of thing! There’s one way in which I know I wouldn’t feel TRULY ready unless I rode 80 miles and 80 miles back-to-back before the ride. Ideally on the same roads. But then why do the ride at all? I think a challenge for me is finding the balance between caution and adventure. I think in this case it will look like being as prepared as I can be, trusting my overall training, and knowing that there will be people there to back me up if something goes wrong.

  2. Kristina says:

    Sounds like you’ve had a great winter (can you believe it’s winter in CA with the lack of rain – I’ll try not to jinx the March 22 weekend) with cycling! And I hate to be one of those people who says “I know how you feel” but I definitely understand. I still consider myself a very weak cyclist, and I just don’t have great confidence with my bike skills. In some ways, I think that signing up for bigger goals (such as a half-iron) is a good way to push myself to take more risks and to go a bit longer.
    The nice thing about the possible ride – it is a ride, not a race, which maybe takes some pressure off?
    And ignore your head?

    • kimretta says:

      I already looked at the “long-range forecast” for March. I’m sure that’s SUPER accurate. But hey, no rain?

      I think you’re right that it being a ride takes some of the pressure off. There are planned stopping points, and to get in around the time most of the “mid-pack” riders did last year, it means averaging ~10 mph including the stops. Given my normal pace on longer rides, that’s doable, unless the terrain is just absurd (and it doesn’t seem to be). Then I think “eight hours is a long time to spend on my bike!” But I bet the stops and the social aspect will make it pass quickly.

  3. clair says:

    I don’t think you ever know when you’re ready. To get around my head, I often ask what I would regret more: doing something new and terrifying, or not doing it at all. That ride’s going to be amazing.

    • kimretta says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I think the only way I would regret doing the ride more than staying home is if it’s POURING that weekend. (My already low confidence just plummets in wet conditions.) So, that’s good to know going in, and I’m ready to chance the super-low ride fee on that!

  4. Angela says:

    Yeah! I remember reading some of your early bike riding posts. You’ve definitely come a long way! I say for for it. 🙂

    Ugh, when I first started riding the spin bike, that 2nd day really sucked at the beginning, and I only go like 10-15 miles at a time.

    • kimretta says:

      Thank you! And yeah, there’s just something about that “wait, I have to put my butt on that, AGAIN?” moment of cycling day 2 that never really gets better. Once I’m moving, it’s not so bad, but that first moment is jut YEOWWWW!

  5. Jen says:

    DO IT!! 🙂
    I agree with the organizer’s response — once you commit, you’ll definitely prepare yourself physically and mentally for the task. The good news is that you have time to decide, so if you want to set benchmarks for yourself, then you can wait and see. I’m kinda the same way with running. I know my goal is to eventually run a 50K, but I’m making myself go through each distance along the way to make sure I’m ready. (What does “ready” even mean?) I’m sure if I really wanted to, I could’ve trained to run a 50K last year, but it makes me feel better to go through the progression of half marathon (2012), 25K-30K (2013), full marathon (2014), and then set my sights on the 50K for 2015.

    • kimretta says:

      Yeah, I’ve started to decide that so much of being ready is deciding what it would take to *feel* ready and then doing those things. Whether they’re the things that ACTUALLY make me ready or not is then sort of beside the point, because I’ve decided (based on experience, talking to others, knowing how my body tends to react to things, etc.) that they’re my markers for readiness. For example, I may not get in another 60+-mile ride before the big one, but I might be able to do back-to-back 40s. And if I can do that, then I’ve decided it’s a sign of readiness; therefore, I’m ready. It’s all mind games, but that’s the only thing I have to go on at a certain point!

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