Tackle the unknown with confidence: five tips to help you prepare for a new challenge

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Part of the fun of taking on a cycling event can be the discovery of new areas and new roads. It can also be the daunting part, especially when the distance or the elevation gain is out of your comfort zone.  But don’t let that be the reason to avoid cycling challenges outside your home turf, as all it takes is a little bit of preparation and you’ll be ready to explore new rides and areas with confidence.

Last month I took on a brand new ride, the inaugural Newcrest Orange Challenge in New South Wales. The 170km Bicycle Network cycling challenge starting in Orange offers amazing scenery through rolling hills and rural country side, including some orchards along the way growing some of those apples, pears and cherries the region is well-known for and which I enjoyed sampling later.

It was a totally different style of ride to the Peaks Challenge Falls Creek which I had done the week prior. The roads were rougher, the wind stiffer and the terrain more unpredictable. At Peaks, you knew that you might climb for the next hour whereas at the Orange Challenge the constantly changing terrain meant there was no getting into a rhythm, which made it particularly important to focus on getting the pacing right. The 2200m elevation gain is made up of seemingly endless little climbs. That is exactly what made this challenge exciting!

It would be a pity to let the enjoyment of a day on the bike like this slip through the fingers because the unfamiliarity of the region makes it feel like a daunting task. You will be amazed how much easier the ride can feel, if not physically then definitely mentally, when you have done your research. Knowing the conditions might not change your physical preparation but can give you a big confidence boost for tackling those unknown areas.

rolling hills group

Here are some of the things you can do to get ready for new roads and new rides, as being well prepared for the challenge ahead is the best way to send that confidence sapping uncertainty packing:

1. Be ready for any weather. Check what the temperature is meant to be at the start and be aware of how it might change during the day and as you work your way through different altitudes. It might be hot in the valley but freezing at the top of the climbs. When you are considering what to wear, it’s always better to dress a little too warmly. Arm warmers and a headband don’t weigh much and only require you to leave a little extra space in your back pocket to stash it if you are too hot.

2. Get insight from locals. If you get a chance before the ride, ask the person on reception about the road conditions and weather predictions. Especially in areas where conditions can be changeable, like alpine areas, residents can have some useful insights that you may not be able to find in written forecasts. During the challenge, find out if the person next to you is from the area. He or she might be able to tell you what lies ahead so you know to take it easy on that potholed descent, or make sure you are in a bunch before that long wind-blown road. Plus, you just made a new friend.

3. Have fuel for the unforeseen. In an unknown region it is advisable to bring too much food and too many drinks, especially if you have specific food requirements. Unforeseen conditions could slow your ride down and as you push your body to its limits it is not wise to eat or drink anything you haven’t tried before. However, don’t count on being able to stomach the same food that worked well in the first hour, five hours into a ride. All of a sudden food you would not usually consider “ride fuel” on a shorter day could be the reason why you push up a mountain – for those having done Peaks Falls Creek I can only say Coke at Trapyard!

4. Don’t just glance at the route map, study it. Take notes about the route distance, water stops, food stops and closely examine that elevation chart. So often the scale can be deceptive and make small climbs appear very big or significant climbs appear flat. It was something well worth doing for the Newcrest Orange Challenge as I was ready for all those small climbs and very steep pinches which were hard to spot on the elevation chart. The best idea is to jot down the altitude of key points which will help you determine whether you have reached the high point during the ride. Also if you have done your homework and know that by 80km the gain is over 400 metres you will be able to factor that into your pacing and nutrition. A good way to keep track of these significant features during the ride, particularly for longer and tougher rides, is to put stickers on the top tube with notes about elevation, fuel stops and key distance markers (they may not be pretty but they sure are handy).

5. Do a mental ride through. Now that you have examined the route, use that knowledge to do a mental ride through. Just like you prepare your body for the physical demands, you can train your mind for the mental challenge. You may be surprised how much this can help give you a better understanding of the task ahead.

With your preparation, both physical and mental, taken care of all that’s left is to go out and have fun enjoying a new experience.

*Monika travelled to this event compliments of Bicycle Network.

Monika is a German ultra-endurance racer based in Melbourne. She is a gravel grinder, exercise physiologist and mental toughness coach that loves cycling challenges which push her beyond her perceived physical limits. You can find more of her writing here.

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