Panic training 101

Definition: Panic Training is the action of getting your body physically ready for a race, long ride, sportif, tour motivated by the fear of being left on the side of the road with no energy left in your body, crows picking at your eyeballs as you call out to those passing by “Just go on without me…”

I’ve decided that panic training is the most effective kind of training. My husband Phil disagrees. He argues that panic training is simply having a goal that you are working towards - which is basically the same as regular training.

However I believe that there is a little bit of extra motivation that goes with panic training.

At the moment I’m training for a 4 week cycling tour around France, Switzerland and Italy. The route includes 30,000m of climbing, and we'll be on heavy touring bikes carrying all our stuff in panniers. I can’t wait as it’s going to be epic!

But I’ve had a bit of a crap year in terms of fitness. I’ve lost my motivation over the last 12 months, and have been content with tootling about on coffee rides. I pulled a bit of my fitness back at the start of the year after a two week cycling trip around Tasmania and a week in Bright in the Victorian Alps. However I pushed myself a bit too hard and ended up with a chest infection which kept me off the bike for almost 6 weeks. It was a slow road to regaining the motivation I’d discovered at the start of the year.

8 weeks out from our Europe tour start date Phil and I mapped out the route we’d be taking on our trip. We included some big days riding over the Col d’Iozard, Galibier, and Madeleine in the French Alps.

Alarm bells started to go off in my head. Will I be able to make it over those mountains in my current state of fitness? Surely yes, I thought. I’ve ridden similar climbs in my time when I was less fit...although never on a heavy touring bike with all my stuff on the back.

It wasn’t until we mapped out the route we’d be taking from Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland to Lake Como that the panic really set in. We will be riding 7000m in elevation over two days - the first day will be 4,500m over three passes - the Grimsel, Furka and Gotthard pass.

Holy crap. I’ve never attempted that much climbing in one day - even on my road bike!

Hence the panic training. From that moment I decided that I would be ready for this trip. I had 8 weeks. I could do it. The fear of being stuck on top of a mountain pass, too exhausted to go on with no one around to come and pick me up has sparked the motivation I have lost.

So what does panic training look like? A bit like this:

Sticking to a schedule

I’ve never been one for sticking to strict training plans. I’ve tried structured training a few times but I get distracted easily and I find rolling around in circles at FTP soooo boring. In all honesty I probably just needed a goal. Now that I’m so frightened I’ll be left of the side of the road in the French wilderness, I’ve become obsessive about my training plan. Phil my maths teacher husband thrives on data and very willingly put together a daily training schedule for me that will get me as fit as possible by the time we leave, without over fatiguing myself. I’ve become obsessive about looking at my ride data in Training Peaks and am starting to get really excited as I see my fitness going up. I’ve even started casually talking about it at the coffee shop - something I used to mock my friends for doing. What have I become???

I eat hills for breakfast

Hills hills hills. This has become my mantra. I know I need to get my climbing legs in order, so I’m saying goodbye to the flats and seeking out the lumps. Our flattest day on the trip is 1081m of elevation. I would generally include a couple of flat rides during the week to rest the legs, but the panic is driving me to attack the hills with vigor. I’m learning to love hills!

No more alcohol

I’m not a big drinker, but I don’t mind a glass of wine or beer every so often. However I really don’t fare well in the mornings if I’ve been drinking the night before. As I do most of my training in the early morning, that means the grog needs to go. I figure I’ll have plenty of time to enjoy a glass of wine on the trip (if I’m not fit by then it’s too late!) so for now the alcohol is staying on the shelf.

Rest days

Phil has taught me the importance of rest days. Anyone who knows me well knows I love rest days. However panic training has turned the tables on that thinking and has made me want to ride as much as I physically can as I’m so nervous I won’t be fit in time for the trip. However I realise now that the reason I got so sick at the start of the year was that I pushed myself too hard too fast. It is important to be consistent in your training, but to also rest the body. So at the moment I’m on a three week on, one week off schedule. Each week includes a couple of zone two days or rest days so I’ll be strong for the next big ride.

Harden the @$#% up

Panic training has made me realise that I’m tougher than I thought. With fear to motivate me I can push myself harder than I normally would. When I am climbing up a hill and feel tired, I think to myself - “Get over it. You are going to be climbing much longer hills that this one in Europe. Push hard now to make it easier over there”. If it’s raining I think “ will probably have to ride in the rain on your trip. You’d better get used to this. Embrace the the the rain.” If it’s windy I drive myself into it and don’t hide behind someone else knowing that it will be make me stronger. If Phil could hear my mind, I’m pretty sure he would think he’d married a stranger.

So there it is, this is what panic training looks like for me. I truly believe that only panic training would put me in the above mindset. There is no out for me, unless I want to cancel my trip. And that is not going to happen!

It’s probably best not to leave your training to the last minute so you have no choice but to panic train, however I can’t deny that it’s effective.

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