By Susan Plonsky

My goal last year for Boston Montreal Boston was to enjoy the event as it unfolded. I've ridden (read: suffered through) BMB three times before and I was miserable during most of it. I'm sure I'm not the only one. We like the idea of challenging ourselves and pushing our limits. We enjoy training hard and talking (actually bragging) about it afterwards. The sticky point seems to be in the middle—while riding the event. After all that planning and anticipation, the only thing I want to do during a long ride is get it over with.

Last year I decided I had had enough of that. If I could climb the Middlebury Gap after riding for more than 15 hours, I could certainly take control of my moods. Here's what I learned in my search for a better BMB.

  1. Start the ride with an intention. We create our own reality every moment, whether we're aware of it or not. Setting an intention before the event is the first step to staying positive and having a good ride.

    For example, your intention may be:

    • I intend to set a personal record: ride faster, stop less, and for shorter periods of time.

    • I intend to enjoy the ride, no matter what happens. I'm going to take in my surroundings and look forward to whatever adventures life has planned for me that day.

    • I intend to deal successfully with whatever comes along. I have a wonderful sense of humor that serves me well.

    • I'm going to find people to ride with. I'm going to visit on the bike with old friends and make new friends.

  2. Stay focused on the present moment. Be in the here and now. Fear and anxiety happen when you start creating a dismal future in your mind. Regret happens when you dwell on the past and wish that events had happened differently. All these negative emotions require a mind that's in the past or in the future. They cannot survive in a mind that is focused on the present moment.

    One last word about staying in the present: I often hear these comments from other riders: "I'm never doing this ride again," or "I'm not doing these 1200K randonnées any more."

    I know this is just exhaustion talking, because one month later, I'll see them at the Last Chance Randonnée. My advice is don't make any decisions about future events while you're riding. How can you be in the present if you're planning for next year? Tell that grumpy part of yourself, "Thank you for that suggestion. We'll talk about it in a couple weeks."

  3. Go to Plan B, or Plan C, if need be. Sometimes what gets us down is our insistence that everything be the way we imagine or expect it to be. Some riders don't expect the climbs on BMB to be so long or so steep. BMB is like a play that unfolds with no set script. The ride is what it is. It will be easier for you to be flexible than to get Mt. Terrible to move aside.

    When the unexpected shows up, the first thing to do is to come to acceptance of where you are without resentments or wishing it were otherwise. Then adjust your plans. Example: "This hurricane through Lake Champlain is creating a flood up to my bottom bracket. Maybe I should sleep at Middlebury instead of going on to Ludlow like I had planned."

    Clue: If you're saying to yourself, "I should be at the next checkpoint by now," then you haven't come to acceptance yet. Accepting life as it happens doesn't mean you shouldn't plan or not have expectations. I start with an outline, but adjust my course and speed as often as a sail boat rounding Cape Horn in a squall.

    Here's a meditation you can do during the year to put yourself in the mind set you want to achieve while riding. The intention is to gain a more calm, clear, and non-reactive state of mind:

    Sit outside and observe the world around you without judgment—just observe. Listen to the birds or the traffic. Smell the dust or the damp earth. Do not make any conclusions, or decide if you like it or not. Don't wonder where the birds came from or what kind they are. Do not classify, label, analyze, or judge—merely let your senses take in the world.

  4. Letting go. Letting it happen. You're at the big event. The training is over. Now it's time to trust yourself, your abilities, your training, everything you put into the sport. Believe that whatever you have in you will come out at the right time. I've heard body builders say the same thing. When they arrive at the arena, they feel a sense of relief. All the hard work is done. The only thing left is to enjoy the experience and perform the way they've done in practice.

  5. Expect that there will be emotional low points. Believe that they will pass. Think back on all your brevets and identify your low points. What was going on at that time? Head wind? Mountains? Rain? For me, the end of the first day of BMB is always a low point. That last 40 miles to my bed seems to go on forever. Riding alone for long periods of time also gets me down.

  6. Make an emotional drop bag. Just like you provide a drop bag with extra tools for emergencies, create a mental bag of tricks you can use to refocus yourself and bring your spirits up. Sometimes all you need is a phrase to turn yourself around. "If it's not raining, it's not training," reminds me that rain is not a catastrophe, but an expected event.

    And if you're prone to introspection and asking yourself, "Why is this happening to me?", consider this: In this Universe, the lesson that you get is not the lesson that you want, but the lesson that you need.

It's one of those paradoxes of BMB that everyone on the ride travels the same route, but gets a different ride. For some riders, the challenge will be self doubt. For others, it will be flat tires and mechanical failures. Other riders will experience pain in their knees, achilles heel, or butt.

Over the course of four days, riders can get so spread out that they experience different weather in the same place. It was evening when Bernie Amero and I reached Rouses Point, New York as we headed south. We wondered if we should stay the night or cross Lake Chaplain and ride through to Williston, Vermont. The wind was picking up but it wasn't raining—yet. There is often stormy weather around the lake. Jenny, the check point lady in Rouses Point, removed any doubts from our minds when she said, "The devil that you know is better than the devil that you don't know."

She was right. We had an uneventful ride that night, but the next day around noon when we reached Middlebury, Vermont, we heard stories of gusting winds and torrential rain on Lake Champlain the previous night. While Bernie and I were sleeping in Williston, our fellow riders were slogging through Lake Champlain. Yeah, same route, different ride.