There are two types of panic training. The kind where you have an event, and the kind where you have just become alarmed by the state of your current fitness. Either way, you become seized by a fever that drives you out the door for the sort of ride, either by distance or difficulty, for which you are woefully unprepared. This is an attempt to jump the fitness queue, jumpstart the season, or jump off the proverbial bridge now that you’ve come to it.
Good for you.
It’s not gonna work. That’s what you need to know, right up front. Panic training is futile, and in some ways, possibly even counterproductive, but I still recommend you do it, and I’ll tell you why. Eventually.
The thing is, training is like sleep. You can’t hurry up and sleep. There is no panic sleeping, although, having blinked awake at 3am the night before a big ride, I have certainly attempted to sleep my absolute hardest, to sleep faster than I’ve ever slept before. And you know, because you’re also a human who struggles with these things, that your reward for working extra hard on sleeping is not just an utter lack thereof, but also a racing mind that makes the one thing you need, that sleep, increasingly less likely.
It’s like those stereogram posters (see, right) that were popular in the ’90s. The more you try to see the image in the chaos, the less likely you are to see the image in the chaos. Apparently, there’s a shark in that technicolor barf. I can’t see it. Just like I can’t see riding my bike a very long distance after staring, panic-stricken, at my ceiling the night before. I’m told both are possible though.
Like most of the things I try to do very quickly on a bicycle, my attempts to speed train have all petered out after an initial surge. It’s a sprint I never win.
And yet still I hurl myself out into that void. Part of this is atonement, and I think that’s important. When you’ve been lax, when you’ve overindulged in not-riding, there is a penalty to be paid, and that penalty is there to remind you not to not-do-it again. Think of it as a not-speeding ticket.
Here’s the other thing.
It’s good to know where your limits are. A quick bout of panic training will paint, in stark detail, the contours of your current fitness. Once I freaked out about an upcoming gravel event that promised 10k feet of vertical gain and resolved to ride hill repeats for an hour. In that time, on the hill I normally use for this bit of torture, I should have been able to complete 5-6 repeats. Instead, I found myself wheezing up the final pitch on the second go-round, barely able to complete two. That’s not repeats, by the way. It’s repeat.
There, in that crystalline moment, I knew exactly the deficit I was running. In many ways, it made the sensible training that followed much more focused and effective.
Look, this is not how you should live your life. I’m less a role model than an object lesson, a cautionary tale. Panic training is not the most efficient way to prepare yourself for whatever it is you’re preparing yourself for, unless it’s hypoxia. Still, I think it’s an instructive thing to do on occasion, a way of tithing to the Church of Bike-Related Suffering, and a quick way to sketch the outlines of your inadequacy.