How to Finish a Century with Too Little Preparation

I rode my first century in August, 2011. Josh Chen and I started training for it only two months earlier. We trained intermittently, haphazardly, and insufficiently, but when the race day came, we finished. The course was much hillier than we expected and the country roads were often poorly paved, but once we clipped in that morning, it would not occur to us once to stop. Did we deserve to be able to finish? Probably not, but we finished anyways.

How did we set up ourselves to be so determined that our lack of preparation became meaningless? In a few ways.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Whatever the problems with living in a capitalist economy, one huge benefit is that we value money very highly. More highly than we probably should, but we can harness its value to convince ourselves to succeed in non-financial ways.

Josh and I paid a lot of money to be able to ride in that century (the Tour d'Organics for anyone who is curious) and there was no chance we were going to let that money go to waste. In addition to the price tag of the race itself, we rented a hotel room, drove the length of the bay area, and even bought special century bike shorts (they just have extra padding). We made the race into a BIG DEAL and sunk some cash into it accordingly. That made us want to prove to ourselves, however irrationally, that we had spent that money in good faith.

Walk the Walk by Talking the Talk

All summer long as Josh and I trained, we talked it up to our friends and family. Our parents knew we were training, as did our friends from high school and college. Then, even when our legs were ready to give out, our hearts were whining about how hard this damn thing was turning out to be, and every other body part had something to say, it never occurred to us to stop. We would have had to talk for months to come about how we failed after training all summer.

Don't be afraid to brag about whatever you're working on accomplishing. Talk it up. It will hold you accountable.

Race to the Finish

Our race, like all other organized bike events, had a clear finish line. Before you reach the finish line you are not done. Once you reach the finish line, you are done. This doesn't work for lifelong habits like eating healthy and meditating, but it does work for one-time difficulties. Set a clear ending for yourself and push yourself as hard as you can until you reach it.

Then pat yourself on the back and relax.

"I'm [NOT] the decider"

Sometimes it's nice to be able to have the freedom to make decisions for yourself, but the more energy you have to put into making decisions the less energy you have for taking action. When the time comes to take action, as it did when we clipped in that chilly Sunday morning of our race, stop thinking about decisions. Have someone else make them or make them yourself in advance.

Our route was established. We just had to follow the arrows. Nobody would turn the crank for us, and our bodies had to do as much work as ever, but our brain could focus on the task at hand.

If there's no pre-established list of steps for your project, make them yourself and then stop thinking about it. Give yourself a specific, linear, and simple plan so you can devote your mental energy to actually doing the task.


I'm actually dressed and ready for my first road bike training ride of the season. Josh and I have our plan and we're ready to roll!