Why Stretch Targets Work – in Life or Sustainability
This morning, I am extremely tired.
At 4:15am on Saturday, I was lined up in Rockliffe, Scotland with 299 others to take part in the Frontier 300 – an (almost) 300km bike ride to Druridge Bay in Northumberland, England. It was an epic day: 50% off road through forest trails and the occasional bit of ‘single track’ (ie something usually ridden on a mountain bike), and a murderous ‘hike-a-bike’ section (think steep hill-walking but pushing/carrying a bike). At 10:20pm, I pulled into the finish and was presented with a special beer for my efforts.
I’ve been musing since Saturday that I found the Frontier 300 easier than my previous longest ride: a solo 215km on-road ride I did two years ago (the famous C2C). Why? I can think of three reasons:
1. Stretch targets make you think big and plan big. For the C2C, I did a slightly random selection of training rides with an arbitrary 10-hours a week target to hit a few weeks before the event. For the Frontier 300, with the help of an indoor trainer, I did a much more structured programme, featuring ‘Intensity Monday’ where I put myself into the red in a painful hour-long interval session, followed by lower intensities through the rest of the week.
2. A much more professional approach, particularly to nutrition and hydration. On the C2C, I ate and drank when I felt like it, and at one point found myself by the side of the road, legs cramping, on the verge of tears and questioning my life choices. On the Frontier 300, I set my cycle computer to remind me to eat and drink at regular intervals. I also swapped from a well-known high-street ‘isotonic’ drink (which my research suggested was too strong and can encourage cramps) for proper hydration tablets for endurance athletes (High5). No cramps, no hunger knock, no tears.
3. Riding with others. While most participants were faster than me (particularly on gravelly downhill sections where I’m quite cautious), I did fall in with others for periods of the ride, chatting, and doing the occasional bit of drafting (we had a tail wind for most of the route). This camaraderie really helped – just knowing we were all working to a common goal, even if some made it to the end much faster than others.
Of the first two, that big stretch target of 300km really made me change my approach. This is why, in Sustainability, Net Zero is an important target – that Zero makes you think very differently to “we’ll reduce our carbon footprint by 2% every year”. You have to plan properly, do your research and actively manage implementation – a whole different mindset to the old days where environmental programmes were seen as a nice-to-have. The camaraderie angle is important too – learning from others and urging each other on really helps.
But the bottom line is: go big, you might surprise yourself. I did!