How to Set Cycling Goals that Scare You (a little)

Take your 2022 cycling plans to the next level: It's time for a Stupid Arbitrary Goal. Whether you're crushing centuries or Everesting, it's time to go big or go home.

Go big or go SAG

Written by
Janeen McCrae

Published on

Posted in
Features

It sneers at you, poking at your aching quads while laughing at the persistent trickle of your life oil down the drain hole of your dreams. It is the SAG. No, not the “Support and Gear” SAG wagon that cheerfully lurks behind cyclists to scoop a DNF rider in their darkest hour. I’m talking new SAG. Boss SAG. Radical SAG.

I’m talking the sublime magnificence of the Stupid Arbitrary Goal.

Since it is peak SAG planning season, and since I possess all the attributes of an excellent SAG operator — unlicensed, naïve, and slightly deranged — I consider it my duty to pass on The Way of the SAG to all cyclists who seek enlightenment. Think of it as The Way of the Tao, but with fewer robes. Don’t believe my palmarès? Consider this: My two most recent SAG slayings include climbing 710,000 feet in under 365 days and logging 36 centuries in 73 days because when you switch from an elevation goal to a distance goal, life comes at you fast. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the dumb SAGs I’ve done. Trust me: I’m a top-shelf lunatic.

Janeen went big in 2021
Photos courtesy Janeen McCrae

Here is a quick primer on SAGs — a SAG FAQ of sorts — so that you can plan and potentially crush your idiotic quest.

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What is a SAG?

Every cycling SAG contains three obvious elements, which we will now review in reverse for reasons I won't go into (1).

G = GOAL

Something you want to achieve, duh.

A = ARBITRARY

There is no real reason for doing this goal except that, like climbing Everest — or Everesting for that matter — it’s there. 

S = STUPID

Ideally, your goal should sound stupid. Slightly absurd. If someone says, “You’re nuts!” when they hear about it, you’ve understood the assignment.

Why do a SAG?

Because when it’s not destroying you, a SAG is fun! It is the only competitive sporting pursuit in which scoring an own goal is the desired result. You set the metaphorical ball, shoot, and the only thing that can stop you is you, the SAG-blocking goalie. There are no prizes — although feel free to give yourself one — and believe me, you’ll feel stoked when you’re done. It’s a great feeling to complete a SAG.

Physical benefits? Sure, but the mental benefits — I’m talking the sheer bulletproof mental tolerance you’ll develop for suffering — will far outweigh the athletic. Want a mind like a steel trap? A SAG is your friend. Want mental agility out the wazoo? A SAG puts it in the bag. Trust me, your mental game will be so next level after a SAG, people gonna need an infinity staircase just to get to you (2).

710,000 feet in a year

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How do I create a SAG?

1. Determine your metric

Most cycling SAGs follow either a distance, elevation, or consistency metric, but I am also a huge fan of the conceptual twist SAG. If it’s a straightforward distance, add a twist and consider naming your concept. An example might be: Gain 100,000ft in one month, but rides can only be on dirt and call it the “Dirt, Vert, Hurt” (or something — you get the idea). I set two SAG goals this year:

1. Climb 710,000 feet in 365 days (a.k.a. Feats of Feets), and
2. Ride 10,000 miles in 2021 (a.k.a. The Haymaker)

2. Set the duration

A week? One ride? Calendar year? Birthday year? For me, the 365-days goal was my birthday year, and the other, calendar.

3. Note pain points

In my experience, time is the biggest drag on a SAG. Physical and mental considerations work themselves out on their own, but time is relentless in its march. With work and family commitments to consider, you will need to ABJ (Always Be Juggling) to maintain SAG-time flexibility. For my Feats of Feets goal, getting the rides in required me to get 3-4 hour rides in at least 5 days a week. I solved this by riding most often at 4:30 a.m.

4. Embrace the threat of failure

The trick to a sexy SAG is to always have the threat of failure looming. I’ve found the days when I realize I’m behind on a SAG to be the most motivating. “Holy crap! I’ve gotta ride two centuries a week to bag this SAG?! What?! (3) This kind of panic can REALLY get you off the couch. I elaborate on this below.  

5. Track it

I hate Microsoft Excel with the heat of a thousand suns, but my two SAGs have taught me how to live that wicked “SUM=” life. Using a spreadsheet with basic functions, you can instantly see if you’re on track, ahead, or entering the Threat of Failure danger zone. And, of course, track your SAG with Strava or some other app. I used a combo of both for my goals in 2021 and it was nerdy enough to keep me going.

Janeen's scary Excel spreadsheet
Let's just say Janeen is quite thorough when it comes to planning her SAG.

What if I want to quit my SAG?

Oh, trust me, you will. But don’t. Or do? Whatever. No one is forcing you to do your SAG. It’s stupid, remember? It came out of your stupid brain and you’re the only one it disappoints when you DNF. So, when you’re up at sparrow’s-fart (4) o’clock and thinking, “But it’s so hard, it hurts, I’m suffering, whaa!” remember this: You put yourself here. No one else did. You are so unbelievably stupid and this goal is dumb but that’s what makes it — and you — beautiful.

Don’t quit your SAG.

Yes, you might have to ride in the cold, the dark, the traffic, and GASP! the rain. Perhaps your SAG is on a trainer SAG?! (I ain’t gonna poo-poo trainer SAGs. You’re talking to a person who did a century on rollers.) The point is this: To complete your SAG mission, you will likely have to do things you don’t wanna do. You might even have to juggle your days and do dumb things like get up a 4 a.m. to get the ride in before work and your bed will be warm and your gloves are thin and it’s SO DARK!

Don’t quit your SAG.

Janeen final day SAG
Janeen climbing the final feet of her Feats of Feet SAG.

My SAG is too easy. What should I do?

If you have an easily achievable goal, you will not be motivated to get up and ride. Solution? Welcome to the heady world of the Extend-a-SAG, the stretch limousine of the SAG wagon fleet.

Story time: My Feats of Feets SAG was originally a goal of completing 500,000 feet of elevation gain for my 50th year on planet earth — a 365-day goal. In July, I realized I was gonna stroll in this SAG four months early, so started slacking off and sleeping in. Fortunately, a SAG stretch limo roared in from stage left of my consciousness.

“I bring you THE THREAT OF FAILURE!” it honked, chucking a donut in my brain’s dirt parking lot. When the dust settled, there scratched on the ground was a new goal — 710,000ft by your 50th birthday (5). I was instantly behind goal! This new goal forced me to get aggressive, plan routes based purely on gain, and sharpen my Excel skills even more. #notsohumblebrag I crushed this SAG.

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Three final tips:

1. Stay on top of bike maintenance. If you’re on a mega-SAG, you’re gonna wear things out.

2. Watch the weather a week out. You might have to reshuffle things to stay on track.

3. When it’s all done, take a SAG portrait to memorialize the achievement and welcome to the SAG Hall of Fame. This doesn’t exist, but it’s a portrait gallery I would happily visit.

And there you have it. A quick(ish) guide to SAGs. I don’t know what my 2022 will hold in terms of a SAG or two, but I had a weird idea for a series of routes based on movie names where I’d map out a loop based on road names like Glengarry Glenn Ross, Michael Collins, or Billy Elliot. You’re welcome to steal that concept. Now get stupid and go Bag a SAG!

Aim high, aim low, just aim for something. This is The Way of the SAG.

Janeen dreaming up a new SAG
What sort of ridiculous SAG will Janeen dream up next?

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Footnotes:

1. The first rule of SAG: You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.
2. SAGs teach you to ‘game your mind to mind your game.’ And you can put that on a t-shirt.
3. This happened with The Haymaker goal. Hopefully, by the time you read this, I will no longer be on failure’s knife edge.
4. Bet you weren’t expecting a late 19th century expression.
5. Like Snoop Dogg, Winona Ryder, and Jens Voigt, I too was born in 1971.

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