Mind Over Matter
Your mind and its power to either enhance or hinder your ability to perform at your best.
The more time you spend around successful elite athletes, the more you understand the crucial roles arousal and excitation play in performance. Take, for instance, a young rider like Credit Agricole’s Saul Raisin. Off the bike or on a leisurely ride, he comes off as a goofy kid who’s way too nice to be anything but a pushover. Yet, when you put him in a race, the affable and kind small town guy disappears and a fierce, calculating, and intense competitor emerges. The same can be said of other pros I coach, including road racer Phil Zajicek (Navigators Insurance) and cyclocrosser Ryan Trebon (Kona).
While some athletes naturally develop the ability to tap into their full physical potential, many more have to spend time learning and adapting their mental approach to training and racing before they can perform at their best. For every racer who automatically understands how to deliver maximum performance, there are dozens more who are hindered by self-doubt, lack of confidence, and fear.
The tips and techniques below can be very important for shifting your attitudes about competition, and I’ve found that these simple changes in the mind can elevate an anonymous mid-pack racer to a podium contender within weeks, regardless of changes in fitness and conditioning.
When riders first start racing, or when they move up in category so they’re racing more experienced and faster riders, the desire to reach the finish line sometimes takes a higher priority than trying to win. When this attitude persists for too long, however, racers fall into the habit of racing against the back of the field instead of the front. If your brain is at the back, that’s where your bike’s going to be as well. The race is in front of you, and in order to win, you need to stay focused on what you can do to compete against the riders at the front. Once you cross the threshold of realizing that the risk of not finishing is either minimal or less important than the risk of missing out on a chance to win, you can turn your attention to improving your finishing position.
As an endurance event, cycling can involve hours of relative boredom punctuated by moments of extreme effort, but it’s important to stay engaged at all times instead of settling into a mindless rhythm and letting the kilometers just pass under your wheels. Apathy is a problem for endurance athletes in both training and competition; you see it in the racers who are just along for the ride in the first two hours of a four-hour road race and the rider who just cruises through intervals in training instead of committing to quality efforts. Use landmarks in races or specific times in your training rides to quickly evaluate what you’re doing in comparison with your goals for the day. This can be a quick check at the end of each lap of a road race to see if you’re racing or just riding, or a check an hour into your training ride