Mental Training and Self-Talk
You spend hours training your body. You carefully plan what you will eat, what supplements to take and how you will fuel and hydrate – all to ensure optimal performance. You dial in your race bike, probably spend way too much money to save an ounce here and there, get a massage to recover, give up wild weekend nights (or maybe not) and do “everything” you have been told by your coach to do. What about one of the biggest factors of racing, one of the most crucial elements of success? Have you prepared your mind? Have you programmed your thoughts to get you where you want to go? Do you know where you want to go?
A huge part of racing is the mental aspect. You can be as fit as you possibly can be, and yet defeat yourself in a race based on the internal dialogue that is going on in your head during the race. Do not underestimate this part of your training! Your coach can give you all the necessary workouts to get you in top shape, teach you about race tactics, diet, equipment and gearing and help guide you as you train your mind, but you’ve got to do the work.
Since everyone is different, and since your coach isn’t a mind reader, you have to do your own “homework,” or mental workouts. Of course, these are things you can share with your coach; but the reality is when you are in that moment of the race, it’s just you, alone with your thoughts and there is nothing anyone or any coach can do for you at that time. Only you are making the choices about what you will think, how you will feel and what you will do in that moment. And it is up to you to prepare for those moments.
The intention of this article is to get you thinking. I cannot possibly give you all the answers, nor can anyone. Only you can answer these questions for yourself. Just like you cannot read an article or book and expect to go out and dominate your category the next week (though you can try with Bike Racing 101!) You have to do the workouts and put in the time. Training your mind is the same. You have to do your mental workouts.
So where to begin?
1. What do you WANT? Ponder this question. As you ask yourself what you want and WHY do you want it? So many of us think we know what we want, but when you start to uncover the reasons, you may learn something totally different about yourself and the direction you are going. Why are you bike racing? What do you want to accomplish from this sport? (If its money you’re after may I strongly suggest tennis or golf?) Why do you do what you do? This is a question that you should continually ask yourself because the answers will change throughout your life.
– This is very important because your WANTS determine your actions. This can happen at a subconscious level so it is essential to be clear on what is driving you.
2. Set clear and written Goals. Of course this stems from what you want, but you must be able to focus on those goals. The best and most effective way to strengthen that focus is to write your goals down! I have met many people who don’t like to write down their goals because they are afraid of failing, or setting their goals too high, or maybe even too low. But you have to start somewhere. There is no right or wrong answer. Your goals are not set in stone for the rest of your life. Your goals will change, and that’s okay.
– Success stories have proven over and over again, that the people who write down their goals are 80% more likely to achieve those goals than those who don’t.
– Post your goals in a place that you will see them everyday. Share them with someone who is close to you and supports you.
– There is no magic number of goals you should write down. And they certainly do not have to be all related to cycling. The reality is that we are more than just cyclists and I can guarantee that the condition of other areas in your life (relationships, career, etc) WILL affect your racing.
– Keep your goals in the positive. Your goals should never start with “I will not do such and such… or “I am not…” Always phrase goals in the affirmative action.
3. VISUALIZE. This is especially helpful when you are going to do a race you have done in the past. Let’s say there is a crit coming up where you really want to do well. Having raced this race before you know that the finish is a slight uphill finish that lasts about 300 meters. So, you find a hill that you can train on that is similar to that course and every time you do your efforts up that hill, you picture yourself in that race feeling good, going strong and being exactly where you want to be in the field. Sometimes, I will even have my athletes do race simulated repeats on the exact course they will be racing, utilizing this visualization process.
– We all are creating our own reality on a daily basis, and with practice we get better and better at manifesting what we want. There is an incredible amount of power in your subconscious mind, so program it wisely!
4. What are you telling yourself IN the race? This can be really interesting when you start to pay attention to your own thoughts. Are you saying, “Oh, she is really strong, I wish I was as strong as she is.” Or “I sure hope no one attacks anytime soon, I just need to rest.” Or “Gosh, I hope he does not drop me on the climb. Please don’t drop me on the climb!” Why not reprogram your mind to think thoughts like, “I feel great today, I am ready for anything.” Or “After this next prime, I am going to attack and take the initiative to make something happen.” Or “If this climb hurts me, I’m sure it has to be hurting everyone around me even more!”
– These examples might not sound right for you, but you get the idea. I cannot write your inner dialogue, only you can.
– What thoughts are you programming in your mind to play when you are in the race? You have to think about this before the race because in the race is too late. Part of this goes back to WHAT DO YOU WANT? Why are you out there? What are your goals?
– You have trained diligently to do these races; don’t defeat yourself before you get started. Too often I have seen people give away a win because they talked themselves out of thinking they could be in a break, or hang with someone. What do you have to lose?
– If you are beating yourself up mentally in a race, you seriously need to examine this closer and figure out a way to change how you are talking to yourself. Self-defeating mental thoughts can be just as detrimental as letting all the air out of your tires!
5. Trust your “gut” – don’t hesitate. I specifically remember my old Saturn teammate, Mike McCarthy, (who was a great sprinter and won many races) saying, “If you hesitate, it’s too late!” If your instinct says go, then GO! Don’t second guess yourself. That split second you spend doubting yourself could be the difference between being in the pack or being in the winning break. The older I get the more I realize how my gut instinct is always right. This is a skill you can not only use in your racing but in your personal life. You can call it your gut, your instinct, your subconscious, higher self, or whatever you choose, but bottom line there is a part of you that just “knows”. Trust that part of yourself! It will serve you well.
I think that is enough “homework” to give you for now. Your mental strength is something that you need to train on a regular basis just as you do your physical body. I recommend reading books that help build your mental muscle. You do not have to submerge yourself in these books constantly, but even just reading a few pages every night will help you stay on track. There are a variety of book choices that will motivate you mentally. “The Secret” received a lot of publicity this year and I think it has some excellent suggestions. Someone else might prefer the “Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle or maybe something more light-hearted. Read what feels right to you.
Continue to practice what you learn and work that mental muscle regularly. You will be amazed at the results you will experience not only in your races, but in the overall satisfaction of your life.
I wish you well on your journey – Now go, make it happen!