Make sure your head is in it

So much of cycling is mental. You can work and work on the physical aspects of the sport, but you’ll never get all you can out of your ride unless your mind is in it. This is definitely true in racing, but the law extends to training as well.

It is amazing how when your mind is in gear, you can do things that you didn’t realize you could. For instance, I struggled for a couple of years trying to break a 12 minute ride up Paris Mountain. Finally, I nudged below it. Then with some mental encouragement from friends, I smashed the 12 minute mark by nearly 30 seconds. Physically, I was pretty much the same. Mentally I was given reason to believe.

It works the opposite way as well. That is what happened to me yesterday during one of my proscribed workouts. I’m waiting for the feedback from my coach and I bet he is thinking, “Where was his brain?”

I got started off on the wrong foot because I was rushing to get on the bike so I could have enough daylight to finish the session. The start time was just a few minutes past my target, so I was feeling a little better. Then once on the road I realized I had not confirmed that the Garmin Edge 500 had picked up my Quarq CinQo powermeter. Sure enough, I wasn’t reading any watts.

That problem solved I headed out into the park to do my 20 minute warm-up. As I was moving along I started to argue with myself what I was supposed to be doing during this portion of the workout.  I knew it was supposed to be something other than just spinning along, but I couldn’t remember. I should have just stopped and checked my handy dandy TrainingPeaks iPhone app, but I was still driven to get to the meat of the workout and beat the dusk.

TrainingPeaks iPhone application

TrainingPeaks iPhone application

So, I missed the 5 minute at 100% FTP portion of the warm-up. However, I did make it to the base of Piney Mountain Road. The good news is that it appeared that I would have plenty of light to get in this portion. I stopped to make sure I was aware of what I was supposed to do: 7 X 90 – 60 seconds seated at 350+ watts and then 30 seconds standing at 500+ watts. This was to be done on a 6% – 10% grade. Welcome to Piney Mountain Road.

Piney Mountain Road

Piney Mountain Road

The first three went off without a hitch. As a matter of fact, I was feeling really good. Then the phone rang. I stopped to check the message and returned the call. Ten minutes later, I was back at the workout. Now I was quickly losing daylight and my fingers were getting cold as the temperature dropped.

That fourth attempt felt completely different. My mind was reminding me of my mess up in the beginning and berating me for answering the phone instead of staying on task. Attempts 4 – 6 were solid, but not with the same feeling.

The seventh attempt started out okay. I had myself psyched up for the final push. Even the 60 second portion progressed well. However, in the back of my mind I was thinking that the final 30 were really going to hurt!

I shifted down and tried to register over 500 watts on my computer. The returning home from work traffic was starting to pick up and cars were zipping by me inches to my left. Then my legs just quit. I started to swerve as I willed my legs to pull and push the pedals around. Zip! Zip! went a couple of cars. Then I lost my nerve. I sat and the session was over.

Gasping for oxygen, I then tried to move into the next portion of the ride — 20 minutes at 245 – 265 watts. Of course, light was starting to fade and I knew I could not go too far from home. That meant more traffic and traffic lights. With each rush of traffic and stop at a light, my mind drifted further and further out of focus. Even though I worked pretty hard, I still only ended up with a 212 average for that 20 minutes.

Finally, I arrived at home in the dark. I was supposed to do another 10 to 15 minutes easy spinning. However, as I pulled into the driveway, I saw my family sitting at the dinner table in the warm light. Forget the spin. I’d just stretch and then go join them.

Later, I went out to get my bike and looked at my computer. I had forgotten to stop the timer when I got home! Yep, I think I’ll just chalk that one up as “just one of those days” — one of those days when my mind just wasn’t in it.