Tag Archives: Mental

Starting to see it

Cyclists shave their legs for any number of reasons. It’s an oft repeated blog topic that I’m not going to cover in depth today. However, the subject is related to a more important happening in my life.

I won’t go into all the reasons (some very good) for why most cyclists go the smooth route. Yes, there is the road rash reason, the massage message, and cleanliness claim. However, the primary point is that any honest cyclist who uses the razor will admit that when it comes down to it, the overriding issue is how it looks.

It is not really a matter of vanity as some people assume. Shaved legs just look fast. When the racers pull up to the line, they can read a lot from the muscle definition of the legs surrounding them. I would also point out that they gain confidence from the look of their own.

That is the point I want to make today. When I first started training this year, I was a hairy man — as I am (except on top of my head). Not only did I look soft and fuzzy, I felt that way. Even after getting rid of the fuzz, I still felt soft — and weak.

Finally, last night while spinning I started to see the legs of last year returning. It’s that little knot you see where your quad meets your knee when you bring your leg up on the pedal. It’s that bowing of your outer thigh muscle as you recoil your leg to start another stroke. It’s that crease that starts to appear over your knee cap when you stand.

What that is telling me is that the training is starting to have some effect, even if I don’t always feel like it. Seeing things begin to take shape in turn starts making me feel better about what is happening. It all builds to help create a confidence.

Cycling is a very mental sport. Yes, there is some strategy and logic involved, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. You must be mentally strong to keep going when the body is saying to stop. Any edge you can create to help you mentally is so very important.

The way you look. The equipment you use. So many things add up to creating the mental environment that can give you just that edge you need.

It may seem odd to those not involved in these types of endurance sports. However, I think if you ever step over to the dark side you will start to see it.

2011: Vision or Vapor

Had a conversation with my coach yesterday. We talked a bit about my ATP (Annual Training Plan) and some specifics about what types of workouts I would like to include in the months ahead. The conversation also included some discussion of overarching goals. It is always good to talk with your coach to get your head on straight.

The two major points of our discussion dealt with MOTIVATION and CONFIDENCE. Both of these aspects of training fall under the mental category. Jim says that he isn’t worried at all about the physical part of my training and goals. Primarily, we need to work on these mental portions.

That isn’t to say that I won’t have to work hard to be ready physically. The point is that I’ve proven to Jim that I have the potential — and have proven to have the physical ability — to race well in the tough Masters scene here in the Southeast. If I can train as well as I did last year, I’ll be ready.

The catch, according to Jim, is that it isn’t enough for him to be convinced. It is more important that I be convinced. It doesn’t matter how well I train physically if I don’t have the belief that I can hang with the big boys. Two riders leaving the line with similar physical abilities can have vastly different outcomes based on their mental confidence and toughness.

So, how do you get there? Visualization seems to be the word everyone throws out there. While you are on the trainer this winter, you close your eyes and imagine yourself in a breakaway with the big dogs. Come race season you find yourself in the situation and know you have “been there before” and you can do it. Your mind creates the template for your body to follow.

Obviously, there has to be a balance here. It does no good to visualize that you can do a reverse dunk on a 10 foot basketball goal when you are 4 foot 2 inches tall. Visualization works best when you have past experience to build from. In other words, I have been in a break with the “big dogs” of a category 4 race or even with Pro 1-2 guys on a Donaldson Center or UWBL ride. I know what it is like to be there — almost. This gives me the knowledge that my goals are realistic and “dreaming” of accomplishing those goals is not a pipe dream.

Here is my problem. I get myself psyched up for the race. We leave the line and I find myself some minutes later in my dream position. Suddenly the pain kicks in. I’m looking at the riders around me and they don’t seem to be breathing as hard. One even talks to the guys around him! I feel like I am hanging on by a tire width. The vision starts turning to vapor. The “can’t” word enters the brain and I’m done.

Am I really not physically able to hang with these guys? Jim says I am. Am I a mental wimp unable to suffer well enough to finish with the top of my field? I don’t know the answer to that question.

One of my goals for the year is to produce a positive answer to both those questions. I’ve got to trust Jim and the numbers. Both of them say that I have the physical ability to race well in the Masters. What I think will help me most with the mental aspect is some success. I don’t mean a win, but a strong finish. My goal is to use one success as a stepping stone to the next. Failures will be learning situations with the belief that correcting them will lead to success.

The planning itself starts to take care of my motivation issues. Other than the cold, I am starting to get excited about training for the 2011 season. The picture is starting to come into focus and that clarity gives me the ability to start making the adjustments to physically be ready to find myself in the scene. Each workout becomes an opportunity to remove any physical variables so that my only question to conquer becomes a mental one.

How do you prepare mentally? Anybody out there just not question their abilities and enter a race with utmost confidence? Why do you think that is? Anybody else out there like me? Have you found something that works?

Hey, this is a season to learn.

Seeking Redemption

Has it only been a year since my dad was rushed to the hospital after collapsing in his warehouse? Wow, it just seems like it might have been a couple months ago. It wasn’t, it happened just before last year’s Spring Fling Spartanburg Regional Classic Criterium. That was a bad day all around! Now, I’m seeking redemption!

I was planning to expand on my review of Boyd Bikes wheels. I’ve had some more time on them and thought I would give an update. However, I went back in time to check my race report for last year’s race. I knew it was my one DNF from last year, but I couldn’t remember all the circumstances. How much a difference a year makes!

One thing I am learning is the huge role your mental state plays in racing. Sure, I made some tactical mistakes in that race, but even those problems can be traced back to my emotions and mindset going into it. I’ve also learned that there is nothing better for your mental health than experience.

Photo by Jimmy Helms

Pulling out for first DNF of 2009 - not a good day.

Last year I had psyched myself out because it was my first 3/4 race. Pretty much I had set myself up for failure with thoughts of “I just hope I can hang on.” Add to that the message just before the race of the issue with my father and my focus was completely shot. At the moment, I thought I was compartmentalizing it and I would be able to focus solely on the race. Now, with more racing under my belt, I realize that it is very hard to do.

This go around, I have a whole different mindset. The question isn’t will I be able to hang on. The question is whether I will win or not. True, this year the first race I’ll be in is the 4/5 instead of 3/4, but I’m starting to believe that I can run with the 3s — and not only finish, but be competitive.

That first race is really the warm-up for my second race of the day — the Masters 35+. I found last week that doing the 4s race just before the Masters race had me feeling loose and strong in the second go around. Plus, I’ll feel much more confident on the course having been on it during race conditions. Mentally, I don’t have any illusions (or delusions) that I am going to win that race, but I can see myself pulling out a top 15 finish.

A lot has changed since that race a year ago. I’m a completely different racer. I’m excited to go out and redeem that DNF.

More importantly, a lot has changed in other ways — like my dad. A year later he is doing better than ever. After his valve replacement, he spent several months recuperating. Now he is back running “the shop” and slinging 60 pound bags of concrete around. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and it won’t be hard to be “up” for this year’s crit.

This one is for you, Dad!

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.

Finding balance

There is more to this training stuff than just physical exercise.  A lot of it is mental.  It has been a fight for me this week.

Finally, I came to the point where I realize you can only do what you can do.

Monday I followed the plan.  Tuesday I varied from the plan in order to spend some time on my mountain bike.  Wednesday didn’t work out too well as I was extremely tired and had a busy day.  Staying up late spinning just wasn’t going to cut it!  Last night I went to work out at the gym, but I did not do the prescribed hour plus of spinning.

At first this really bothered me.  Then I realized that I really haven’t taken a break since the last race of the year.  While most of the racers around took off the week after the Downtown crit, I was riding my bike to Texas.  When I got back, I was off the bike for less than a week before starting to train.

It isn’t going to kill me to ease into this.  There is no need to push myself causing conflicts with my schedule and putting pressure on other aspects of my life.  Doing so might or might not lead to physical improvement — but it certainly won’t lead to my mental improvement!

So, my plan is to go through the next several weeks trying to stay as close as possible to the training plan.  However, if I miss several session, it is going to be no big deal.  Something is better than nothing.