Here’s a great post from Outside Magazine about making sure you’ve mentally prepared yourself for your sport just as hard as you’ve physically trained. I’ve considered myself an athlete for the better part of 15 years and, looking back at what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished, I’m sure I could have done much more had I learned to train my brain the right way for competitions –especially when I was younger. Now, when friends ask me for advice as they start up a new exercise routine or are facing marathon or cycling race for the first time, I always tell them the same thing: focus on what you can control –and really the only thing you can control is yourself. If you can control your mind, you’ve already taken care of your toughest competitor.
Staying focused after a set back
The article definitely puts the emphasis on what to do after a big disappointment in a race, and I think anyone who’s raced long enough knows that setbacks are part of the game. Sometimes you get injured, sometimes it’s just an off day during what should have been a really great race. Whatever your setback is, there is no denying that it can absolutely fry your motivation and derail you for months at a time. I remember the first time I was in a big bike pile up during a local crit race. Five guys in front of me went from pushing along at 30 mph to screaming as they slammed onto the pavement. In that situation, you really can’t do much else but try and dodge most of the bodies the best you can and try to make your fall into the other ones as soft as possible. I remember my bike coming to a stop as it rolled up onto a pile of fallen riders. My big chain ring just an inch from cutting into another riders face who was unlucky enough to be pinned underneath my bike. It was pretty gruesome.
You gotta keep moving
I finished the race and rode home without saying much to my friends. I’ve never had a more cautious ride on my bike –being extra careful to dodge every pothole or bump and feeling extra nervous whenever a car would pass close to me or speed by. I was too focused on not crashing, I had lost my confidence and I was letting small obstacles get to me so badly that it was affecting my riding. I hated it. I came home convinced I didn’t want to race or maybe even ride anymore. That night, my coach and a few of the senior riders I raced with called me to see if I was ok -apparently they noticed I wasn’t quite myself after the pile-up. They each told me the same thing: you gotta keep moving, you gotta keep going out there and not focus on images or sounds that may pop up in you head (no cyclist forgets the noise of a bike hitting the pavement). Crashes happen. Setbacks happen. It’s part of racing and no one is immune to it. The most important thing they did for me: they each made sure I was on my bike and riding the next day. And then they made sure I was racing the next week at the crit again. It was really hard. It took a long time for me to feel comfortable again on the bike. But, eventually, I realized that they were right, you gotta keep rolling and focus on what you can control (your attitude, your nutrition, the smile on your face) . I always think about that experience when I’m facing a mental block during training or a race. I know it made me psychologically stronger.