I posted a brief account on my club’s bulletin board about bailing on yesterday’s ride. My friend Judy responded: “Yes, that windy hill was a killer. I had to really dig into my mental reserves to finish that.”
I guess what’s bothering me most today as I look back on the ride was that I didn’t dig deep enough into my mental reserves. The last rest stop turned out to be about a mile past where I quit. If I had been able to get to that stop, I’m sure I would have been able to stoke myself up enough to finish the ride — which ended only eight miles farther on.
Lately, I’ve only been concerned with the physical side of training. Overcoming the layoff imposed by my knee injury, gradually regaining strength and speed — those are things that I’ve been working on.
A lot of the material written about the mental aspect of cycling is geared toward racers. I think recreational riders can gain a lot from it, too.
British cycling coach Christine Jacklin says a cyclist must learn these mental skills:
Concentration. The ability to focus and stay focused. We lose concentration when we allow ourselves to become distracted. Sometimes the distractions are within ourselves. In my case, I rode with a minor saddle sore, and the long time in the saddle made it hurt more. It was easy to quit the ride, because I knew that would end the pain. Other times, the distractions come from without. A guy in a recumbent bike caught and passed me on a hill. I was stunned. Recumbents aren’t supposed to climb hills well, I thought. He pulled away and soon disappeared. It was demoralizing.
Motivation. The ability to focus on a goal and work toward that goal. My goal is to finish the MS 150 next month. I forgot to give equal weight to finishing the 65-miler yesterday.
Getting up for the ride. A little stress and pressure can be a good thing, and force us to perform at a high level. I’m afraid I went into the ride looking at it as a fun thing, but not appreciating the challenge of riding 65 miles when the longest ride I’d done this year was only 36.
Self-confidence. This may be the most important mental skill of all. It’s your belief that you can do it. A rider with self-confidence will give 100 percent, focus on the task, and keep going. It’s good to remind yourself that you’ve done long rides before. During the ride, I turned that around. I remembered my first metric century, and how I kept going despite the discomfort of a poor-quality saddle and a clunky old bike. But instead of using that experience as a spur to keep going, I asked myself why the discomfort I was feeling today was so much worse. Apparently, a lot of riders have similar feelings — especially where hills are involved. “Oh no, not another hill!” was a common refrain throughout the day. In one case, I was able to pass two college-age girls who otherwise should have blown my socks off, simply because they let themselves be overcome by the prospect of having to climb yet again. I should have used that experience to bolster my confidence, and not give in to other distractions.
Okay, so I’m going to start riding with a nod to the mental side of things. Today was a good start — the wind was as brutal as yesterday’s, but I didn’t let it get me down. Whenever I caught myself easing off, shifting to an easier gear, I immediately shifted up and pumped harder. It was a good ride.
Oh, and one more tip: Smile when it gets tough. Some coaches say that can trick your brain into thinking you’re having fun.