It's common knowledge that bike racing is a game of chess on wheels and to make the right split-second strategic decisions takes a lot of mental awareness and clarity of thought. But this cerebral element to cycling is not confined to competition – the same applies in training where, even though there is no finish line, accuracy and concentration before, during and after efforts will maximise performance.
The underlying objective of training is to overcome homeostasis and stress the body enough to invoke an overload scenario which will in turn produce adaptations: to make us stronger for the next time.
To push ourselves into that overload scenario and ultimately raise us to the next level takes cumulative time in the exact physiological zone(s) intended and that in turn requires a lot of focus. It would be folly to think it will always come easily.
So... eyes down then!
A THREE STAGE PROCESS
Prepare physically and mentally for what you are about to do. Read your session in your plan or in Training peaks at least one day before to understand how challenging and achievable it’s going to be.
Prepare equipment and plan a route as best as possible: be in the process before you even go near your bike.
At this stage self-talk and mental preparation for the ride is important. Get excited but also visualise the harder parts of the session so they come as no surprise. If it helps you, plan key trigger words that will reassure and inspire you to complete the session fully.
Prepare for efforts in the ride itself. Slowly get your head ready for them and have a trigger which is a phrase or word in that means GO!
Break up the intensity of the efforts in your head with different keywords. The words you choose will reflect the intensity. Aggressive empowering phrases work well to spark raw power for shorter intervals, whereas phrases and memories of enduring work better with longer efforts as will refocusing your visual markers.
In the early phases of intervals think about relaxing more mentally, use self-talk to reassure yourself this is the relatively comfortable part of the session. Relaxed. Look at the cadence. Pedal smoothly. Control power.
You will already have expected the middle part of your intervals in your pre-ride preparations so you know that as fatigue begins to set in, mentally you can deal with the perceived increased physical effort (even though intensity may not have changed).
But you must also pace your mental focus. Just as you deplete the biochemical energy in your muscles you will use up your reserves of mental acuity. Controlling your emotions, driving your energy, keeping those numbers where you want them to be.
In the last part of an interval set, it feels like you have been dragged through a barbed-wire fence sideways. This is fatigue and you must pace your efforts to achieve 'interval to exhaustion'. This is the time for your pre-prepared trigger word that narrows the road and raises your focus.
Now is the time to empower yourself mentally, your natural instinct may be to stop at that barbed wire fence that says 'no entry' but we prepared for this. We spoke internally about this moment where fatigue would be reaching a summit and we reasoned that this very moment is where gains are made and races are won.
These are the words and images to invoke now:
I'm smashing this. Ripping through that fence. Pushing to the last second. Every second will count for ME.
Just as you might pour over your data admiringly after training and races you should engage with what you did mentally. Write it in your training log or in Training Peaks feedback for your coach and yourself. The act of writing it will help to strengthen your resolve in future.
Dark moments come in everyone's head but if you punch through the cloud line with the clarity of thought you will reduce those over time. Remember, for example, how the fourth out of six intervals seemed to be the hardest but your mental resolve on that one effort allowed you to complete the session. Reward yourself at the end of an especially hard session by pulling in for a treat.
Just as with the physical effort, your focus before, during and after training should vary according to the objective. Prepare calmly but clinically, keep your eye on the end-game at the beginning of a session and be ready to pull yourself through that barbed wire fence when the time comes. Then reflect serenely on how it went and what can be improved on next time.
If you would like our help at Elevation Coaching to formulate a progressive training plan to smash your goals and keep the fun in cycling get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
We offer a range of bespoke plans ranging from £75.