Monday, March 8, 2010

Mental Toughness

Pro Cyclist Jan Ullrich

This is probably the best article I’ve read yet on how to improve your mental game. The website also has great information on power, training and cycling. Check it out here.

Found the article posted onanother blog

If you don’t read this whole clip at least take this in:

I once asked a champion cyclist how they went so fast for so long. They didn’t mention anything about training, nutrition or recovery. Their reply centred around, “I go as hard as I possibly can, until the pain becomes unbearable, then I back off half-a-turn until it subsides, and that’s the pace I know I can sustain. Because I know I can hurt more if I have to and I now know the pain isn’t as bad as it was; and that makes me happy.” A pro looks at pain as something to be embraced not something to be avoided.

Could I live the life of a pro cyclist?
Let’s turn that question on its head. Could a cycling pro do your job? Whatever job you do today, with all its intricacies, nuances and traps that only you know about because you’ve learnt from years of experience that you won’t find documented in any procedures manual or handbook; could it possibly be done as well as you do it now, by someone practicing for a couple of hours, two nights a week and a bit of a longer session on a week-end morning? The answer is probably a resounding, emphatic, NO!

So, that nails that then. Re-align your expectations to match the efforts and sacrifices you can make. Please don’t think you can go out and buy the Lance Armstrong or Chris Boardman training manuals, follow them to the letter and make yourself a better cyclist. At best you’ll become overtrained; at worst you could make yourself seriously ill. Thinking you can do it and actually doing it are two completely different things. While you’re at work Lance was on his bike or sleeping, that’s the difference.

We’ll never be as fit, as fast, as strong, as durable, or as focussed as a professional cyclist because our next salary cheque doesn’t depend on it. But just as we can buy and ride the same equipment as the pro’s we can learn some mind techniques and tools to help address one of sports biggest factors that’s importance is often overlooked. The mindset.

Changing your mindset is free, it’s capacity to expand is unlimited, it’s something you can’t buy as it’s something you already have. The mindset is something only you can control. It’s the one thing that you can adopt from the pros that will make much, much more difference than duplicating their equipment, training regimens or nutrition strategies.

How a pro thinks

A pro never loses a race; they just ran out of time. “We’d have stayed away if the others had worked.” “We were catching them but we started the chase too late.” “I wasn’t going for the win, this is a preparation race.”

Someone else may win the race but a pro, never loses it. Although attributed to pros, these factors are highlighted in the main by team leaders. A team leader has that extra mental toughness. A pro thinks they’re super human; a team leader believes they are super human. That’s why they’re the team leader.

There may be riders as physically gifted in the team (the super domestiques for instance) but they don’t have that final killer instinct that sees them get stronger as the pressure mounts. I’m not the world’s greatest fan of Lance Armstrong but even the most hardened cynic has to admit his mental strength was beyond question.

Never mind cycling, what about other sports? Senna and Mansell, Schumacher and Hill in F1? Fergusson and Wenger in football? Australia and England at cricket? Sampras and anyone else at tennis? When all of these aforementioned people were on the top of their game the one thing that stood out was their mental strength and fortitude, despite any physical evidence to the contrary.

Even when the odds were stacked against them, they’d find a positive to cling to that they would use to lever open a tiny nick, from which they’d create a gaping hole in the confidence of the opposition. Once inside the head of their opponents it was as good as over.


Is your motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? You may not realise the difference first off, but the answer has a massive influence on the success of your expected outcome.

Intrinsically motivated athletes, compete because they want to and because they enjoy the competitive element of pushing their body to its limits. Extrinsically motivated athletes compete because they have to and because they enjoy the external rewards of trophies and fame. Intrinsic athletes are capable of self-motivation, extrinsic athletes require external stimulus (the reward) to gain motivation.

For intrinsics, the prize was never the ultimate aim anyway; it was there as the icing on the cake. If it’s won, it’s won, if not at least they tried their best. Trying your best isn’t in a pro’s vocabulary. To reach your full potential it can’t be in yours.

Keep the persona and attributes of an intrinsic person, because invariably they are nicer people, but when training and preparing for an event flip your mindset to extrinsic. When you throw your leg over that bike youmust become extrinsically motivated. Learn the difference and learn to switch. You cannot begin to imagine how much difference it will make to your training, preparation and success. Extrinsics don’t “go for a ride” they train!

Effort & Intensity
Motivational drive is what gets you through the pain of sustaining race winning efforts and intensities during the non-reward phase of your competition preparations; or training as we call it!

Lance Armstrong always made a big deal out of the six-hour training rides he’d do in the rain, when everyone else was sitting indoors. Do you honestly think that the other pros don’t ride in the rain? It doesn’t matter whether it was true or not, Armstrong believed it. I’m out in the rain, Ullrich’s eating pies, here’s another success in the Tour. An equation that’s as simple as it was flawed. But it’s what kept Armstrong on the bike and it’s what kept him focussed on the prize.

It doesn’t matter what it is or how true or accurate it might be. Find something that you can latch on to that will get you through the effort and intensities you need to prepare for success.

We all have off days and sometimes think I’ll not go out because it’s raining, it’s going to rain, it’s cold, I’m tired etc, etc. Never decide if you’re going to go training until your in your kit and ready to go. Prepare your bike, get your bottles ready, get dressed, put your shoes on, then and only then decide if you really should go out.

Try to convince yourself to at least complete the warm up phase of your session before coming to a final decision. If you still don’t feel fully committed, then go home and use it as a recovery ride for preparation for your next big session! Turn the failed ride in to a positive ride!

Training and Competing

Make an absolute distinction between training and competing. Identify training races or events and use them as preparation for your big day. Don’t ride a series of races or sportives thinking you’re going to win them all. Because if you don’t you’ll enter the failure mindset.

Start your non-objective, preparation events with a preparation mindset. Ride them looking for weaknesses on which you can work to become a better, stronger, faster rider. Identifying a weakness, or under-developed strength(!), is a positive thing. Finding out your climbing could be better is a good thing because now you can develop a training plan to climb better.

Suffering Strategies

Pro’s don’t feel pain the way we do. That’s probably a lie, a better way to explain it is that pro’s don’t think about pain the way we do.

If a pro rider and a non-pro rider, without any external indicators like heart rate monitors or power meters, rode at 90% of their physical capacity, you’d get a different level of perceived effort from each one. The non-pro would indicate that they were flat out, 100%, and couldn’t possibly go any harder. The pro would tell you they were at 80% and could give more if they need to. Same effort, same suffering, different perception.

A pro rider trains very, very intensely or does a recovery ride. Non-pro’s often train in the “dead zone”. Where pro’s ride at 30 mph or 15 mph, non-pro’s almost always train around 20-22 mph. Non-pro’s don’t ride for sustained periods at the extreme levels of their pain threshold. Therefore when they do suffer, the suffering seems more intense.

Instead of going for a three hour, steady, flattish ride, go for a one hour ride screaming up short hills; do some high-intensity speed work, do some sprint intervals. As Dave Whitt says, “hurt in training, enjoy the race.”>

The same level of pain can have two completely different perceptions depending on how it’s being dished out. Consider you’re on the front of a 30-strong group, riding at 25 mph, with your heart coming through your chest, the sweat burning your eyes, the lactate screaming in your legs, a finishing sprint coming up, and the man behind you can’t hold your wheel and everyone is being strung out and getting dropped.

Now imagine all those sensations but you’re the last man of that 30 strong group. The same level of pain has a completely different feel depending on whether you’re dishing it out or having it dished out to you! And that, dear reader, is all to do with the brain.

The Message

Don’t just think differently, perceive differently.

As I said before this is a massive subject and one to which I can’t really do justice in one article. Start to believe in yourself and your abilities then adjust your objectives to the time, equipment and abilities you have available. Whether you’re trying to achieve an Island Games Medal or completing your first sportive, the effort may be different but the rewards and total satisfaction for an objective well met are exactly the same.

I know a lot of riders that have the physical attributes to be a winner in their category or discipline, they just don’t believe in themselves enough to close the gap between where they are and where they could be. To realize your potential, sometimes it really is as simple as changing your mindset.

Don’t let the Thought Police and your inner voice control your results. Thinking like a pro may not make you ride like a pro but it will make you a better, stronger, happier rider. And it’s a lot easier than an hour on a turbo!


Kory said...

Anyone else notice that a drunk Jan Ullrich looks quite a bit like our own Matt Reeve?

Vincent said...

I would take that as a compliment Matt, and I agree!