In May I blogged about raising your handlebars to go faster. Here is another tip from Steve at In The Know Cycling.
Get Mentally Fit
Cycling is a tough sport for the average adult enthusiast. Riding long distances at speed on varying terrain and road conditions, 4-6 days a week, month in and out, in the midst of work, family and other commitments is a mental, physical and scheduling challenge, to say the least. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
What I am telling you is that if you aren’t committed to a few specific riding goals, however ambitious or modest, and you aren’t mentally positive about riding as you push toward those goals, you aren’t going to get faster. More simply, you have to get mentally fit to go faster.
Let me break mental fitness into two pieces – goal focus and positive mindset. I will lean heavily on authors who have written for the blog published by Training Peaks, a meeting point for endurance training athletes, coaches and authors. I have used Training Peaks for years to guide and capture my cycling training but have no commercial relationship with them that is motivating me to refer to them. They just provide what I’ve found to great, and in this case relevant content.
Regarding goals, you are best off if you set a few specific ones for the season and some intermediate and short term ones to help you get there. For example, my goals this season are to ride 5 centuries, get my solo training speed up to 20 mph for my benchmark 40 mile route, and crack the 3.5 watt per kilo normalized power level.
To set up your own goals, check out the piece Adam Hodges wrote on guidelines for effective goal setting and Jim Rutberg wrote on goal setting mistakes to avoid.
Second, you need to lock in a positive mindset surrounding everything you’ll do to get faster. All the effort and time has to be something that makes you happy or that you can train to not make you unhappy. Doing the work to get faster can’t be something that’s a chore, that’s keeping you uncomfortably away from your work or family, or that you’d rather not be doing on certain hard training days.
You have to appreciate the benefit and be positive about suffering if you want to go faster.
Dr. Justin Colson has written extensively on the subject of cycling psychology including a great piece describing 15 reasons why cycling makes us happy. Just the act of riding, getting physically fit, riding with friends, and getting good at something else makes us happy. The research also shows that physical health also reduces stress, anxiety and depression. So just by cycling you will improve your mental health.
The question becomes, can you go beyond being happy cycling to being happy working your tail off to get faster? Here again, the research suggests you can if you have the right mindset. You need to focus on getting faster as part of your motivation to master cycling rather than to feed your ego to perform better. This focus will also help you enjoy cycling more.
Mental skills coach Carrie Cheadle talks about getting the balance right between days you train for pain and those when you ride for fun. For the breakthrough training or competitive days when pain and suffering are part of the deal, you need to have some mental tools to help push through. Cheadle has a good webinar where she gives you a context on pain and why you naturally hold back and some tools (starting at around 13:30) to push through the suffering.
There are more mental training techniques from world class racers, coaches and psychologists presented in other webinars here.
Of course, you can take your commitment to going faster, your ability to train with pain, your passion for cycling beyond a healthy level. If it becomes obsessive, you can feel badly if you don’t keep to your training plan, if you don’t achieve your goals, or if you feel conflict around the trade-offs between cycling and other things in your life. If or when this happens, you are getting to a negative mental state, a situation that Coulson writes about here and that you should definitely check out if you think your passion is turning into or being replaced by an obsession.
I can’t quantify the speed increase you’ll get by being mentally fit the way I will from other ways further down this list. Some say that mental fitness – being positive and goal oriented – is the most important way to improve your performance.
I can say with confidence that until you are mentally fit you will not realize the potential from the other ways that follow on this list to ride faster.
Yours in Cycling and Fitness,
President of Fun
May Street Bicycles is not your typical bike shop. Sure we sell awesome bicycles, provide bicycle repairs, and rental bikes all at great prices. But we do a great deal more such as dynamic bike fitting, metabolic testing, altitude training, and personal training.
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