If you’re familiar with the start line then it’s likely you’ll be all too familiar with the emotional highs and lows of competing and the mental energy it takes to wind down following a result (good, bad or indifferent).
Without a well-rehearsed mental strategy (or set of strategies) regardless of the outcome of your race, you’re likely to have, what we like to call… poor mental recovery time.
Let us explain…
You arrive at the track, warm up, prepare they way you do, race, win and celebrate. It’s cheers and high fives all round as you go home with your shiny new medal. You get home, unwind and put your feet up, the elation is still at an all time high - your adrenaline levels are still through the roof - it’s a good feeling. Bed time rolls around, you hop into bed and attempt to sleep. You can’t sleep - you can only replay the triumph of your event over and over again. As you try to switch off, your mind replays the win again, oh it’s awesome, but arghhh… no sleep for you. Alarm goes off the next morning - and you feel like you didn’t sleep, and you’re right, you didn’t…
It can get worse… you may be racing again that day in a whole new event and you’ve had no sleep, no mental preparation or recovery for this day because you just didn’t know how to switch off after your exceptional win the day before… What happens on the next race day? You guessed it… it went terrible, and you’re disappointed because you really wanted to produce a good performance in the next day’s events…
Maybe you don’t have to race the next day and you have a few days off which would be the better of the two scenarios following your sleepless night after your moment of track cycling glory. In this case, you’re granted a reprieve, but not entirely, because your recovery is compromised. No sleep (one of the most important and fundamental recovery strategies) means the next week your training doesn’t go as well as it should, your immune system is compromised, you may get sick, and then miss more training, and then you enter a false tapering cycle, and the scenario goes on…. You get our drift…
You arrive at the track, warm up and prepare the way you do, you’re nervous, you get on the start line, legs go to jelly, and you’ve never felt worse… your nerves zap your legs, and you just have the worst race ever… Off the track you get, head in hands whilst quietly question why you’ve entered, why you’ve trained, why you’re participating in the sport. Or worse, what does my family think, what does my coach think, you’re clearly not thinking… something we like to call… ‘thick brain fog’. You get home, eat two tubs of ice-cream and want to forget that you even own a bicycle…
The next morning you wake up, you feel a bit better, you’ve slept (not well but you don’t really seem to care at this point). You turn up at track the next day, you don’t seem to care about the result of the previous day, you don’t seem to care about anything at the moment so you ride day two’s events, and (yes you guessed it), it goes poorly. Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, the emotional roller coaster was too much for your brain and body to handle in the space of a 24 hour window. What happens next? Who knows - you decide… hopefully it becomes a light bulb moment where you realise that you really need to get on top of your nerves and emotions to enjoy what you’re doing regardless of the result…. Maybe that lands you reading this blog…
Of the two above scenarios, which one is better?
The answer… they can both be as bad as each other, but there is a better way to handle both scenarios, that’s what the next part of this blog is about…
Developing mental strategies to achieve your best performances is the key to a life time of enjoyment and success in the sport.
Working on mental strategies to employ in both of the above scenarios will give you a mental edge that so many other cyclists just don’t have in their tool kit.
As elite athletes we were told over and over again, the difference between you and the person you’re racing isn’t in the watts you’re producing… You’ve got two arms and two legs, equal watts, but one of you has an exceptional mind - and calls on your tools to achieve greatness….
Three of the most important strategies we can give you are:
Imagery looks something like this….
You’re packing your race bag the night before your event and once you’ve got everything packed and ready you take 5 minutes out to run through the race. You can see the environment as you walk into the velodrome, you can smell the wood, hear the sounds of other riders rolling on rollers, you know what it feels like to be in the building. You walk in, set up your warm up area, you envision warming up, you envision walking to the startling, you hear the clock counting down, or see your opponent next to you. Bang gun goes off, you employ your tactics, you know what your heart is doing, you’re breathing to control any nerves that may crop up. Bell dings, final lap, you’re in second position as you enter turn 1 following bell. You give distance, run at the rider in front and slingshot pass them, you’re in front, legs are burning, but you’re almost there. You hit the finish line, you’ve won. End of imagery.
Imagery doesn’t have to be about winning either, we recommend you imagine a few scenarios but keep them all positive. You can practice imaging a race going well and you executing a few techniques you’ve been practicing in training, it doesn’t always have to be about the finish line result.
Practicing self talk is really important and we’re not referring to you walking around talking out loud to yourself. Self talk means your inner voice, what the voice inside your head is saying to you - practicing self talk means teaching your inner voice to say the right things to you to yield the right result.
The voice inside your head, some athletes give it a name - some call it ‘IT’, so we’ll call it ‘IT’ from here on in…
IT can be unpredictable, and say negative things and positive things all around the same time and generally does when you’re stressed or thinking about an important event. Learning to embrace the positive talk from IT is just as important as learning to ignore the negative things IT has to say.
IT: “You’ve got this under control, you’re prepared and relaxed, good job” - Positive
IT: “You’re going to lose, you’re way out of your league here, you may as well stop” - Negative
Sometimes you can’t change the negative self talk, but you can use it to train your inner voice to put a positive spin on it, by tapping another sentence onto It so it becomes:
IT: “You’re going to lose, you’re way out of your league here, you may as well stop”….”Thanks IT, I appreciate the feedback, but I’ve got this under control and I’m here because I’ve worked hard to be here and I’m going to race hard”
The extra sentence is a conscious thought that you correct the negative with, and when you engage more positives, sub-consciously you change the mental behaviour patterns.
Using Scenario 2 above, if a race hasn’t gone your way, there are usually a whole lot of negatives coming from IT, so learning to add a few positives onto the end of each sub-conscious negative will change the way you react in situations and the result won’t become a negative experience, it can become a learning experience with the right self-talk.
Developing both pre-and post-performance rituals and routines is essential in achieving results. If we refer back to the two above scenarios - healthy pre-and-post event rituals applied to both scenarios would have ensured that post-event mental and physical recovery times were reduced.
Pre-event rituals can include listening to music, practicing meditation, wearing a particular pair of socks and eating the same pre-event meal at each race event.
Post-event rituals can encompass the same (music and meditation) strategies, but also might include giving yourself a short 10 minute window to celebrate, cry, dwell on a result, before using positive self talk to walk away from the situation and then focusing on your next task - whether that be warming down, preparing for the next day, event, task etc.
Good luck with you next event, and feel free to let us know what kind of mental strategies you have employed to achieve your best track cycling results!