When I started to really race and move up in category, I got totally into it. I wanted to race all the time. I wanted to get podiums and wins. I worked on my physical training, got a coach, and settled into routines and healthy habits. See: https://h-factor-training.blogspot.com/2019/03/habits-routines-and-superstitions.html?m=1
As I progressed, I started to eliminate variables that were working against performance and wins. As a logical next step, I started to work on the mental game and putting myself into the right frame of mind. Racing is never a walk in the park. If it was, it would be called “easy recovery day”. But it’s not. It’s racing. One of my favorite quotes from Kevin Bouchard Hall is “cycling is about pedaling when no one else wants to”.
To that end, one of my first breakthroughs was when I started to just tell myself “ten more pedal strokes” when it got hard and I was feeling like I was going to pop. After doing this a few times, and having it work some of those times, I realized that in most cases, the whole field is racing hard and chances are, if you commit to ten pedal strokes, a majority will only commit to 5 and you will stay in the group.
Cycling in general is a pack sport. You don’t always have to beat everyone, you just need to stay in the pack and conserve energy until the critical turning point of the race and then commit. Yes, there is a lot of training and preparation to get you to making the break, but don’t count yourself out before it begins without a positive outlook. For me, the next phase was the mantra.
A mantra is a phrase that athletes or humans in general use to focus positively on the moment. It helps to center you and keep you moving towards the goal. A phrase that calls out the few characteristics that you need at that moment to stay in the fight.
For me, that phrase was “GT6”. I made stickers and put it on my stem. When I was concentrating on crits, it was what I visualized in the last few laps to stay positive and stay competitive. It’s components?
G: get on up. Get motivated and keep in it
T: They hurt just as much, or more than you do
6: sixth place or better in the last lap or turn.
These kept me positive, kept me moving, and reminded me to be in position. Think about times when you body is about to crack and you just need a little bit. How many times have you given up only to be 10 feet off the back and unable to close but be so close. Maybe a way to focus here is to distract. Distract with positive reinforcements of simple things to get through the moment.
Fast forward 20 years, and there I was, at the corner of College and St Paul, in 5th place, and thinking to myself “let’s get this done, GT6, and I feel pretty good right now!” I was shocked at that point how visual the feeling of being ready was as I put that simple check phrase into my psyche and got ready to let it fly. I swear at that moment, I relived the quote of Todd Cassan and could nearly breathe through my nose I was so ready. Three turns later, I was in position and let it fly. And it was glorious.
Find your zone, find your mantra, and let a positive outlook take your further. Analyze some negative habits or opportunities for growth where a small amount of positive visualization can get you through the pain. Positive visualization is almost like “free speed”. Used properly, it can be the difference in making a positive outlook. Not used at all, and you will never know the benefit.