Mountain Bike Training: Want to get faster, then you have to train the mind!
So, you got your mountain bike training down: you ride your bike 5-6 days a week, do your workouts as planned, and hit your target power and/or heart rate training zones as prescribed. Maybe you even hired a coach, or bought a new bike that has all the fancy new equipment weighing in at only 19 pounds. These are all ways to improve on the bike and are an important part of progress. However, one common part of training and performance that is neglected far too often if training your mind.
Ask any Pro rider or National Champion in any cycling event and one thing always comes into play on the bike: your ability to push yourself and drive through the pain, or keeping it simple referring to training and pushing your mind. There is no doubt that the #1 difference that always comes into play when comparing Pro riders and riders at lower levels is this the mind.
What exactly do I mean by training the mind:
I mean developing the ability to "drive through the pain" a lot more. Here's a few examples of what it might entail: going out and riding when it's freezing out, digging so deep that you almost to pass out at the top of the climb, performing a tough interval day huffing and puffing so hard that you feel like you can't stay upright on the bike. Training the mind means getting to one of these points, and telling yourself "I got more in the tank, I can do more" then grabbing that little extra bit and pushing to a new limit. The Pro rider knows how to find this through extra push through repetition (i.e. practice). They have hit this spot so often in training and racing, and have trained their mind and body to work together to perform top notch.
Pushing through this pain and finding this new limit is the key component here. Every time you find a new limit, you set a new ceiling for improved fitness and also set a new "racing limit". Racing limit meaning, you suddenly realize that what you thought was your limit isn't your limit anymore. You realize that even though you were in a lot of pain, you still can dig deeper.
As this process repeats itself more and more every day, you will see a new found fitness and speed you have never seen before. The art of coaching and art of being fast on the bike HAS TO include this mental aspect of training and racing. If you want to be the best you can be, then you need to develop this skill of finding new limits and developing the mind to perform harder and harder.
Training your mind is a skill. It takes practice and repetition to learn how to do it. With proper practice you make this skill into a habit so on race day or a hard training day, you are able to use this every day it is needed.
Here's are a few tricks to training the mind to push harder then ever:
- Stay positive: when the pain sets in, instead of saying "man this hurts" or "this really sucks", tell yourself " I got this" or "Common, let's go" or "I've got more!". The power of a positive mind on the bike supersedes anything else out there. Your PMC chart in Training Peaks can say you are in the best shape of your life, but if you don't have a positive mindset on race day, forgot about reaching that new peak. Be positive, talk positive, turn every negative into a positive.
- Create a habit: I read a book recently that said a habit takes 66 days to create. Given that the average rider rides 6 days a week, it will take you 11 weeks of practice to get this down. So practice, practice, practice: training shouldn't be just about riding and increasing your fitness physically. You should be constantly engaging your mind, challenging yourself mentally and physically. When you don't want to ride or when you are on the last interval of a training session, practice pushing yourself mentally. Remind yourself to stay positive, and challenge yourself to dig deeper then you have in the past. Common, let's go!
- Stay focused: don't let your mind wander. This is very easy to do in a 2-6 hour race, or even in a shorter race. Whether you crash, get angry at the rider next to you, or forget why you are racing, you loose focus. The key is to realize when this happens, and get back into the game. One easy way to do this is to have a focus phrase: this phrase can be the same phrase you use to stay positive. For example, anytime I start to struggle in a race, I repeat over and over "common, let's go". I have practiced this phrase in training and racing, and therefor, developed a habit out of it. Every time I say this phrase, my mind knows its go time, and time to focus on the racing or training.
- Break a race or climb into sections: the mind works best when you break things into sections. Focus on one thing at a time. Breaking a course into climb 1, climb 2, climb 3, etc. is a good and simple way to keep your mind engaged and pushing hard. A good way to do this is setting a goal to get to the top of each climb separately: i.e. I am going to push as hard as I can to the top of this climb catching every person I can on this climb.........then, once you get to the top of that climb, focus on the next climb. Doing this will allow your mind to focus on the task at hand, pushing harder then ever.
- Develop a drive: set goals for your daily rides, months, and races. You need to know what you are trying to do (the end result) in order to achieve it. Set 3 goals for every race you go to, and for every ride you do set 2-3 goals also. This can be as simple as driving through the pain, hitting your nutritional goals, or staying within your power zones for the entire ride. Settings goals, keeping yourself accountable to them, and evaluating how you perform according to those goals will have you performing better faster throughout the year.
- Let your competition drive you to new levels. I remember this as being my #1 driver when I first started racing. Ryan Woodall was the top guy in the Florida when I started racing back in 2005, and I wanted everything to beat him. So everyday when I got on the bike, he would be my "driver". I would think about how hard he was training and working at it, and tell myself "I can do better". On top of that he was in the back of my mind at Elite race I started at. I had to beat him and let that drive me all the way to the end. He was my primary focus and driver. Let your competition drive you mentally to new levels of fitness!
Developing the mind is not an easy process. Stay engaged every day you are out training or racing. By doing this, you will become faster, find new limits, and see gains you haven't seen before on the bike.
Thanks for reading and keep up the solid work on the bike!
Coach Drew Edsall