Advanced Skills

The Big Ride: Mental Tips to Help Any Rider

Chatting with John Marsh about the mental side of big rides got me thinking about all of the mental techniques and tricks that I’ve used over 40 years of riding and 20 years of coaching. Here are my tips for roadies doing any big ride. Big is relative to what you normally ride. Big could be a 50K, 100K, 100 miles, 200K, etc. Or back-to-back days or a multi-day tour. Finishing big rides is as much about managing the mental challenges during the ride as training sufficiently before the ride!

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The Big Ride: Following Coach Hughes' Tips

If you just read Coach John Hughes' article, The Big Ride: Mental Tips to Help Any Rider, you know that this past weekend I did my own Big Ride. It was in the lead-up to that 2-centuries in 2-days ride that Coach Hughes and I were swapping thoughts on how important the mental side is when riding big events. After my ride this past weekend, I thought it would really bring Coach Hughes' article to life to point-by-point describe how I put his tips into practice on the ride. That follows.

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The Importance of Evaluating Products & Techniques for Yourself

How do you decide if a particular sports nutrition product, piece of equipment, training method, etc., is right for you, or actually works for you? If you're like most roadies, you probably first hear about a product or training method of interest from a riding buddy, or from a review or article in RBR Newsletter or another site, or you may see an ad featuring a pro endorsing a product or device. Do you just dive right in? Or do you stop for a moment to think about the source of the information or review, or how a certain study was conducted?

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Paris-Roubaix: The Six Success Factors

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) won Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, soundly defeating Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) and Peter Sagan (Bora–Hansgrohe). Van Avermaet's average speed of 45.204 km/h (28.09 mph) was the fastest in the history of the race. I’ve coached racers, and I’ve competed in cycling, running, mountain biking, XC skiing, swimming and triathlons. I’ve learned that there are six factors responsible for success and improvement that apply to any sport. Different success factors are relatively important for different athletes competing in different disciplines. Here's a ranking of Van Avermaet's success factors:

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Local Knowledge is Indispensable

Before riding in the Tour de Wyoming last summer, I thought I knew all I needed to know about cattle guards. I grew up in Missouri, and on hunting trips out in the country around my hometown of Independence (a K.C. suburb) I had seen plenty of cattle guards at the end of long farmhouse driveways. Before that ride, I also thought I knew all I needed to know about tar snakes. I'd ridden on a few roads up in the mountains of north Georgia that feature the dreaded chip seal, which is bad enough, and asphalt roads that have some small cracks filled in with tar. I was wrong on both counts.

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On the Rivet I: Learning to Focus

When I started riding in the 1970s we all wore wool shorts and jerseys, used sew-up tires and rode on Brooks leather saddles with a rivet in the front. The term “on the rivet” comes from those days, meaning to slide forward on the saddle and to ride hard. In this new series of monthly columns I’m going to teach you the mental side of riding “on the rivet”; i.e., to be a better rider. Your best could be doing better on the course you regularly ride. Or riding 10 miles longer than you are used to riding. Or setting a personal best in a time trial. Or anything in between.

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Spiff up Your Sprint

Going fast is fun, and it can even get you out of trouble once in a while. Let's say the light turns yellow just as you enter a wide intersection. Unleash your sprint and you'll get through before cross traffic starts moving. Instant speed is another defense against dogs that have started after you. Most mutts will give up the chase as soon as you're out of their territory, so it pays to get out quickly.

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On the Rivet II: The Importance of Progressive Relaxation

Riffing off one of Yogi Berra's famous quotes, an RBR reader wrote me with his own riding equivalent: "Cycling is 25% training, 25% planning, and 95% mental." That sounds about right to me. We often overlook the importance of the mental side of cycling. Today, we'll talk about why learning to focus and relax is useful for roadies. And I'll teach you how to use progressive relaxation to manage your emotions for optimal performance.

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On the Rivet III: Keep Falling! Keep Getting Up!

I'm writing this column on January 1. Today, my wife and I went skiing — my 26th day this season — to build fitness to enjoy our upcoming XC skiing holiday. I’d fallen hard several times today, and I’d interpreted that to mean I’m a bad skier. I remembered what Davis Phinney had told my friend, Pat, when he was teaching her how to descend on cross-country skis. “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying!” Are you making any New Year’s resolutions? Here’s mine: I’m going to keep falling! The only way I can continue to grow as an athlete is to keep trying … and failing … and trying … and failing.

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On the Rivet IV: Improving Performance Through Positive Thinking

What you think influences how you feel, and how you feel affects your performance. For example, on my trainer I can put out about 5% more power if I’m thinking, “I feel strong and I can nail these intervals” than if I think, “This is really going to hurt”! Further, I’ll put out more power if I get on the trainer and really focus on my intervals than if I’m thinking about something else, letting my mind wander. Psychologists call this the Arousal Curve. As a rider gets more focused and excited, his/her performance improves until the rider gets too nervous, and then performance declines.

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On the Rivet V: Why You Need a Training Plan … or Don’t You?

Through this series of On the Rivet columns you’ve been learning mental skills: how to focus, to relax so that you don’t choke, build confidence and deal with performance anxiety. These columns have primarily addressed how to manage your emotions so that you perform better. Mental skills also include an important cognitive side, especially planning. Spring arrives on Monday, the 20th, and many roadies are thinking and dreaming about the 2017 season: what events to ride, what aspects of fitness to improve, what skills to develop, etc. You’re probably setting some goals for the season ahead.

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Riding the George S. Mickelson Trail

My friend Ella has a goal to ride in every U.S. state. Back in September 2015 she had her sights set on state #45…South Dakota. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, plus had some extra vacation time, so I decided to join her on our very own Lucy and Ethel road trip. (If you're under 50, Google it!) Since we ride at different speeds, a trail ride sounded better than a road ride. So the focus of our trip was to ride the George S. Mickelson Trail

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