Cycling, as a sport of the racing variety, requires a certain degree of mental toughness from the rider. Conquering a big climb; keeping up with the faster riders in a group; a bunch sprint at the end of a race; all require mental toughness. Riding in poor weather, or getting back up after a crash also require mental toughness of a different sort.
When it comes to building mental toughness, there really is only one basic principle behind how to do it; step outside your comfort zone, do it purposefully, and do it often. In other words, get comfortable being uncomfortable. Mental toughness is about not only being able to survive the uncomfortable, but thrive in it.
(Disclaimer: We aren’t advocating you to push yourself into a dangerous state. Always consult with your doctor before beginning a training regimen, and never do anything that makes you literally suffer or push beyond your doctor’s recommended exercise limits)
First, I want to clarify a little bit about stepping outside your comfort zone. In whatever way you choose to do so, set yourself up for success, not failure. Though a lot of strength can come from getting back up after being knocked down, it can also cause a lot of mental and emotional fatigue that can be detrimental to your enjoyment of cycling (or whatever endeavor you are building mental toughness for). A simple example: when planning an interval workout, shoot for numbers (watts, speed, whatever) at the very top or just above your capacity, rather than numbers well beyond your current capacity. You want to be forced to push yourself, possibly quite hard, but in the end you want to have a good possibility of reaching your goal. Self-confidence and mental toughness are traits that are often intertwined, and progress in one often bolsters the other.
With the above in mind, the following tips are all methods for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, deliberately and productively.
Sprint at the End of Every Workout
Even recovery rides, or base miles days. It should be just long enough for you to feel the burn in your legs and have to push through it for a few more seconds. The one I always do on my way home takes about a minute from first ramping up the speed to the end, with about 20 seconds at full gas. This is something I learned back in my rowing days. It teaches not only your body, but your mind as well, to expect the end of every session on your bike to be a little uncomfortable. That way, once at a race, you will be primed for the pain cave at the end. It also teaches you to commit to that uncomfortable feeling, and mental toughness is a lot about choosing that commitment over and over.
Using your Imagination: aka, Visualization
Nothing gets the blood burning and body going like a rival half-wheeling you. So instead of focusing your mental energy on how much your legs are on fire, imagine that rival, or see yourself in an upcoming race, or simply visualize yourself crushing your personal bests. It can take some time to get good at this technique, but practice it whenever you can and you will be surprised by how much longer you can stay outside your comfort zone. Just remember to make sure you aren’t visualizing too realistically; make sure you’re watching where you’re going and staying safe on the road you’re on!
Ride with People Who Are Better than You
I could write a whole article on the ways this tip will better your cycling ability. It will help your speed, handling, strategy, everything. And specifically for building mental toughness, riding with faster cyclists is huge. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend riding with Cat 1/2 riders if you’re a new Cat 5 (refer to the “set yourself up for success” clause). But it doesn’t help much in the mental toughness arena when you’re the fastest one in the group. When you’re just a step below the majority of other riders, however, you will find yourself spending much more time physically uncomfortable than not. And that’s a good thing. This is one of the few times peer pressure can be productive. Before you know it, not only will your fitness be improved, but so will your ability be to squeeze out every ounce of that fitness by pushing through the walls that would stop most others.
Those are my tips for building mental toughness by getting comfortable being uncomfortable. What are yours? Comment below!