Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Mental Game

As I prepare for some of my "A" races, I've been contemplating my fitness and how my preparation this winter has helped me.  As I posted on Monday, the Antelope Island race really gave me a confidence boost.  I wanted to test my high intensity legs so I followed up with a decent crit at RMR on Tuesday night.  But it was at the crit where I noticed a glaring gap in my preparations:  the mental game.

I'm convinced that our brains are much more powerful than the rest of our bodies.  Obviously there's a significant amount of physical preparation needed for an athlete to perform at high levels.  However, how many athletes are out there who have very high levels of fitness and talent but fail to perform at their best?  I think what really sets the winners apart from the others is the mental toughness and quick decision making required to win.  Here's where I failed the mental game on Tuesday night...

The B flight at the RMR Crit series is a very competitive and talented group.  Comprised of Cat 3's and strong Cat 4's there's never a dull moment and plenty of riders ready and willing to attack.  There's also some great teams involved who are well versed in when to block and force others to chase down the breaks.  It makes for very entertaining and challenging racing.  I can tell I'm lacking a bit as a lot of these guys are there racing each week.  I've managed to get in about 4 RMR crits this season.

Tuesday night's race was no different than others except for the absence of a few key players.  Still there was no shortage of B flight rock stars.  I managed to stay up near the front and taking some big pulls to reel in some breaks.  The head wind along the dragstrip was stiff, but not unbearable, although the part of the course going with the wind was fast.  I failed to re-set my clock at the start so I was guessing at how much time we had left in the 40 minute race.  I figured as long as I could hang on until the officials announced 3 laps to go, I was good. 

As I learned last year, its important for me to prep for the pain I'm going to feel those last few laps.  I literally talk to myself out loud, telling myself "this is going to hurt, be ready.  You can do this."  My teammate, Heather Smith, discussed this on our team blog and how this self talk can really make a difference.  With this self motivation, I came into the last lap feeling strong and leading the group.  2 FFKR riders then took over on the back side going very fast.  I took the 3rd spot and then was 2nd wheel coming around the last turn onto to the drag strip.  FFKR faded and a Revolution Racing dude took over.  I took his wheel looking for a good draft.  We were going 35 mph and my legs were screaming.  I looked around though and it looked tome that we had a good gap on the group.  This is where the big mental failure happened.  For a split second I settled.  I told myself, "I'll just chill here for 2nd place".  And in that split second 3 guys got out of the saddle and sprinted for the podium.  A split second, that's all it takes.  I still had a gear left on the cassette and only needed 10 seconds of pop, something I could have dug deep for. 

So that was the difference.  I lost 3 spots to guys who were on it, both physically and mentally that last few hundred meters.  And that's why we race, kaizen, or continual improvement.  This is about the same time as last year when I started to feel fast and like I was making gains in my racing.  I'm looking forward to the Bear Lake Classic this weekend, although the Cat 3's make 2 laps of the lake for 102 miles of racing.  The mental game for me will be hanging in there for so many miles and making a go at at the finish.  Hopefully the same base fitness that got me to the end of Antelope Island will be carry me 100 miles around Bear Lake!

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