MENTALLY HANDLING THE BIKE LEG A) B) C)
WHAT DO YOU think about when you’re out on a bike course? Do you distract yourself with the scenery, conversation with fellow competitors, or watching other athletes’ equipment and form? (If you do, you are what we would call an externally-focused athlete.)
Or are you an internally-focused athlete? Do you focus on heart rate, your form, how you’re feeling, your thirst?
Less-experienced athletes are typically externally-focused. Distraction-based racing makes the experience seem more pleasant, easier and time seems to go by quicker. Higher performing, more experienced athletes are usually internallyfocused. They are constantly listening and reacting to their body’s, and mind’s, signals. The experience isn’t easy, but time does pass by quickly with this type of focus. The results that come from an internal focus are very good.
Here are four examples of how you can adopt an internal focus during the bike leg:
SET A TIMER
You should constantly focus on cadence, fluid intake, fuel intake and heart rate or power control during the bike leg of a race. Set a timer to help you focus on these variables. For instance, use a timer set to beep every 10 minutes to remind you to drink or eat. That might take a minute of your time. For the remaining nine minutes between beeps monitor your heart rate or power and manage your cadence. This will keep you focused on what is important.
Everyone goes through highs and lows during a race. The longer the race, the more highs and lows you will experience. We all do well when we feel good. What determines your athletic mettle is how well you manage the lows of your racing. One key to managing the low periods is to use positive selftalk. Look positively on all aspects of your race, no matter what’s being thrown your way. Use positive self-talk that’s grounded in reality, not artificial fluff and puff. Here are a few examples:
When it’s windy, focus on how to get and stay aero, how to slip through the wind. Notice how your competition is sitting up in the bullhorns, wiggling their heads all over the place (adorned with aero helmets) and catching the wind. Not you. You stay positive. You find ways to slip through the wind, to use it as your friend.
When it’s hot outside, focus on anything and everything that has a cooling effect: real or perceived. (Don’t underestimate the power of the placebo effect.) The breeze, the next water station, your cold-black heat-dissipating clothing or your previous heat exposure in training. Realize that almost everyone dislikes the heat and humidity and they suffer in it. But not you. You take it head on, you work to minimize it and you perform well in it.
Any potential challenge: hills, cold, rain, altitude or time zone changes. Turn them into positive experiences. Refuse to give in. Stay positive.
FOCUS ON FORM
Maintain proper form. You’ve got an aero bike, aero helmet and aero wheels – don’t negate their effect by riding in an upright, non-aero position. Stay in the aero bars. (If you’re not able to stay on your aerobars, get a proper bike fit because something’s off.) Keep your head still. Keep your upper body relaxed. Avoid unnecessary leg movements (for example side-to-side movement). Keep your back relatively flat.
STAY IN THE MOMENT
It is easy to think about the part of the race that’s just happened. The past is the past. Nothing can be done to change it. Similarly, a lot of us think about the future: the hills coming up midway on the bike, T2 or the run. This is a waste of energy and time. Focus on the here and now. A quote by Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior, sums up perfectly how to stay in the moment: “Where are you? Here. What time is it? Now. What are you? This moment.”
These four tips are not an exhaustive list of how to adopt an internal focus on the bike, but they’re a pretty good start. And they can be practiced in training. Don’t wait until you race to practice them. Practice them in your workouts, one tip at a time and you’ll find that come race day, your time on the bike will fly by and you’ll be starting the run in terrific shape.
Adam Johnston is the owner of Wattsup Cycling in Toronto. Visit wattsupcycling.ca