Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - BY ADAM JOHN­STON

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:


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.


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.


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 wattsup­cy­

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