Preparing Mentally for Endurance Performance

Although I am not an avid cyclist, I am a runner and have trained and completed a number of half and full marathons. The physical training has been difficult at times, but equally challenging has been the mental aspect of training and race day mindset. I will share some insights I have gained over the years with regards to the mental side of endurance performance:

  1. Hopefully most of you would have taken part in a formal or informal training program, incorporating long rides and hill training, leading up to race day.  If you have, be confident that you have the physical ability and aerobic endurance to complete the Fondo. Believe in yourself, you’ve got this!
  1. Trust your training program and follow an appropriate taper schedule. Over-training can result in fatigue and make it difficult to obtain your desired finish time. Make sure you get adequate rest in the week leading up to the Fondo and try to sleep a little earlier the few nights leading to race morning.
  1. It is okay to experience anxiety on race day. In fact, anxiety can be beneficial to performance. The challenge is not letting yourself get too anxious and having negative self-talk fill your mind (e.g., looking at others at the race line and thinking, “I don’t belong here,” or “there is no way I am going to be able to finish this race”). If (read when) these thoughts enter your mind, try to challenge them with positive self-talk and by focusing on what you have accomplished to date (e.g., that you are prepared as a result of all your training and think of a particularly successful training ride). You might want to come up with your own simple, positive phrase to repeat to motivate yourself (e.g., I use, “If it is to be it is up to me”).

The use of relaxation strategies and imagery can help reduce anxiety and the impact of negative self-thought. Practice closing your eyes and taking a few slow, deep, controlled breaths for brief periods in the days leading up to the race. Taka few of these breaths prior to the beginning race. In the days leading up to the race, try to also visualize yourself getting up a particularly difficult climb or crossing the finishing line and the elation you will feel. Revert to these images if you feel challenged during the race.

It is not always easy to identify how anxiety might otherwise manifest itself, as it can be quite individualistic. For example, some people respond by requiring repeated washroom breaks, others experience body tightening (e.g., stomach tightening, jaw clenching), others feel fatigue. It is important to be able to identify how anxiety manifests for you. If you know that you have bowel/bladder issues, plan to get to the race early so you have adequate time to use the facilities and know where facilities are located along the route to reduce anxiety.

  1. Also, other planning can help reduce anxiety. Plan a reasonable race completion time goal and pace yourself accordingly. Try not to get caught up in the moment and take off too fast as it will be difficult to maintain this pace. Take a careful look at the course map and know where particularly challenging climbs are (hopefully followed by some nice downhills!) so you can mentally prepare and reserve some energy. Know where aid stations are located and what type of nutrition/hydration is available and what you want to carry with you. I do not recommend that you try anything new for the first time on race day (i.e., do not try caffeinated gels for the first time if you do not typically consume caffeine).  Have all your gear laid out (look at the weather and make sure you have appropriate weather-related gear) the night before. Plan what you want to eat and drink the morning of the race, leave this out the night before, and get up early to consume and digest it.
  2. Finally, reward yourself with some form of pampering after completing the ride. It is such an accomplishment that deserves to be acknowledged.

Good luck on the ride! As challenging as it can be, try to be in the moment for at least parts of the ride. The views along the Sea-to-Sky corridor are so very beautiful and how lucky are you to be able to ride along them?

Onward and Upward!

Dr. Rishi Bhalla, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Dr. Bhalla is a clinical neuropsychologist. He completed his doctorate training in clinical psychology from the Illinois Institute of Technology, followed by a one-year clinical residency in the Neuropsychology Track at Brown University. He subsequently completed two neuropsychology based postdoctoral fellowships (in dementia from Brown University and in geriatric psychiatry from the University of Pittsburgh). Dr. Bhalla has been working as a clinical neuropsychologist with Vancouver Coastal Health since 2008. He serves as a neuropsychology consultant for the National Hockey League (Vancouver Canucks) and for Major League Soccer (Vancouver Whitecaps) for whom he provides sports-related concussion assessment. He is a clinical associate professor in the Division of Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC.

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