As the time grows closer to the Argus Cycle Tour I see more and more cyclists on the road “miles in the legs” in preparation for the big day. As much as getting time in the saddle is important, consider spending some time preparing mentally for the race.
Here are six things to consider when preparing mentally for the Argus. Think about what you usually do, both physically and mentally, before you race. Think about what has worked well for you in the past and those things that have tripped you up.
1. Think about the night before the race. What helps you perform best on race day, and what could potentially trip you up. Not getting a good nights sleep is one thing that has tripped me up. The upshot from that was that I used to get agitated if I could not fall asleep. I always try and get my kit and bicycle prepared the day before and try and relax long before I hit the sack. I put these questions to my cycling friends and here are some of their suggestions (indented throughout):
“Go and lie down 1 hour before you normally would this brings the toss and turn forwards into your normal awake time“
“I used to struggle to sleep the night before a race until somebody told me that the night before the race was not as important as sleeping well on the night two nights before the race. Doing everything the night before raises the adrenalin for me which stops me from sleeping. I do all my race prep two nights before. Since I have been doing this I tend to sleep well on both nights before the race”
2. Think about the morning before the race? Do you have a routine? What is it? Many athletes have pre-competition routines or rituals that keep them focused on the race ahead rather than worrying about where they put their cycling gloves. Think about what state of mind you find gets you to your best performance. Some people need to be calm before the race and try and avoid getting too hyped up. Other people need to get psyched up and thrive on lots of excitement. Many athletes use music to help them psych up or psych down.
“I think back about the training effort that I have put in and that way re assure myself that I have done enough to ENJOY and have fun! Remember not to set too much of a high expectation to avoid disappointment! This can be soul destroying”
“Just remember to also have fun!!”
4. Think about the start of the race. I am often calm until the beginning of the race and then my heart rate goes up and get those butterflies in my gut. These are physical “symptoms” of your body getting ready for competition. The trick is not to label these as symptoms of anxiety but rather sypmtoms of excitement. Anxiety can derail your race.
“I find chatting and having a great laugh before the race and enjoy the environment you find yourself in is a great way of relaxing“
5. Think about the race itself. Do you have some idea of how the race is likely to go? If it is your first Argus and if you have the chance, consider driving the route before the race. Think about how you might tackle each section. It is always good to approach the race with confidence and a positive attitude towards all aspects of the route – you might loathe hills (as I do) but rather imagine yourself moving strong and steady up the hill rather than focus on how you always struggle – but you should also prepare and practice for when things are not going well and you just need to knuckle down and get through the tough parts. I really do loathe hills but I have found that a simple mantra to be extremely useful in getting me through the rough spots. On the Wines2Whales stage race I spent hours and hours chanting “and one and two, and one and two” (in keeping to my cadence) to myself; blocking out thoughts of burning legs and the desire to stop and rest.
“Take each km, section or hill as it is on its own if you think ahead to much you find yourself holding back and waiting, saving yourself for the tough sections? Just ride and enjoy. I found using my average speed as the perfect way of keeping on track”
“When the legs are shouting at me I shout back “This is NOT a hill!”
“If I think about the race too much I find I get overwhelmed; instead I retrace my life and try to remember every single person I ever met … and … if the race isn’t over yet I work out whether the car registration numbers I see are prime or not”
6. They say that failing to plan is planning to fail, but equally you need to also be prepared to change or adjust your plans. What happens if you are late for the race and all your planning is out of time. Think about your “Plan B”. What are the critical things you must do if you just have 5 minutes to prepare? And what happens if you arrive early or the race is delayed? How are you going to keep yourself relaxed and yet primed for the race when you have an hour to kill.
Physical preparation is essential for enjoying your Argus cycle Tour, but just spending some time thinking about the race and planning not just the logistics but also how you might think before and during the race can lift your performance.
Thanks to my cycling buddies for your input.