With a little more than a month remaining until the formal kickoff of the cyclocross season, we've been exploring getting our bodies physically prepared, skills ready, and on bike setup - but there is another component to prepare, and that is your mind.
Cyclocross will push your limits and to meet the challenge, you need mental toughness. Every competitor's heart is pounding, their legs are on fire, their lungs burn with effort, not just you. Don't forget to train your brain to be ready for those efforts to set yourself apart. Wout has it, and so can you.
To borrow a military term, you need to "embrace the suck" - the tipping point where your body breaks down and mind takes over. If your mind is ready to quit, the body will quickly follow. Know this in advance and prevent it with drills to improve mental toughness.
- Don't quit races or workouts, push through (barring injury or dangerous conditions like heat stroke) instead. Once you start quitting it's easy to do it again and again.
- Think positive thoughts. In the moment, recognize the stress of the race, but don't panic. This is what you have prepared for. Focus on execution.
- Recognize that your brain will try to trick you into slowing down or even quitting. Don't accept this. I like say "Stop trying to trick me, brain" to acknowledge that my physical limits aren't where my brain wants to me to think they are.
- Remind yourself why you are racing and training as fatigue and discomfort sets in. Perhaps you want to win. Perhaps you want to stay in shape as you age. Perhaps you enjoy teamwork. The effort you are currently making is temporary, don't let it get in the way of your goals.
- Cold showers. After a few moments you will realize it is bearable and isn't going to kill you. You are in control. It feels great afterward too.
- To explore this topic further, check out "How bad do you want it?", a book which explores the psychology of mind over muscle specifically for atheletes.