I’ve been enjoying the book Endure by Alex Hutchinson recently, especially his focus on the mental side of endurance training. As athletes, it is easy to focus on the body and muscles, without putting the same emphasis or hard work into training the mind. Luckily, my coach Nina knows the importance of mental endurance training as well as physical endurance training, and she pointed me toward the Sisu Race Ready Coaching quiz to reveal what aspects of my “mental toughness” I could focus on improving.
It turns out, I could improve on a lot. The quiz rates your self-reported levels of confidence, constancy, determination, visualization, control, self-belief, self-esteem, and positive cognition. I can be a bit of a worrier, and can get caught up in my head too much before competitions – did I train enough? Am I overtrained? What if I don’t clip in off the start line? Do I have the right nutrition during the race? All of these questions and more will race through my head if I’m not careful about consciously quieting them. When I took that quiz though, the results revealed “visualization” as a strength of mine.
Going into the race this weekend, I practiced using that to my advantage. When I started getting nervous about whether I remembered everything, I visualized my bag and mentally checked off all the gear and clothing I had packed. When I worried about whether I could have a good sprint off the start line and get the hole shot, I visualized myself clipping in properly and having a successful sprint. It seemed a little silly to picture myself at the race before I even got there, but I can’t deny that it made me feel a little better to positively frame scenarios that I got caught up on, and use visualization to picture them in detail.
The good news is that my preparation helped, and I got the hole shot at the start of the race! The bad news? I was charging ahead without looking far enough down the trail, and missed the turn into the woods… I was heading straight for the tape instead of the trail, and luckily my teammate Deb saved me! “Heads up Annie!” she shouted, suddenly snapping me out of my unknowingly focused path into the tape. I was able to steer left at the last minute, going the right direction this time, and slid into the trail behind her. There were 7 of us racing in the Pro/Cat 1 category, but I was unfamiliar with most of the women so I had no idea how the race would play out.
Deb set a good pace once we were in the woods, allowing us all to catch our breath a little after the initial sprint for placement. A few minutes in though, I could hear some racers behind me trying to pass each other, so I got a little antsy. At the next straight stretch, I asked Deb for a pass and upped the pace as I took the lead. I was feeling strong, but didn’t want to make any mistakes by going out too hard off the front, only to blow up an hour later (a bad habit of mine it seems, haha). At the same time though, I was excited that it was the first race of the season and I had more base miles in my legs than ever before. I took the gamble, holding the pace above my steady-state until I couldn’t see racers behind me anymore. I tried to rest on the descents and push myself up the climbs, and the course was rolling which played to my strengths.
Coming through to head out for a second lap I found myself still in the lead, trying to hang onto the wheel of a train of junior male racers ahead of me. I ate half a clif bar and continued to drink my water bottle with Heed in it, trying to stay ahead of my nutritional needs. I realized a few miles later that I hadn’t planned ahead enough with my water, and was running pretty low. With 5 miles to go I ran out, making a poor bargain with myself that the faster I finished, the faster I could drink more water. My pace had slowed considerably on this second lap, but I hoped it would be enough to maintain the lead through to the finish. I ate an energy gel with 45 minutes to go, and tried to stay focused for the last quarter of the race. My goal was to finish the 24 mile race (my Wahoo said it was actually 20.6 miles) in under 2 hours, and I was excited to reach the finish after 1 hour and 48 minutes!
Getting back into racing at that intensity after such a long block of slow and steady rides on the road was a bit of a shock – my average heart rate for the whole race was 186 bpm, with my peak heart rate at 199 bpm! However, there is nothing like the excitement at the start of a race, or the feeling of accomplishment after the finish line. I was so happy to be back out there as we kicked off the first XC mountain bike race of the season. This was just the first race of many in the Southern Classic Series, and I’m eagerly awaiting the ones to come.
It was a great day for my CTS teammates as well! Deb finished strong in our field with a hard fought 4th place. Josh won his race in the Pro/Cat 1 Men, followed by Zeb in 5th (even though he had been sick all week before!). Reid earned 2nd in the 30-39 Cat 1 Men, and Ely finished strong in his first Cat 2 race ever (a competitive performance as a junior!). Zeb, Reid, and I celebrated with a Chinese Take-Out lunch on the way back home. 🙂
Next week I’ll be helping out with a Carmichael Training Systems road cycling camp all week – the athletes attending will be training and learning all week in preparation for the Assault on the Carolinas race that Saturday! Then the week after I’m super excited to be participating in the Pisgah Stage Race for the first time. Big things ahead!