Think Like a Pro
We've all got the same bikes as
the pro's, well the lucky ones have, we all ride the same groupset's as
the pro's, the same wheels as the pro's, the same tyres as the pro's and
the same roads as the pro's. But the big difference between us and
the pro's is how we think; and act; and ride, and rest, and get waited on,
etc, etc, etc.
Anyway, today we'll concentrate on the
mindset of a pro rider and what you can do to change your mindset to help
yourself realise your full potential; which, at the end of the day, is what this site is all about.
I could dedicate a whole website to this subject but for now we'll stick
to just one page and try to do justice to this massive, massive subject.
Having said that, this is part
one of a two part article. Next month, you'll be challenged to a
self-assessment. The answers, or rather the action you take in
relation to your answers, could help you change not only your season but
your whole approach to your sport and possibly your life in general.
Sometimes it really is that easy!
So, down to business!
Could I live
the life of a pro cyclist?
Let's turn that question on its head.
Could a cycling pro do your job? Whatever job you do today, with all its
intricacies, nuances and traps that only you know about because you've
learnt from years of experience that you won't find documented in any
procedures manual or handbook; could it possibly be done as well as you do
it now, by someone practicing for a couple of hours, two nights a week and a
bit of a longer session on a week-end morning? The answer is probably
a resounding, emphatic, NO!
So, that nails that then.
Re-align your expectations to match the efforts and sacrifices you can
make. Please don't think you can go out and buy the Lance Armstrong
or Chris Boardman training manuals, follow them to the letter and make
yourself a better cyclist. At best you'll become overtrained; at
worst you could make yourself seriously ill. Thinking you can do it
and actually doing it are two completely different things. While
you're at work Lance was on his bike or sleeping, that's the difference.
We'll never be as fit, as
fast, as strong, as durable, or as focussed as a professional cyclist because
our next salary cheque doesn't depend on it. But just as we can buy
and ride the same equipment as the pro's we can learn some mind techniques
and tools to help address one of sports biggest factors that's importance is often
overlooked. The mindset.
Changing your mindset is free,
it's capacity to expand is unlimited, it's something you can't buy as it's
something you already have. The mindset is something only you can
control. It's the one thing that you can adopt from the pros that
will make much, much more difference than duplicating their equipment,
training regimens or nutrition strategies.
have a friend who is very sceptical about all this voodoo, snake-oil, mind thingy,
sports psychology, stuff.
Psycho-babble, as he calls it, has no place in the world of cycling;
inner-hardness, backbone and training is what counts. The more you
have the better you are.
In the early
part of this century I produced and developed a set of management training
courses called Software for the Mind. The idea being that the brain,
like a computer, can be programmed with the right stimulus and
applications to think and react in a set way to set situations.
believe that a positive mental attitude can be nurtured and developed to
help bring extraordinary
results from ordinary people. Inner-hardness, psychological
robustness, motivation, fortitude, application and backbone are just other
attitudes and attributes that can be programmed in to the brain.
Just like you can learn a foreign language you can learn to think like a
My friend, is a mild mannered
accountant by day. He's as you would expect an accountant to be.
Reflective, controlled, quiet, cautious, logical, analytical, deliberate
and diligent in his actions, the life and soul of the party (maybe not!).
Put a race number on his
back, put him in one of his objective events, then drop the flag and he's
a completely, and I mean a completely, different person. He becomes
totally focussed on the objective and aims to win and if he can humiliate the
opposition while doing so, so much the better. If it's not hurting
everyone then it's time to step up a gear.
Even though he's
totally dismissive of the smoke and mirror's of my mind games, he's the
one person you'd hold up as a shining example of it working in action!
It's just for him, it comes totally naturally. I'm sure there are
people stronger than him (I know there are from the lab tests) but they
don't have that brain switch that allows them to squeeze out that extra
few percent that makes the winning difference. Which we'll come to
A pro never loses a race; they just ran out of time.
"We'd have stayed away if the others had worked." "We were
catching them but we started the chase too late." "I wasn't going
for the win, this is a preparation race."
Someone else may win the race
but a pro, never loses it. Although attributed to pros, these
factors are highlighted in the main by team leaders. A team leader
has that extra mental toughness. A pro thinks they're super human; a
team leader believes they are super human. That's why they're the
There may be riders as
physically gifted in the team (the super domestiques for instance) but
they don't have that final killer instinct that sees them get stronger as
the pressure mounts. I'm not the world's greatest fan of Lance
Armstrong but even the most hardened cynic has to admit his mental
strength was beyond question.
Never mind cycling, what about
other sports? Senna and Mansell, Schumacher and Hill in F1?
Fergusson and Wenger in football? Australia and England at cricket?
Sampras and anyone else at tennis? When all of these
aforementioned people were on the top of their game the one thing that
stood out was their mental strength and fortitude, despite any physical
evidence to the contrary.
Even when the odds were stacked
against them, they'd find a positive to cling to that they would use to
lever open a tiny nick, from which they'd create a gaping hole in the confidence of the opposition. Once
inside the head of their opponents it was as good as over.
forget my beloved Liverpool in the 2005 European Champions League Cup
Final? Three nil down at half time; then the greatest come back since
Lazarus. All won by the power of the mind and a self-belief that it
wasn't over. Miracles can happen.
can I get some?
Well let me tell you now, you don't need to buy it. You already have
it but some have more than others. Even the most disheartened,
disillusioned, disinterested, discontent, has a small flickering ember of
passion somewhere deep inside their soul.
Find the motivation to fan that
passion and we have a potential champion. Find the right event, at
the right time, with the right preparation and the right mindset and we
have a true champion. All that's needed is the belief and the
sacrifice to change that ember in to a raging furnace.
When two athletes or teams meet
on the battlefield of sport, it's the entity that wants it the most that
invariably comes out on top. At the top level it's a knife edge
between success and failure. And often the killer blow is more
psychological than physiological.
There is no secret to success. Success starts with belief.
Belief in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself why should
Have belief that you will
succeed, apply a layer of hard work, focus on your goal, never, ever let
anyone tell you, "you can't", and never give up. Follow those golden
rules and how can success not come?
There are many, many challenges
between starting out towards your objective and reaching your ultimate,
pre-determined conclusion. As long as your objective is SMART, there
is no reason whatsoever that you should be denied it. As long as you
truly believe it is within your grasp. If you think you can you can,
and if you think you can't your right.
Some people are doomed to fail
at the first challenge. They never truly believe they can succeed.
Without unwavering belief the next hurdles become insurmountable objects
of frustration; frustration breeds negativity; negativity eats away at
motivation; and low motivation destroys the belief that is the driving
force behind success. A vicious circle if ever there was one.
So don't even begin to doubt your conviction. If you find you do,
then your goal wasn't SMART enough. Re-align your SMART objectives
to match your belief and build from there. Have a succession of
mini-objectives and time frames to act as
success stepping stones on the path to your ultimate goal.
Is your motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? You may not
realise the difference first off, but the answer has a massive influence
on the success of your expected outcome.
athletes, compete because they want to and because they enjoy the
competitive element of pushing their body to its limits.
Extrinsically motivated athletes compete because they have to and because
they enjoy the external rewards of trophies and fame. Intrinsic
athletes are capable of self-motivation, extrinsic athletes require
external stimulus (the reward) to gain motivation.
For intrinsics, the prize was
never the ultimate aim anyway; it was there as the icing on the cake.
If it's won, it's won, if not at least they tried their best. Trying
your best isn't in a pro's vocabulary. To reach your full potential
it can't be in yours.
Being amateur doesn't mean we
have to be amateurish in our approach. Motivation is powerful
because it directly influences our actions and reactions. Choose to
adopt and more importantly, maintain, a professional, motivational,
extrinsic work ethic and half your job is done. Never take your eye off
Keep the persona and attributes
of an intrinsic person, because invariably they are nicer people, but when
training and preparing for an event flip your mindset to extrinsic.
When you throw your leg over that bike you must become
extrinsically motivated. Learn the difference and learn to switch.
You cannot begin to imagine how much difference it will make to your
training, preparation and success. Extrinsics don't "go for a ride"
The prize doesn't have to be
winning an event, a category or trophy. For me a top 10% place in a
sportive is my main aim. But as I can't influence my race number or
starting grid position an element of that is out of my control. If
I'm outside my objective but have given it my all, it doesn't ruin my day.
See, think like a pro. It's not that I didn't meet my objective, the
organiser affected it because I had to start at the back and ran out of
time to get to the front!!!
Motivational drive is what gets you through the pain of sustaining race
winning efforts and intensities during the non-reward phase of your
competition preparations; or training as we call it!
Lance Armstrong always made a
big deal out of the six-hour training rides he'd do in the rain, when
everyone else was sitting indoors. Do you honestly think that the
other pros don't ride in the rain? It doesn't matter whether it was
true or not, Armstrong believed it. I'm out in the rain, Ullrich's
eating pies, here's another success in the Tour. An equation that's
as simple as it was flawed. But it's what kept Armstrong on the bike
and it's what kept him focussed on the prize.
It doesn't matter what it is or
how true or accurate it might be. Find something that you can latch
on to that will get you through the effort and intensities you need to
prepare for success.
We all have off days and
sometimes think I'll not go out because it's raining, it's going to rain,
it's cold, I'm tired etc, etc. Never decide if you're going to go
training until your in your kit and ready to go. Prepare your bike,
get your bottles ready, get dressed, put your shoes on, then and only then
decide if you really should go out.
Try to convince yourself to at
least complete the warm up phase of your session before coming to a final
decision. If you still don't feel fully committed, then go home and
use it as a recovery ride for preparation for your next big session!
Turn the failed ride in to a positive ride!
Training and Competing
Make an absolute distinction between training and competing.
Identify training races or events and use them as preparation for your big
day. Don't ride a series of races or sportives thinking you're going
to win them all. Because if you don't you'll enter the
Start your non-objective,
preparation events with a preparation mindset. Ride them looking for
weaknesses on which you can work to become a better, stronger, faster
rider. Identifying a weakness, or under-developed strength(!), is a
positive thing. Finding out your climbing could be better is a good
thing because now you can develop a training plan to climb better.
Pro's train their weaknesses
and race their strengths. Non-pros generally avoid their weaknesses,
train their strengths and race at an average combination of them both.
Remember the article about the time-trialist that couldn't sprint?
If you're not the best climber
in the world, think like a pro and ride some hills. If you think you
lack speed, think like a pro and ride some criteriums or do some
high-intensity speed work behind a scooter. Do a self assessment and
tackle your underdeveloped strengths.
Pro's don't feel pain the way we do.
That's probably a lie, a better way to explain it is that pro's don't
think about pain the way we do.
If a pro rider and a non-pro
rider, without any external indicators like heart rate monitors or power
meters, rode at 90% of their physical capacity, you'd get a different
level of perceived effort from each one. The non-pro would indicate
that they were flat out, 100%, and couldn't possibly go any harder.
The pro would tell you they were at 80% and could give more if they need
to. Same effort, same suffering, different perception.
A pro rider trains very, very
intensely or does a recovery ride. Non-pro's often train in the
"dead zone". Where pro's ride at 30 mph or 15 mph, non-pro's almost
always train around 20-22 mph. Non-pro's don't ride for sustained
periods at the extreme levels of their pain threshold. Therefore
when they do suffer, the suffering seems more intense.
Instead of going for a three
hour, steady, flattish ride, go for a one hour ride screaming up short
hills; do some high-intensity speed work, do some sprint intervals.
As Dave Whitt says, "hurt in training, enjoy the race."
I once asked a champion cyclist how they went so fast for so long.
They didn't mention anything about training, nutrition or recovery.
They're reply centred around, "I go as hard as I possibly can, until the
pain becomes unbearable, then I back off half-a-turn until it
subsides, and that's the pace I know I can sustain. Because I know I
can hurt more if I have to and I now know the pain isn't as bad as it was;
and that makes me happy." A pro looks at pain as something to be
embraced not something to be avoided.
The same level of pain can have
two completely different perceptions depending on how it's being dished
out. Consider you're on the front of a 30-strong group, riding at 25
mph, with your heart coming through your chest, the sweat burning your
eyes, the lactate screaming in your legs, a finishing sprint coming up,
and the man behind you can't hold your wheel and everyone is being strung
out and getting dropped.
Now imagine all those
sensations but you're the last man of that 30 strong group. The same
level of pain has a completely different feel depending on whether you're
dishing it out or having it dished out to you! And that, dear
reader, is all to do with the brain.
Your brain and body
Your brain needs to be trained as much as your body. A sport as
hard as cycling is as much a mind game as is a game of chess. Don't
let your mind fool your body in to thinking it's exhausted.
As you know I ride lots of
sportives all over Europe. The beauty of that is no one knows me!
They don't know I can't climb! Every time I go out training with my
mates here in Jersey I get my backside kicked up the hills by people who
are better, stronger and faster than me. My body is all over the
show as I wrestle my bike to keep up with them, breathing like Darth Vader
and pedalling like Pee-Wee Herman, clinging to the group, waiting for the
pain to go away.
When I'm away, I keep my body
still, control my breathing, climb with a rhythm and maintain composure.
My body still hurts the same, if not more, but I control all the external
signs. No one knows me so I have an advantage. Because I know
I'm in trouble I go to the front. Others think I'm strong so sit
behind me and don't attack.
I've used my brain to control
my body, and subliminally controlled theirs. Their brain has taken
the external signals and made an assumption that has controlled their
effort. Never let people see you are in trouble. Cycling is
such a cruel sport, people always attack the weak; always.
So the message here is, when
you're struggling, wheezing, fighting the bike and generally using more
energy than you should on a horrible climb; relax, change your mindset,
control your breathing and concentrate all your energies, physical and
mental, on pedalling in circles and looking for a wheel. Shoulders
still, head up, confidence in your ability and the eye on the prize; the
summit of the climb. It does make a difference, trust me.
I have a lot of people come through my doors to take one of my beloved
tests (over 250 tests by May 2007). Everyone dreads them because
they know how hard they are. But everyone has trained hard and
prepared well so they should have nothing to fear. Invariably
everyone goes away with something positive from their test.
During the tests I push people
to their limits, because their brain is trying to stop them reaching it.
You cannot do these tests at home on your own. Well you can but the
results won't be the same.
A test is an occasion,
something to go to, something to attend, something special. When
your body is screaming in lactate induced pain, the sweat is burning your
eyes and your legs have turned to rubber, your mind and your inner voice
keep telling you to stop and the pain will go away. I keep
encouraging a push and a final effort.
Always, always and thrice
always (sorry got all Frankie Howard there) an extra effort is
forthcoming. I've just replaced their inner voice with my external
one. And it always works. The power of distraction!
Invariably the athletes tell me they gave it their all and couldn't push
another rev. Which they believe to be true.
However, I know (and I tell
them) that if an enraged lion was to come in to the room they'd be the
first out the door and the last to be caught! Well it'd be a
close thing between them and the dog, but
I know it wouldn't be me! Never, ever trust your inner voice when it
tells you to stop. It's a habit that becomes hard to break.
Don't just think differently, perceive differently.
As I said before this is a
massive subject and one to which I can't really do justice in one article.
Start to believe in yourself and your abilities then adjust your
objectives to the time, equipment and abilities you have available.
Whether you're trying to achieve an Island Games Medal or completing your
first sportive, the effort may be different but the rewards and total
satisfaction for an objective well met are exactly the same.
I know a lot of riders that
have the physical attributes to be a winner in their category or
discipline, they just don't believe in themselves enough to close the gap
between where they are and where they could be. To realize your
potential, sometimes it really is as simple as changing your mindset.
Don't let the Thought Police
and your inner voice control your results. Thinking like a pro may
not make you ride like a pro but it will make you a better, stronger,
happier rider. And it's a lot easier than an hour on a turbo!