By Bridgette Enarson
Too many of my races have gone like this: a great start to the race, in the top 5 and thinking “I’m a rockstar, I’ve got this”. Then bam, a couple of laps in I start falling apart. Whether it’s a turn taken too fast that ends in a slide out or my toes so frozen I can’t unclip before the runup and fall, two feet still attached to the pedals (insert blooper reel here).
And then it snowballs from there. I lose my lead. I get in my head and start mentally breaking down rather than focusing on regaining what distance I had on other racers. In turn, my performance dwindles and that third place slot becomes a seventh place finish. It’s a disheartening end to the race when I started so well. I’ve got the skills and power, but there are races where I’m too tired to think and when that occurs, I become sloppy. After too many of these races, I started focusing much more on my mental approach to cyclocross learning the hard way that you need more than power and fitness to carry you through after the first couple of laps.
The mental approach is harder and takes getting out of your head and actually using your head. With each turn I’ve learned to say to myself, slow a bit, shift your body weight so your wheels stay up. Before that steep run up, I repeat to myself, “pedal, pedal, get your weight forward and just keep putting one pedal in front of the other”. The runups are hard and get your heartrate up, but on most courses there is a recovery so I just tell myself, “keep going, just let out an expletive or two and you’ll get your recovery soon”. I’ve learned to coach myself through every turn, every technical piece of the course. And it works. It keeps me calm and my attention is more on the course than the feeling of absolutely dying and wanting to walk away and get a DNF.
This is what makes cyclocross hard. In a race where you’re using up all of your energy in a 40 minute race, your mind gets foggy and it’s easy to focus on how much your lungs and legs are burning. The mental approach to cyclocross racing is just as important as the physical and is what carries you through to the end. Focus on the mental game in a cross race and your pain eases just a bit and your race is more successful.