During last season there was a stage race where I knew I wasn't on good form. I tried to ride anonymously for the first couple of stages. Then it came to the time trial, and I got into the race.
Something new came over me. I ended up getting second in the time trial and third overall. It's not a decision, in that case, to turn on the internal fortitude. It comes on unconsciously; something inside of me wants the race. I just ride the wave. It's like the first drop on a roller coaster.
In the stages I've won, the opportunities just present themselves rather than me planning for them. My confidence in my preparation, and this "mental Zen" I'm describing, maximizes what I have to throw down when those opportunities arise.
It helps me to have faith in a great team and to have faith that things are going to work out. Three-quarters of the time, the stars don't align. When they do, I'm thinking about the times that they do. I remember those times and draw on them.
Pez: Which mental skills have been challenging for you? How have you been trying to improve?
Katheryn: Concentration. I get distracted by "shiny objects" and other people. To improve, I've been paying more attention to my body—what's going on in my body. Yoga breathing has been phenomenal—it's helped me to center myself.
Steven: Confidence. It's a huge thing in cycling. I was even told by some people, "consider a career change." You can improve so much by believing in yourself. You can say, "I should be at the front of the race, I should be top five." You don't have to be cocky, but if you're not confident, you don't stand a chance. You've got to believe in yourself.
Ben: The ability to distract myself is very important. When I come home from a hard training ride, my son wants to sit on my lap and have me read him a book. At that point, after a recovery shake and a quick bite to eat, cycling goes out the window. It's a big mental change, and I've been getting used to it over the past two and a half years since my son was born.
I don't have time to think, "It was a bad ride," or "Have I done enough hard work?" For some guys, their mind is still racing after a ride, literally and figuratively. I've seen a huge advantage in not being a bike racer 24/7. When you're constantly stable, you can reach the place you need to reach in every race. I've been able to replicate my "mental Zen" in nearly every race, regardless of how I was going physically.
I've also become less wrapped up in arbitrary goals—winning this, placing in that. I'm not going to be totally broken up if I don't win. I'm focused more on giving it my best.
Pez: What's an experience you've had that has contributed significantly to your mental fitness?
Katheryn: In 2006 I had an accident—I was hit by another cyclist. I broke nine ribs, my collarbone, and spent five days in the hospital. It took me a long time to be able to learn from it. I had come off a year in '05 when I had won Nationals, and then I had this major setback. I couldn't do anything for six weeks.