6 Pre-Race Mental Preparation Tips for Cyclists

Organize and De-Stress Your Travel to the Event

Create a packing list. You won't have to think when you're getting all your stuff together, and you won't worry that you're forgetting something. You may end up using the same list for every event. Also, plan out the driving, flying, hotels, meals or whatever else is involved in getting to the event, so you don't have to stress about that stuff at the last minute.

Lastly, it is crucial to have a routine at the event itself. The key goals for your routine are:

1. Staying relaxed. Know how much time you need for your entire process, from registration to getting to the start line. Then add a few minutes of breathing room. Settle on a small number of things that will keep you relaxed. Are you going to socialize or isolate? Listen to music? Use a little positive self-talk? (Or maybe a lot?) Return to a brief visualization you've been using during the week? Use a breathing technique that works for you? And what kind of warmup can get your body ready to perform but also relax you? Staying focused, if you're not overdoing it, can also help you stay relaxed; check out the column on concentration for tips.

More: Improve Your Cycling: Train Your Mind

2. Feeling your mojo. If you're sufficiently relaxed, you're more likely to be able to tap into your inner strength, your self-confidence, the strength you've been building in your body, the excitement you have about the event. Ask yourself why you're there and have a good answer. Remind yourself of your goals and plan. Tap into your desire, your passion for what you're doing. Use your warmup not just to jumpstart your body, but also your mind. Get psyched, but not too psyched; letting your will get out of control will likely work against you. If you're still not feeling it, close your eyes, recall an experience you've had—in training, at a previous event, wherever—where you've found the mental and physical strength you've needed, and remember how that felt. Stay in that feeling. You're proving to yourself that you can feel it again.

Once you've decided which elements you're going to select for your pre-event routine—for the week of, day before, day of—it's time to test them. Go through the entire process, including the event itself, and then debrief yourself afterwards. What worked? What didn't? Why? What are you not sure about yet? Refine the routine, if necessary, making notes about what you're learning. Then you're ready for the next test.

Designing, refining, and settling into a pre-event routine is an important part of building mental fitness. Once you find a routine that works for you, it's a double positive: it gets you into the start-line state that you want to be in, and you enter into the run-up to an event feeling confident that your routine will work. Along with your physical preparation, make your mental preparation a priority. You'll be glad you did.

More: The Role of Personality in Cycling Performance

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Marv Zauderer, in his sport performance coaching practice, works with amateur and professional athletes from all sports on the mental skills needed for peak performance. His website is MarvinZ.com.

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