The Mind of a Mentally Fit Pro

As a lifelong athlete, I felt stripped of my identity. It forced me to take a deep breath, say "it's not the end of the world," and reset my goals. I had tended to set my goals too high. I spent a lot of time at the end of the year talking with my coach, Laura Charameda, about how to get my head back in the game. Also, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and one of my best friends died on a training ride.

I was close to quitting. I said, "OK, Katheryn, you're not ready to give up on this because you haven't accomplished everything you want to accomplish." I learned so many skills from that experience that now help me get through stage races. February 14th was the two-year anniversary of my accident, and I'm so grateful to have learned so much since then.

Steven: Last year was the biggest for me. I had a crash where I landed on my head, and it took me three months to come back. I had crashed many times before, but this time I had post-traumatic stress, and I had never had that. I had to overcome my fears. After I recovered from that, I had the best couple of months of racing in my life.

More: 4 Mental Tips to Overcome Pre-Race Jitters

Ben: I grew up as a MTBer, and it was always about going as hard as you could for the whole race. You needed mental toughness, bike-handling skills, and putting forth a consistent and hard effort from start to finish.

Another factor is my view on doping in sport. I've had money taken from me and results taken from me by people who have later tested positive. So that, too, has reduced my "win at all costs" mentality that I might have had. It has lessened my drive to "win, win, win" and made it more about "what can I do."

My overall satisfaction is tied more to what comes from me, and the satisfaction has increased because I know it's coming from me. When all the mental struggle and striving comes through, it helps the confidence that I have in the next race and the next. It's going to help me be there for my kids after I retire.

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Next Steps on Building Mental Fitness

How can you use what these pros have learned? Notice that:

  • The core mental skills of Goal-Setting, Self-Talk, Managing Emotions (especially fear/stress/anxiety), Concentration and Communication have been important for all three pros.
  • Something as elemental as Breathing Technique has been of great importance to Katheryn.
  • How Increasing Tolerance for Suffering has been a difference-maker for Steven
  • How important Recovering from Injury has been for Katheryn and Steven.
  • How Ben has come to appreciate the value of giving cycling the right role in life.

Evaluate whether you could benefit from some work on any of those skills, and use the tips in the articles to add mental skills training to your physical training program. Your mind—and body—will thank you.

More: Defying Gravity: Climbing With the Pros

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Marvin Zauderer, in his sport psychology practice, works with athletes from all sports in person, by phone, and through the Internet, and speaks to groups in person and via Webinars. He leads the Mental Training program at Whole Athlete, a performance center in Marin County, California, that provides a comprehensive set of coaching, testing, fitting, and consulting services to amateur and professional athletes. He is a licensed psychotherapist, USA Cycling Level 2 coach, and Masters road racer for Synergy-Taleo Racing. He welcomes email at marvinz@pobox.com. His website is www.marvinz.com.

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