Cycling – The Power of the Mind

Getting fast on a bike is all about power, weight and endurance right? …Wrong. An integral part of getting faster or going further on your bike is the mind. How much pain can you endure? How much further can you push? How much longer can you suffer? One of the things I have done this year is concentrate on improving my mental conditioning with amazing results.

Cycling - its all in the mind

If you believe it will happen then it most likely will happen:

Without necessarily improving my fitness I have seen massive increases in my performance, especially over longer distances. I used to think I could go fairly well over anything sub 30 miles. Then as soon as I’d hit that 30 mile mark I’d almost hit a mental wall. As if I was waiting for the inevitable drop in my energy and subsequently speed as well. I was almost forcing my legs to slow down before I even gave myself a chance to show myself I can do it. There’s probably a fancy name for this where if you believe something will happen than it most like will, but if you think the same way as I once did then you are immediately putting yourself on the back foot.

Positive Thinking:

The power of positive thinking
Instead of “I can’t”, you need to think “I can”. How many times have you been out on your bike, running on empty thinking “I can’t do anymore”? What about you instead think “I can and I will go faster!” This is the approach I have been taken and it has allowed me to smash through that 30 mile wall and maintain the same performance across double the distance. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my bad days on the bike when I feel like I’ve got nothing in my legs, but instead of being negative about it, I consider how much of achievement it will be when I crush a ride with heavy legs.

Mind over Matter:

Another technique I employ is blocking out the pain. We’ve all been there, when it’s just you and your bike and your legs are screaming at you. Well there are many techniques you can employ to distract your mind from suffering. You could instead focus on breathing, or maybe do what I do (especially when I’m on the turbo with the music on loud) and sing! You could use markers on the road to get that little bit further or push that little bit harder, for example “I’m going to push harder until the next road sign or next village!” If you start thinking negatively then you need to block it out.

Visualisation Techniques:

The Sufferfest have a Mental Training program which recommends visualising putting up a stop sign to block out any negative thoughts and then to the right of that Stop Sign is an image of you achieving your goal. I employed this technique recently on a fast group ride. The pace was high and at one point around 45 miles in, it I felt I was going to get spat out the back of the group I was in. I instead blocked that thought with my imaginary stop sign and visualised myself not just hanging on, but instead sitting on the front, upping the pace and punishing the rest of the group. I have to say it worked, and not only did I hold on but I sat on the front for a good chunk and ended up splitting the pack up a short climb! Now I use that technique every time negative thoughts start to cloud my mind.

Setting Goals:

Setting Goals
As with anything you want to spend time doing, you need motivation. Motivation is what makes you push further and harder and to get motivation, you need a goal. I’ve started setting goals in every part of my cycling. I have big goals like winning a race or cycling Lands end to John O’Groats. But I also have weekly goals for example “I’m going to cycle 200 miles this week” or “I’m going to do 3 interval sessions this week”. I even set goals on individual rides like distance, Strava Segments or avg speed! Having goals gives you the motivation to get out and achieve them.

Ride in a group:

Riding in a group almost destroys every mental battle you can come up against. If you commit to a group ride it may get you out on your bike when you may not have had the motivation to do so. Only last week I had arranged to ride with some friends early in the morning. The alarm clock went off and every part of my mind and body was telling me to stay in bed. But I didn’t want to let my friends down! So I got up, donned the lycra and headed out on my bike. Another thing group riding helps with is the mind over matter scenario. Cycling in a group often means you can pass the time by just having a chat. Before you know it, you’ve got 30 miles under the belt before you’ve even realised! Finally the confidence you can get from cycling in a group is going to make you go faster. There is always a competitive component of group cycling and you can see how you’re doing in comparison to others. If you have good legs, this comparison will lift your confidence, encouraging increased performance.

Gain the advantage:

The mental side of cycling is often overlooked by most. If you choose to focus on ‘upgrading the mind’ then you’re going to have a massive advantage over the many. Most people in cycling focus soley on increasing there power, improving aero position, eating properly, loosing weight and as always buying better/lighter tech. Obviously, these are all important elements of cycling but if you choose to take time to improve the mind and mental techniques then your gaining a vital component to increasing your performance that is often disregarded.

Ride Journal – Entry 3 – Cafe Ventoux with The Gilbert’s 

Ride Journal – Entry 3 had been planned for a while. A good friend of mine who lives up north is down for the week before he goes off to South Africa for 6 months. He’s also into his cycling so it was an opportunity to get out together. The ride was planned for the Thursday and we timed it perfectly, as despite the lousy weather over the last couple of weeks, Thursday was actually quite nice. The sun was out, the wind was down, what could go wrong?

The mystery of the missing Garmin

How about a missing Garmin? When cleaning my bike down the day before it turned out that my 3 year old decided to hide my bike computer. Not realising until the following morning before the ride, I spent 15 minutes tearing apart the garage until I gave up and headed over to Dunton Basset to meet John… ‘Garminless’

Ride Journal Entry 3 - Garminless

I set off at a gentle pace. John had text me the night before and told me his parents would be joining us. Both are into cycling but I expected it to be a slightly slower ride than usual, which to be honest is just what I needed. The conditions were perfect as I slipped through Ashby Parva and down into Leire, and missing my turn to Dunton meant I had to take the slightly longer route round, up a fairly steep 3 minute climb. I didn’t push it though, I just big ringed it at a very low cadence before reaching my rendezvous point.

Meet the Parents

A quick introduction with the parents (we’ve met briefly before) and we were on our way. Destination… Cafe Ventoux. The same place I wanted to go on Ride Journal Entry 1! However this time the place would be open (I checked beforehand) and early on the pace was actually fairly steady although having no Garmin meant I was only going on feel as we pushed on into a light headwind up towards Arnesby and on into Saddington. The short steep climbs around Saddington warmed the legs up nicely for our arrival into Kibworth. It turns out Mike grew up in n’ around Kibworth so I was able to get a bit historical knowledge of the area as we made our way through towards Cafe Ventoux.

Light cloud occasionally blocked out the sun and the pace was nice. Certainly easy enough for me to hold conversation with the company, but not to easy so it felt like a decent workout. I skipped breakfast so I was mostly pondering on what cake I’ll be tucking into upon arrival to the Bike shop come Cafe, come ‘Experience Centre‘. I think you need rides like this in your weekly routine. As I mentioned in my 6 1/2 steps for absolute beginners, you shouldn’t kill yourself on every outing and allowing time for your legs to recover will mean over-training or burning out shouldn’t be an issue.

Cafe Ventoux

We arrived at Cafe Ventoux at around 11am. A quick check of my phone revealed that the Strava App I’d been using as my Garmin backup had failed me only 6 miles into the ride! Marvellous! (Credit to John who sent me his GPX file later that afternoon so I had some record of my ride albeit slightly inaccurate). I ordered a flat white and a slice of carrot cake, somehow resisting the temptation of my usual choice of their rather tasty cinnamon flapjacks. We had a look around their Experience Centre, specifically their range of Boardman Elite bikes and stylish cycling apparel in the form of Le Col and Leicester based Velobici. £175 for a jersey though??? After balking at the costly price tags we made our way outside and awaited the arrival of our coffee and cake and well worth the wait it was. I found enough time in between shovelling cake to moan about my missing Garmin as well as discussing the impending apocalypse before we was again back on our bikes for the return leg of our ride.

Home Bound

The journey home incorporated much of the route out in reverse, with omission of the village of Cranroe instead opting for a lovely section of road though Gloosten. The road was tight with a very sharp climb followed by a fast descent through twisting terrain littered with potholes and loose gravel. The TCR absorbed the rough profile of the road with ease and I was able to tuck in and plunge down the hill at a lively pace side by side with John, making it by far the most enjoyable part of the ride. We were however halted by a puddle/lake at the very bottom forcing us to slowly creep around off road.

I took the opportunity to catch up with John  on the way back into Saddington and couldn’t help but be jealous as he spoke of his impending trip so South Africa… jammy bastard! Julia pushed on into the wind and I occasionally gave her a break doing my own stints at the front and as we made our way back past Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome myself and Julia had inadvertently opened up a little gap between ourselves and the other two.

I hate goodbyes!

We slowed the pace a little and only a mile further would pretty much be where we said our goodbyes. Mike, Julia and John headed back off to Dunton Basset and I hastily made my way home to Lutterworth aware that I hadn’t long before the start of my late shift. Continuing to match the previous ‘fairly relaxed’ effort I took in the familiar rural views of the surrounding Leicestershire countryside.

Arriving home with little time to spare, I hung my bike in the garage and decided to spend the 5 minutes I did have to renew the search for my missing Garmin. I only need 15 seconds though as I immediately set eyes on it nestled on the top of my tool box. Typical!

Get Bike Fit – 6 1/2 Steps for an Absolute Beginner

Cycling is a great way to get fit and for me Road Biking is the best way to do it. Your road bike is all about going far and going fast so here is 6 1/2 steps for an absolute beginner who wants to get fitter, faster and further on their road bike.  

Step 1: Get a bike

Fairly obvious really. Being an absolute beginner means you may not even have a bike. But buying a bike may not be as simple one may think. Many things may need to be taken into consideration. Budget for starters, but questions need to be asked like what type of riding will you be doing? What type of riding do you want to be doing in the future? What type of riding do your friends do? You don’t want to limit yourself, but at the same time you want to make the most of your situation and passion.

For example maybe you want to do endurance or adventure riding? Perhaps your an urban commuter but want to get into local club riding or criterium’s? Chances are you may have no idea what riding you want to do and you just want to go out and ride. The beauty of road cycling is its versatility and whatever you decide there is a bike out there for you!

Absolute Beginner? Get a bike
mmmmmmmmm…. new bike

Step 2: Go out and ride

Even more obvious than step 1! But its true. You don’t need to worry about getting fitter yet. Forget training plans and FTP tests and concentrate on enjoying your bike and growing in confidence. Learn the basics like bike handling skills and road smarts. Learn to ride with clipless pedals and to take on fuel while on the move.

Absolute Beginner? Ride
Get out and ride… and take pictures of your bike

Step 3: Set a goal

Okay, now we are beginning to move away from the absolute beginner status. You own a bike and you’ve been putting in the miles. Your confidence has grown and you’ve probably started to notice your fitness increase already, just by getting out and about on your bike. Now you want to start pushing it to the next level? You need a goal.

It might be something as simple as loosing 10kg or maybe completing a 100km or 100 mile ride. Maybe you’ve set a goal as a group like cycle coast to coast? Whatever it is, by setting a goal you will be provided you with the motivation you need to get on your bike even when you don’t want to.

Step 4: Live well off the bike

Cycling is all about power to weight. The stronger you are the faster you go, the lighter you are the faster you go… its simple really. I’m for anything in moderation but if you want to see the benefits of getting faster and being able to go further, then your’e going to have to make a commitment off the bike as well. By eating healthy you are going to improve your performance on a bike. Make sure you fuel well pre and post ride and sleep well to allow for your body to recover.

Absolute Beginner? Lay off the fatty food
Lay off the fatty food!

Step 5: Go out and ride more

If you want to get fitter you’ve got to do the work, so set aside time to get out on your bike. Many of us can’t spend every day on our bike so cheat a bit. Try and commute to work a few times a week to get those extra miles in or use a turbo trainer for when the weather is poor or the nights are longer. Ride with friends or even join a local club so that you are committed to riding more with likeminded people.

 

Step 6: Train on specifics

Start working on the specifics. Im not talking about getting a coach or anything (unless you want to). Just put together a basic plan which suits your goal or objective. Throw in some longer distance rides if you want to improve your endurance. Chuck in some intervals on that commute to work by sprinting to sign posts or going in hard up every hill. Have a day when you just go all out as hard as you can for as long as you can. Even have a rest day where you just spin the legs for that recovery.

Absolute Beginner? Work on Specifics
Get that sweat on!

Step 6 1/2: Analyse, review and build

What are you doing well at? What needs improving? Maybe you’re really fast for 15 miles but then rapidly tail off as you go further? Build on your strengths and target those weaknesses by tweaking your riding. You will find quickly that you move from absolute beginner to absolute machine!

Absolute Beginner? Become a machine
Become a MACHINE

 

Ride Journal – Entry 1 – Wet, Windy and Starving

I’ve decided to review some of my rides in a weekly segment called Ride Journal. In the first addition I write about a ride that was only supposed to be a quick 6 mile commute 

I was only supposed to be riding the short commute back home when I was asked by a colleague if I fancied going out for a decent ride after work. I had my kit in my locker and normally it would be a great idea, although on this particular day I hadn’t actually eaten anything. It was approaching 2:30pm, I could possibly get away within an hour, however my stomach was already groaning at the lack of any breakfast or lunch. In fact only half a bakewell flapjack from the company canteen had passed my lips that whole day.

“When you say decent ride… how decent?”

Café Ventoux and back?” my colleague replied.

The ‘Cafe Ventoux Loop’ is one of my regular rides so I’m well aware that it is 25 miles out from my house, plus the six miles extra from work.

“Scratch that, it closes at 5pm on Fridays, we could just go out that way though and find a coffee shop”.

Some ummin’ and arrin’ later and I agreed to join him, but only if the Coffee Shop we found sold slabs of cake, so I could at least run on some form of fuel. One hour later I was on my bike. The first 10 minutes of the ride consisted of me making excuses for my almost inevitable bonk. We were flying though, aided by an absolutely glorious tail wind behind us. The first half of the ride was fairly flat too, so other than a few junctions and some temporary traffic lights we were able maintain a decent tempo.

By the time we reached Saddington we had decided that our destination should be the small market town of Uppingham, Rutland. My colleague knew it well and informed me that I had in fact cycled there once before, last year as part of the Rutland Arrivederci Century ride. I believe it was around 90 miles in so I was most likely flagging a bit. At this point the route was beginning to become a bit up and down, with plenty of short sharp kicks offering a perfect environment for some hill intervals. It helps when you ride with someone of an equal ability, if not slightly better, as it pushes you to maintain the pace or at best keep up. This was certainly the case today, especially since I was approaching 20 hours with little or no food.

The hill intervals had taken its toll. As we approached Stockerston my legs were burning with lactic acid. I was also beginning to rekindle the memories of Rutland Arrivederci. One memory in particular was the Climb into Uppingham itself. I remember it being absolute torture last year and with the glorious tail wind of before now a prominent cross wind, I was dreading it.

Low and behold, Stockerston Climb was a relative breeze. It turns out that those months I’ve spent on the indoor turbo trainer has served me well. Don’t get me wrong, my legs felt it, but I set a decent pace and refusing to be provoked into an attack against my colleage, I tucked in, head down and ground away. Before I knew it I was in Uppingham, lid off, tucking into coffee and cake at Don Paddy’s. “Food!”, my stomach could barely believe it. I must say it was possibly the nicest cake I’ve ever eaten, although it would have most likely been the nicest scabby horse I’d ever eaten if that was served alongside my latte.

 

It was while my colleague was offering concern that I was deliberately starving myself in order to beat him up the climbs (I’m not by the way) that the clouds darkened and the heavens began to open. This was going to be a miserable 30 mile ride home in driving rain and a block head wind, running solely on a milky coffee and a slice of Victoria Sponge. A quick stretch of the legs and a downing of the remaining drops of my now cooled caffeine hit and we were again on our way. I decided to sit on the front, channelling my inner Kwiatkowski, and although I didn’t feel the need to chuck my glasses on the roadside I was certainly pushing hard through the almost biblical conditions. The surface was slick in places and flooded in others and I carefully nudged down the hills as opposed to thrashing it down as I did on the way out. Still, despite the wind, rain and lack of food we were able to press on home at a decent pace, swapping duties at the font akin to a mini chain gang albeit only two of us.

As we approached my colleagues house (who lives 5 miles closer than I do) we were absolutely sodden. His teasing earlier about me being anorexic had dissipated and was replaced with heavy breathing with intermittent silence as we rolled into his village. I suppose 50 odd hard miles does that to a man. We pulled over and found some time to moan a bit more about the conditions, but in truth I think we both had enjoyed the battle.

It was then that I was left with the dilemma of having only 5 miles to go, however if I went the long way I could bump my ride up a few miles to get a nice round 100km’s in the legs. Even in this weather, it wasn’t up for debate.

So off I went, home… the long way round.