Written by ALP Cycles Coach, Jennifer Sharp

Dreaming of longer, warmer days and the race season yet? Me too. And we haven't even reached the winter solstice! Despite the desire for warmer weather, winter can provide a great opportunity to do some reflection of what went well in 2017 and what you'd like to improve upon.

Lactate Threshold intervals, VO2 work, micro intervals - we all want our performance to increase year after year so we stay glued to our trainers in the colder months. But what about things you can do off the bike? Are you devoting some time to honing your mental game?Whether your season is based around one race or 20, having a solid mental game plan that you can follow year round can set you up for success. 

Take any goal you have. Apply good nutrition, intervals, equipment, coaching, etc. But what happens when you show up to the start line and find yourself overwhelmed, unable to focus, and distracted by what your competition is doing?

What if you had a plan for what to do before you rolled up the starting line? 

This past year I had a big goal: a masters world championship title on the track. Thankfully I had a bunch of races throughout the summer to keep me motivated so the interval and intensity part of the performance equation pretty much took care of itself. I knew that to perform my best on a particular day, I would have to turn up my mental game several notches. So I read, a lot. In the month leading up to worlds, I read a chapter out of "Thinking Body, Dancing Mind" by Jerry Lynch, everyday. It provided an amazing foundation of what to think about before, during and after competition. 

The areas I paid particular attention to included narrowing down my pre-game ritual, truly being in the moment (critical for maximum performance during the pursuit, where you can win or loose by the slimmest of margins), and gratitude for the process. 

For my pre-game ritual, I created a Dee-Lite pandora station, complete with Jamarquoi, Bobby Brown and other funky, upbeat music to listen to while I warmed up on the rollers. (Yes, I admit I just dated myself.) I had a lot of practice out at the Boulder Valley Velodrome this summer as we did several time trials so I got to see if that music was going to work. The moment I put my head phones on and started my 38 minute warmup, I allowed myself to get in the right head space. I will say this about track: it is the most painful and yet rewarding experience I've ever had on two wheels. Tricking your mind into believing everything is going to be alright is how I've learned to cope with the pain of going full gas all the way to the finish line. "Groove Is In the Heart" assured me that everything was going to be okay.

On race day, I listened to my favorite music and lined up for the individual pursuit on the back straight - smashing my previous personal record in the 2k pursuit by 7 seconds, securing bronze. (Just a mere 4 seconds off of the winners pace - I now have a new goal for 2018!)

Bronze medal in the 2k Pursuit. Photo by Craig Huffman. 

Bronze medal in the 2k Pursuit. Photo by Craig Huffman. 

While the pursuit is a calculated effort, the mass start events are much more tactical and require quick wit and punchy accelerations. I studied my competition from the previous year's worlds (thanks to some video recordings available on YouTube) and knew that the biggest contender had a habit of going 1.5 laps from the finish.  I can't stress enough how important it is to know your competition and stack the odds in your favor in order to beat them.  

During the scratch race, I positioned myself well - near the front and anticipating "the move." Yet when my competitor went, I was a half pedal stroke behind and though closing in on her at the finish, I wasn't able to catch. Rather than dwell on what could have been different, I came up with a game plan on how to beat her in the points race. 

They say success is 99% failure. I applied the lessons I learned from the scratch race and came to the start line focused on the task at hand. Yes, I listened to my pre-race Dee Lite music and I was in a great mindset going into the points race. I studied my competition and she had competed in the sprint tournament earlier that morning and was obviously fatigued. With Ben (my husband and coach) trackside, I watched and listened for his cues and also paid attention to my own intuition on when to make the move for the intermediate sprints. I attacked, countered, used bike throws, and timing to perform the best of my ability, clinching a world title in the women's 35-39 points race. 

I attribute this win to a lot of factors: great coaching, an amazing support network, and starting with my original intention of performing my best and honing my mental game. The velodrome can be a pressure cooker. Having a pre-game ritual can really calm the nerves and get you in tune with the battle you're able to fight. Whether you race on the track, in cyclocross, mountain biking or road - if you don't already have a pre-race routine, now is a great time to think about what you'd like yours to look like. And here's to a great 2018 season!

It's an honor to hear your National anthem standing on the top step. Photo credit: Craig Huffman

It's an honor to hear your National anthem standing on the top step. Photo credit: Craig Huffman

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