As a professional cycling coach and mountain bike racer, I get to see many different approaches to the challenge of racing bicycles. By spending time with riders of all abilities, from aspiring pros to “back-of-the-pack” racers—and being a rider in both positions—I have gleaned several differences in the ways the pros plan, make daily choices, build relationships and stay motivated that have huge effects on their cycling performance. Here are three (highly successful) habits the pros practice that you should consider adopting:
1. Learn how to create a flexible training and racing plan.
Successful riders have a plan that guides their daily habits, choices and actions. Some riders have used years of experience to figure out what works for their training, travel, nutrition and social practices. Some have coaches or other experts they receive objective feedback from. The plan should and does change so that it continues to lead them toward their goals.
Less successful athletes will won’t have a plan, or they will not follow a plan consistently for long enough. They often “go with the flow” and end up training moderately hard, missing out on the benefits of well-executed high intensity workouts and appropriate volume and recovery. This haphazard training also typically lacks feedback from a coach or training metrics, making it difficult to see progress, improvement and ways to improve.
2. Make smart choices that support your training and racing goals.
Outside of training, athletes without without a plan end up arriving late to practices and course previews, and rush to jam in a proper workout into their hectic schedules. Rather than trying to cram extra social stuff in, miss sleep, then add in extra training on the weekend, pros plan their daily training first. They go to bed at a decent, consistent hour; buy healthy food; keep their bikes running well; and train daily according to their overall plans.
While not every athlete can afford to miss a week of work while they get massages and preview a race course for a week, planning out your vacation time and travel plans so that key races are supported with relaxed travel and proper recovery can make a huge difference. That is not to say pros do not enjoy some social time weekly or that they won’t indulge at the occasional party or dinner, but the difference is these are treats that allow them to maintain extra focus on their goals the majority of the time.
3. Discover what motivates you personally to keep riding, and focus on that.
When training and racing is not going well, the best riders use a strong internal motivation to continue working hard toward their goals. While the very best need to want to win, they also must have a reason to train monotonously for many hours.
Examples of internal motivation include simple enjoyment of riding a bike, personal improvement and social fulfillment. If you talk to a rider when his racing or training is not going well, you can get a good sense of his intrinsic motivation. You might hear him a cyclist who’s personally invested and devoted to the sport—someone with intrinsic motivation—talk about a rough patch as being part of a process and that requires time to resolve, and there will be confidence in his voice. A rider with high extrinsic (external) motivation will generally not endure slumps well—this can greatly affect the length of the rider’s career, and will definitely affect his ability to be his best.
Whatever your stage in racing, ensuring that you have a goal-directed plan, prioritize your training, and find enjoyment or fulfillment in the act of training will help you achieve your best results.
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