By: VeloVixen | Author: Juliet Elliott
Date: 2019-02-14

How to stay positive cycling

Just because it’s hard, it doesn’t mean you suck. Sometimes we all need an attitude adjustment.

The power of positive thinking is real. And so is the power of negative thoughts.

The other day, as I entered the 50th kilometre of a long, cold training that I was finding pretty hard going, I noticed a lot of negative thoughts taunting me.

The really annoying, non-rational part of my brain that I sometimes struggle to get under control really turned up the volume as my energy level dipped and I found myself enduring what’s tantamount to a load of abuse about how crap I am… something I wouldn’t put up with from someone else.

Having just signed up to a 530km unsupported race, Tuscany Trail, I’m slowly upping the length of my rides in preparation.

Every time you think ‘I can’t,’ counter it with ‘I am.’

I’m not finding it easy.

I’m naturally suited to short, fast races, which is why I enjoy criterium so much and over the last few years I’ve grown accustomed to the kind of training that entails, thriving on a schedule packed with short, high intensity sessions. 

Making the switch in favour of long, steadier paced endurance races could in theory be pretty straight forward. However, I’m trying to maintain the training I’m doing for short, fast races whilst adding in the lengthy rides I need to do in preparing for Tuscany Trail.

It’s exhausting, yes, but it’s made all the harder by my attitude. I’ve decided that I’m not good at long rides/endurance stuff and I keep thinking ‘I can’t do this,’ and ‘I’m gonna suck.’ 

Why?

Because I’m finding things difficult and saying ‘I’m no good’ gives me an excuse for quitting and/or failing. 

After my awful ride last week, I decided I needed some time for a) resting and b) reflecting on what’s going on.

I also realised I needed to actually listen to some of the advice I’d probably give someone else in my situation. 

Telling yourself you’re rubbish can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A positive attitude can really affect performance.

Think ‘I am prepared.’ ‘I deserve to be here.’

I would never, ever verbalise any such nonsense on the start line of a crit - I’ve trained myself not to do it, such is the importance I give to a positive attitude.

So, what should I do about the demons haunting me as I prepare for a multi-day endurance race?

Focus on training my attitude just as much as I train my body. Negative self-talk is a bad habit that with a bit of work can be changed. The longer you allow it to control you, the more ingrained the attitude becomes.

Here’s my eight-point action plan for dealing with a ‘can’t do’ attitude. 

  • Every time you think ‘I can’t,’ counter it with ‘I am.’
  • Practice relaxation techniques that help counter pre-race nerves. Try mindfulness. Apps such as ‘Headspace’ can be really helpful.
  • Accept that bike racing and training can be hard and remember that’s precisely why you enjoy them.
  • Think of some affirmations such as ‘I’m strong and determined,’ or ‘I eat mountains for breakfast!’ Chant them daily (silently or not!) until they’re ingrained. Draw upon these affirmations when you’re struggling and say them, mantra like that focuses your mind away from negativity.
  • Remember all you have done to prepare for your event. Think ‘I am prepared.’ ‘I deserve to be here.’ ‘This is my time to enjoy the fruit of my hard work.’
  • Be proud and be grateful of your body. The idea of a gratitude diary might make you wince but studies show just how powerful they are. Choose three things per day and notice them, repeat them to yourself or write them in your training diary. How about ‘I’m proud of myself for completing all the intervals I was targetting,’ ‘I’m grateful for my strong legs,’ or even ‘I’m so lucky I have a healthy body and I’m able to ride a bike when I want.’ 
  • Focus on the experience, rather than the outcome. Remember why you are there. 
  • Recognise that negative thoughts are just that; thoughts. Thoughts are not reality.

I hope you find some of these ideas helpful. I’ll be trying extra hard this year to work on my mental strength and attitude – it’s a vital part of any athlete’s arsenal. Do you have any techniques for dealing with negativity? Let me know!