Climbing! As we move into the mountain stages of the Tour de France, this Mental Skills Minute will be focused on climbing. If you are filled with dread every time you approach a climb, you are burning matches that you are going to need in order to make it over the top. Stop wasting matches and use these tips to work on your mental game during a climb.
- Stop saying you’re not a climber. In cycling we like to put people into categories. Are you a climber? A sprinter? A GC rider? What box can I fit you in? Many cyclists therefore define themselves as “not a climber”. By definition you are setting yourself up to have a tough time up that climb. Although it may be true that you aren’t as strong as other cyclists on the climb and in in fact you hate climbing, but when it comes to the mental fortitude it takes to get up a climb to the best of YOUR ability, you need to stop saying you’re not a climber.
- Know the climb. Take the time to pre-ride the climbs. If you can’t pre-ride, then drive the course. Your expectations of how hard the climb will be is part of what regulates your effort on that climb. If suddenly, the climb is harder than you thought it would be, your brain tells your body to back off. In that moment, you suddenly feel like you are working a hundred times harder simply because your brain is having to adjust to the new expectations. When the reality is different than the expectation it’s like a gap has opened up and now you have to work even harder (mentally and physically) to close that gap.
- Getting past getting passed.You could be feeling great on a climb and then get passed by another cyclist (that seems to be actually enjoying the climb) and in that moment your confidence unravels. Don’t let your confidence get shaken when you get passed. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing on the climb. They are doing what they need to do to get up the climb. What they are doing is out of your control and has nothing to do with you. Race your race and climb your climb. Keep your focus on you and stay in the moment – what do you need to do in this moment to get through this part of the climb successfully?
- Break up the climb. Sometimes you can help yourself stay in the moment by breaking up the climb into segments. This can be an especially effective tool if you are working harder than you expected or if the climb is harder than expected. Instead of time traveling into the future and wondering how in the world you are going to get up this entire climb, just focus on pedaling to the next tree or the next corner. Once you get a bike length past your chosen point, choose another point and just focus on getting there and before you know it you’ll be on the descent.
- Know your focus. When you are putting out a big effort on a climb, you need to know ahead of time where you want your focus to be in order to get up that climb to the best of your ability. Focusing techniques like the ones explained in the video – using imagery and counting pedal strokes – will help keep you moving forward when your brain and body are screaming at you to quit.
Relax about the climb. When you are stressed and tense about climbing, you are going to have a miserable climb. You are in control of your mental approach on the climb. Take the time to prepare mentally and you will be a better climber!