The mental work you put into your preparation is as valuable as the physical work. 2018 XCO Elite World Champion, Kate Courtney, shares some insight into her racing head space and what she does to prepare for unexpected challenges in a XC race.

For Kate Courtney’s full interview check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 272.

Rising to the Occasion

World Champion Kate Courtney was leading the 2019 Elite Women’s race in Albstadt, Germany by 23 seconds when she crashed on a slick wooden feature. From the small glimpse you could catch on TV the crash looked like a bad one. But honestly, if it hadn’t been for the race commentators exclamations or the mud on Kate’s kit, you might have never known that she had just taken a nasty fall. Kate pedaled away from that crash as if it had never happened and didn’t stop until she crossed the finish line in first place. It was her first ever world cup win.

Recovering From a Crash

If you’ve ever crashed during a race you may know how rattling it can be. Crashing can make you doubt your abilities and it might hurt your confidence enough to hinder the outcome of your race, but this doesn’t have to be the case. When something goes wrong it doesn’t mean your race is over.

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As Kate demonstrated in Albstadt, you can return from a mid race setback and pedal to victory. But as she herself will admit, it isn’t something that merely happens. Keeping your head in the race when something goes wrong takes mental resilience. That type of mentality comes with practice, planning, and intention.

Kate’s Mental Preparation

For Kate Courtney, mental training and preparation isn’t an afterthought or an oversight. In fact, it’s something she puts a lot of time and effort into. When referring to her mental preparation Kate says “I spend a lot of time analyzing races, making strategies. I have mantras for every event.”

When Kate crashed she knew exactly where her thoughts needed to be because she had already planned for it before the race. “In that moment when I did crash it was something I had thought through.” Kate says. When she crashed she knew she couldn’t allow thoughts like “It’s not your day” or “It was too good to be true” creep into her mind. Instead she veered her thoughts back towards the process and began to think of ways she could improve her riding and race to a win in those remaining laps.

Kate says her overarching mantra for this race was to ride like she deserved to win. When she crashed, it was a reminder to herself that she was beginning to ride complacently, and that maybe she wasn’t riding as if she deserved victory. This mindset allowed her to reframe the crash as something constructive, not something negative.

Managing Pressure

In addition to the mental prep she puts directly into each race, Kate also makes it a point to approach her whole season with the same level of focus and intent. Going into the 2019 season Kate had won the 2018 World Championship, but was yet to win a world cup. With a new team, the rainbow jersey on her back, and some external skepticism that her Worlds win was a one time thing, Kate felt there was definitely pressure to win that first world cup.

But instead of drawing her motivation from her skeptics or the outside pressure, Kate was intentional about where her motivation came from. She drew motivation from her personal aspirations, the supportive people around her, and the new and exciting challenge ahead. Instead of looking at the Albstadt world cup as something she had to win, Kate framed it as something she really wanted to win.

Racing from a place of positivity and strength is a powerful strategy, and it reinforced all the mental work that went into the season. Instead of looking panicked and rushed after her crash, Kate looked like she had a plan, and in the end the crash didn’t hold her back. Instead of just maintaining the 23 second lead she had before the crash, Kate added to it and won by over a minute.

Practice Your Own Mental Fortitude!

Mindset is an important aspect of racing no matter the level of the event. Like Kate, you can create your own mental game plans and practice racing from a place of positivity. Working on your approach and reinforcing a healthy mindset can help you ride faster, race better, and foster a better relationship between you and your sport.

For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.