Mental investment in racing

TLDR, I have two questions:

a) Is it part of the process that sometimes you just aren’t feeling the race, and quit?

b) How can I change my mindset to not to quit?

I’ve been (over)thinking yesterdays race. Now, this was a highly attritional MTB Marathon race new in trail geography in the UK, at 70km with 1900m of climbing. The arena was at the bottom of a “bowl” and the trails wound up and down the outside of the “bowl” crossing the arena twice for a 17KM lap meaning no flat trails at all. Secondly, the lower forest trails were a mud bath with sticky deep mud, hidden roots and a lot of walking/sliding. Only 50% of the field finished. My point is, it was hard at an average of 9mph. But it was an A event prior to my annual goal 12hr on July 31. I’ve been consistent and successful in training for it which adds to the guilt.

For me personally I coiuldnt get a flow, felt slow, and mentally got so frustrated with mud/dismounting/sliding that I quit after 2 laps an 2h:35 realising it would be about 5:30hrs race before I finished - at that point I was happy to let go. As I travelled home I realised I’d invested the cost of the travel, event, camping, food, wasted bottles and time in the event only to “waste it”.

Perhaps as a slight mitigation I had a very stressful week at work in the midst of which was an argument with my wife which left a strain over a few days, so perhaps I just want able to cope.

So, was I wrong/right and how to fix it, I’d love to hear the benefit of your experience!

If not feeling an event pre race and you really didn’t want to start to begin with then there is no reason to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

Now, if you are into it at the start and you quit because you just aren’t feeling it mid race then you might be making it easier on yourself to bail out next time a race starts to suck.

Races always suck at some point for everyone.

Edit to add: I’m generally an FOP AG overall 70.3 and IM athlete. 2 months ago I raced and it was going absolutely awful - awful to the point of I rode the same 56 mile course 10 minutes slower than I typically do on the same course and 14 minutes slower than my PR on the same course. I got to transition 2 and barked some impolite things towards my wife about never ever racing again - it was that bad. I walked out of transition and shut my watch off on the run course and figured I was walking 13 then getting drunk. Decided I’d run just to get it over with faster - I felt fine so I just kept it rolling with no pace splits at all - at mile 8 I looked at my fenix 6 to see what time it was and then looked again at mile 10 - holy shit, only 12:10 passed, wtf - kept running hard and I finish with a 1:21 half marathon. You know what my 70.3 run PR was prior to that? 1:25. Point being, you never know what will come in a long day.


For races,
Before hand, I just don’t let myself have the choice.
I’m not going to quit unless my bike and body won’t let me continue. I’m essentially all-in except for a broken bone at catastrophic mechanical.
I think from a practical point of view, Courage and Grit takes a lot of practice. The more experience you have the more obstacles/challenges you will have overcome in the past and the larger the ‘grit bank’ you can have to reference and tell yourself that you CAN do it even though it’s hard. It’s actually supposed to be hard :slight_smile:

I have been competing in one sport or another from a young age so I have a lot of experience to draw from eg I bonked hard in a iron distance race but was able to continue and finish strong. I had stomach issues one time but was able to get through etc etc. I think about those times when I’m struggling in the moment.

It also helps to remember how amazing it will feel to get to the end despite the struggle and actually embrace the journey of misery to accomplishment. It’s part of it and gives you the endorphins/happy emotions at the finish line!!

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"Let’s face it, we all quit stuff. Sometimes quitting is the best option – quitting a bad relationship, quitting a job that makes you miserable, quitting midway through a training session or race because of an injury pain or a crash, etc.

Sometimes quitting is the brain’s way of saying, “I care about you. You deserve better.” I call these Legit Quits . When it comes to your training and racing habits, legit quits should be extremely rare. Why? Because the events that cause them are rare: injury pain, sickness, mechanical problems, and even unforeseen emergencies at home or work. Legit quits arise mostly from events not in your control. But this blog isn’t about legit quits, it’s about a far more common type of quitting among athletes: the Sht Quit. You know you’ve experienced a sht quit because it equates to mentally throwing in the towel and then having some level of guilt, regret, or annoyance about it. Sh*t quits are when we bail, soft pedal, sit up, cancel, leave early, or otherwise wimp out for no apparent reason other than you couldn’t be arsed any more.

When faced with a sh*t quit, some athletes try to pretend it’s legit. After all, no one aspires to wimp out or wants a reputation as the athlete who folds when the going gets tough. In brain world, holding opposing thoughts is called cognitive dissonance and your head hates it. So, what does it do? It tries to rationalize the quit to restore internal equilibrium: the comfort that comes from knowing your thoughts match your actions. Your mind spins more wild tales about why your actions were justified. Heck, you even start believing it! If you get into a habit of quitting, your brain becomes weaker at resisting it and your frontal cortex has to dig deeper to rationalize why the quit was justified. Welcome to the land of excuses."

Good read:


Worth a watch. Not everyone is Lionel Sanders though.


The relatability of this to workouts is real. I find that if I pull the plug on an interval and do a backpedal even if it’s for 10 seconds, I’m am many times more likely to do another backpedal before the workout is over. It’s like I’ve given myself permission and after that, I can’t take it back.

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EVERY DAMN RACE - until 20 min into it. I then learned to warm up for at least 21 min before every race.

I wouldn’t feel guilty at 50% of the field finishing. I have felt guilty when I didn’t go to a race just to see most people quit.

FInd a small ‘process goal’ over the next few days to get the confidence back up and put this in the rearview.

Reminds me of the sunk cost fallacy.

I would have quit LONG before 2 hours. And I rarely ever quit a race.

Reminder to self: Stay in southern California :joy:

Personally, when it gets tough and it does get tough at some point, I break things down into manageable chunks. I set myself timeframes or use landmarks to check in with myself.

Last Sunday I raced my first RR in more than a year. There was a strong 80 rider field and I knew this race was more about finding my feet than challenging for points.

The course was rolling and I know it well. Two laps into the four lap race, I was feeling ‘ok’ but I knew that if we (the field) went up this short, super steep punch at the speed we’d gone the previous two laps, I was toast. So I moved up slowly and sat around 20th wheel. We hit the punch and what-do-you-know… the whole damn field was thinking the same thing! We rolled up the thing.

So long story short, I could have pulled the plug. I know that if the field had really hit this thing, my parachute was getting pulled. I made a slight effort to give myself the best opportunity to survive and at the end of all that, an element totally out of my control gave me the lifeline.

Don’t throw in the towel. You never know what the next 5-10 minutes will look like. Everyone is hurting, to some degree.

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Thanks for the resources and the advice, that’s very helpful, especially the Lional Sanders video - its a reminder to me that better riders than me also quit on the day.

As per pvolb I was surprised I was sitting in 53rd when I stopped at two laps, which should have been a sign because I usually pick up places the longer it goes on, but hey.

So, I’m using the Alex Wilde strategy of allowing myself yesterday to empty the emotional /overthinking content and moving on today. I start my next short block - just a recovery ride tonight - before a National 12hr on the 31st so now I’m using these lessons to make sure I finish that. Onward!


The type of quite you describe here appears to have absolutely nothing to do with fitness/training and is totally a mental thing, the argument with your wife appears key to me, whether you realise dor not that was almost certainly still lingering in your mind and no doubt disrupted the lead up to the event.
Personally this type of stress, whether external or self imposed in some way is what has led me to finally give up time trialling here in the UK. The thought of the prep the day before, the kit prep, the early to bed the night before, the milling around trying not to do too much on race day, travelling to the event, warming up, timing arrival at the start, all of these things just got too much in the end. I helped out at a time trial earlier this year and just seeing people arrive and heading out to the start was enough to make me realise I was so pleased I wasn’t part of the race. I’ve sold kit and the mental release has been palpable I have to say.

I used to race 40 to 50 times a year but over the last 10 years my mental health seems to have fluctuated in a way it never has during the first 45 years of my life.

Could this be happening to you? The feeling that you are a racing cyclist therefore you must race? I tried to convince myself for 4 years or so that I still wanted to race, now I realise that deep down I didn’t.

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I’m going to take the opposite direction here. We aren’t pros. We make no money doing this hobby. If you don’t want to participate in a 5+ hour race where you are muddy, cold, and generally miserable, it’s an ok choice.

I once did a race in the rain. I showed up and it was raining so I went to the start line and gave it a go. It was miserable. It was dangerous. My hands were numb and I was shivering at the end. I made a vow right there that I’d never start a race in the rain again. Why risk life and limb for a race nobody will remember in a week?

On the other hand, if you decide you want to crush the competition in these conditions then you need to go train in them frequently and then show up with a smile when the conditions are miserable. It’s how Mads Pedersen won his world championships. It was a race of attrition in cold and miserable conditions. Most of the favorites didn’t even finish. Personally, I wouldn’t want to suit up every time it’s raining and go out and train.


I don’t disagree with this. The only thing that’s important to keep tabs on if you go the route of pulling the pin mid race because it sucks outside (or whatever) is whether you have the mental make up to actually allow it to be a one time thing - you have to know yourself before going that route. Fact is, the slope is slippery once you start pulling the pin and most of us haven’t been forced to evaluate ourselves (athletically or personally) to a level that will allow us to know how we’ll act in the future.

The question I’m always trying to answer in situations like that is, can I live with the decision afterwards? If you do feel regrets coming on, don’t do it. If not, go ahead and do it.

There isn’t really much of a point in trashing yourself in a muddy slogfest MTB race when your A event is a long-distance road TT 3 weeks later.

I totally feel you on this.

I’m also into marathon MTB and sometimes the course is shite to say the least and sometimes you only find out after you have already registered for the event. Also terrain conditions can vary any time.

As I’m progressively starting to hate more and more the dismounting/walking, mud and alikes I also wonder whether I should switch to road racing which is growing on me.

So for me you must really love mtb in all its aspects to continue. On this, I think XC is better as you can learn the terrain and expect this to be in good conditions however it is a completely different game to other events and requires another type of preparation.

:smiley::smiley::smiley: I’m going the other way, have never been into off road stuff but recently bought a gravel bike with the sale proceeds of my TT kit and track bike. Like you I can’t stand even riding it through even a slightly damp patch (slight exaggeration) . However getting out in the middle of nowhere in beautiful weather has been a revelation.