Mental vs physical failure

I did a race today where I made the winning break of 6, but I was definitely on the rivet, and missing pulls. After about a lap and a half (4.5 miles laps) I felt like I blew and they rode away. I can’t shake the feeling that if I’d been tougher, or could have ignored the distance I’d have to hang in there, I could have kept turning the pedals. To put it another way, maybe a different brain in my body could have just gritted it out.

How do you distinguish between physical failure that there’s nothing you can do anything about and mental weakness masquerading as physical failure? For context, I’ve been racing for a long time now and race as a Masters cat 3.

Hate to break it to you, but the brain will almost always break before the body.

Good news is that there are TONS of tactics & strategies to side-step this evolutionary circuitry. I’m sure you’ll receive many examples.

A personal ‘go to’: chunking. Whatever your frame of reference is, break it down into very small chunks (e.g. 5 seconds). Rinse & repeat.

Happy suffering.


What I understand as physical failure is for example what happened to me today. I went for a tough group ride with the usual suspects, and did something I had never done before, 4 hours at 250 watts normalised, power record for 6 minutes of 343 watts and every hill above 300 watts.
I was so stoked and happy for my great shape, I was even still feeling really good after 4 hours but nevertheless both my legs suddenly blew up in a glorious spectacular fashion: I started getting insanely strong cramps in the quads+hamstrings simultaneously (and again both legs at the same time!), it was not the kind of cramp you can still pedal and will eventually ease off. It was a legendary implosion, I had to dismount and literally could not walk or do anything from the pain for 10 minutes I just standed next to my bike, nearly shouting in agonising pain.
This was my body saying enough after a stimulus I had not made it cope with before.
On the other hand when I drop because the pace is very uncomfortable for very long, let’s say up a hill, I am afraid it is indeed my mind just giving up.


Reading your post, it’s clear you have experience and no doubt, you know you.

Me personally, I accept that sometimes it just isn’t there. Be that the will to push (suffer) or my general condition. If I find myself in a position like you’ve described and I’m on the edge, I’ll mentally and physically commit for 30 seconds. You can pretty much do anything for 30 seconds. If I get through that 30, I’ll try and commit for another 30 seconds. I find that breaking it down into manageable chunks really helps.

Of course I can’t do this indefinitely. If I’m not able to settle in and get a rhythm to my breathing, or the pace continues to ramp up, I’ll drop off. Depending on where you are in the race, it’s not always the worst option.