The Mental Game

I’m on my second athlete-centric book, ‘Endure’, (first was ‘How Bad Do You Want It?’). Obviously the big take away from these types of books is that the brain and mind are major factors in deciding performance, e.g. actual fatigue, perceived effort, etc.

My open question is: do you do any type of mental training and if so, what does it entail (above and beyond reading the popular books) and has it produced a measurable/material difference in your performances?

Thanks! :+1:


Race often. I did three crits today with the Pro1/2 being the last one. I’d be lying if I said it was easy (mentally). I covered very few moves and only made one break and it darn near spit me out the back when caught. Next number of laps were pure agony both mentally and physically.

Probably not what you’re looking for but, it’s all I’ve got. Whether or not doing these efforts produces a measurable difference in performance is debatable. But, if you want to get good at skiing, ski a lot. Surfing, surf a lot. Running, etc…

I Those long sweet spot slogs and over/unders are great mental training, IMO. The whole “this is going to be hard, but I can do this” thing from Fitzgerald works.

Agree with race often, too. I went from basketcase before a local sprint tris to calm and confident before A races with lots more experience. Having a solid race plan I can read through and “rehearse” helps too.

And then I remind myself that stuff isn’t going to go perfectly. It never does. Overcome and just keep going.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that up here in Canuckistan. We are bound by the Cat. on our licence and shall not cross lines! So, yeah, one race a day type thing.
And if you think RR is dying in the USA, in Canada it’s nothin’ but :cricket: :cricket: :cricket:

Yes and no. You’ll get better than a complete novice but unless you consciously practice the correct practices, you’ll never move past a level of ‘good enough’.

But has that experience translated into better performance? How do you separate the physical gains from more racing from the mental gains? Know what I mean? :man_shrugging:


It definitely has. I’ve experienced setbacks in races later in my career that would’ve totally derailed my effort, and I’ve simply moved through them and carried on. I execute my races now on my terms which leaves me in position to compete for wins where before I would not have. I go into the water knowing I’m not as fast as some other swimmers, but I can swim smart relative to the conditions and competition, conserve energy and beat them later instead of trying to burn all my matches keeping up with them.

I’m afraid this isn’t something that anyone is going to be able to put into golden cheetah and give you a graph of, so not sure what else you’re looking for. For me, there is no question the impact of my improved mental game is increased performance on race day and more enjoyment of my events.

1 Like

So “experience” might translate into better knowing your abilities, confidence of those abilities, and race craft.

That’s fair, but how do those things help you break through pain barriers or mental hurdles which might present themselves? Even world class pros who have perfected their abilities and confidence and race craft can still fail due to mental limitations.

Sure, that’s after the fact. What about handling difficult in-race events which might crop up?

I’ll peruse my local library for ‘Sports Psychology’ pubs. :+1:

You misunderstand. Setbacks like getting flipped by surf and hitting my head on the bottom, becoming disoriented and not knowing which way was the shore or even up. Instead of panicking, through calm, eliminating mental noise and practicing those over the years whether through some meditation or actively controlling conscious thought in training, I regrouped, continued, and won that race.

Setbacks like losing half my nutrition and liquid during an A race on the first lap of a four lap 56-mile bike leg, adjusting my plan to take on course nutrition, and still nailing my bike split and run.

Losing shoes, losing glasses, during an event without blinking and winning anyway.

Those are immediate examples where in years and races past I might’ve quit altogether, or certainly had my effort affected where through practicing calm and controlling self talk, I recovered to meet or even exceed goals where before I know I would have failed. I was wrapped up on expecting perfectly and when anything would go wrong, I’d suffer for it. No longer. And that took work.

Dan Millman’s fictional series Peaceful Warrior is great, and has helped frame the mindset I go for.

Perfect! :+1:

Interesting. Read that many years ago, maybe give it a re-read next weekend.


If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. -my mantra for all aspects of my life

And I derive that as bike language into, the pain I’m feeling right now is going to make me stronger. And it has helped immensely, both in training and racing. I seek that challenge now; the struggle is where real change occurs physically and mentally.


This stuff is intensely personal too. For the longest time, I listened to hard rock before races to get fired up. Then over time I figured out that being amped up wasn’t an issue, and in fact I was overdoing it. Now if I listen to anything, which I usually don’t, it’s mellow music. Normally, I don’t even want headphones. I want to absorb the race vibe. Once the gun goes off, I’m in it. That calm in advance of the race has really helped me too. But it took me several years and playing around with changes to figure that out, too.

1 Like

That’s something which @ambermalika mentioned in one of the podcasts – after training using both nutrition and music as triggers to flip the body over to the calm parasympathetic system. I would suspect it’s the same pre-race by not letting the sympathetic system redline before the gun even goes off.

As for the headphones and music, I’ve read that many high level athletes find music a distraction when performing at high intensities. I can relate; when I’m really having to focus on getting through a interval etc, music becomes more cognitive load (Amber, once again!).

An aside from the mental game, I’ve given some thought to training 6 days a week, esp with TR’s focus on SS/Z4, and how that effects the hormone et al balance (as Amber also mentioned). It might be just as, if not more, beneficial for me to take that extra day off for more rest, recovery, and balance. To work on the soft stuff, as it were.

1 Like

I played competitive rugby for years. I’d visualize all the things I wanted to do in games in various situations, and how I should react if such and such happens. And of course, the outcomes in all those visualizations was a successful one.

I found this trained me to want to win, so come game day, it was a forgone conclusion in my mind that I was going to outperform my opposite number. One of my favorite was thinking through how the guy opposite me would underestimate me because I wasn’t very big. This really got me in a mindset to prove myself.

I’m not competitive in cycling, but I still do these visualizations eg how to descend a tricky section on a certain trail, or when/where to eat during various races, etc. helps get my mind in the game come race/ride day.


One simple method might be to practice meditation. By this I mean the practice of centering your thoughts once your composure drifts off as it inevitably does. One method of meditation is repeatedly doing this over and over until you become much calmer and settle the mind. I’ve found myself doing it mid race and getting back into focusing on the job in hand instead of letting my mind wander and finding myself at the back.
Might not help you win, but it’s a start.

1 Like

I’ve never thought about it as training really but I do a lot of thinking about race situations as @DaveWh describes.

I do this regarding physical things - for me in triathlon it might be how I’m going to approach different parts of the race. Transitions particularly which I run through in the days before and a few minutes before actually arriving in transition during the race.

I also go through responses to feelings, how I’m going to react 4 hours into the bike ride when I’m fatiguing and have had enough. Generally there’s a particular part of the course, a hill or incline late in the course where it’s easy to switch off as the going gets tough and I make sure to think about everybody else going backwards and me embracing the challenge.

Similarly in long distance racing I have specific trigger points where it’s time to refocus. IFor example, n my mind everything up to halfway through the marathon is just a warm up. There aren’t many still ‘racing’ by that point and that’s the time to shine! For me I know it’s going to hurt, but I’m the one looking forward to that moment and wanting it to happen. Obviously it’s all N=1 stuff but I’m pretty sure that how I mentally view those times and moments can improve my races by reframing them in positive way.

I’ve never really thought of it as training though. Just something I might think about while staring at nothing in particular on the trainer, while out running or while enjoying a cup of coffee on the sofa in the lead up to a race.

The main thing I’ve learned from reading these kind of books is that the subconscious part of the brain is way more proficient at executing skills than doing it consciously. So in races I try my best to switch off the conscious side of the brain from focusing too much on technique and trust the technique I’ve ingrained in training (easier said than done, especially if you’re technically mined :grimacing:).

There’s an interesting part in Endure where he discusses a study in which pain tolerance increased way more in a group performing high intensity training when compared to a group performing more steady state training. I think his quote was something along the lines of “if you want to get better at pain tolerance the type of training you do matters… you need to learn to suffer”. I try and approach VO2 Max intervals now with that in mind… “this is something I can draw on in races when it gets tough”.

I think it’s also in Endure where he mentions TTE being improved in those where subliminal images of smiling faces were flashed on a screen. So yeah, I try to rememeber to try and actually enjoy the races I do :slight_smile:

I’ve seen you mention in another thread about having “The Brave Athlete” in your queue (great book). Something else you’d probably really enjoy is Peak Performance by Steve Magness & Brad Stulberg.

I like that - succint and to the point

1 Like

One thing that’s worked well for me in Mindfulness. It’s not for everyone, but if it clicks it can be a very powerful tool.

I tried out the Headspace app recently… it’s actually really good.

1 Like

Music is key for me during tough trainer sessions, but it has to be music I know, it can’t be new stuff. New stuff adds to cognitive load. Old playlists I’ve played hundreds of times really help me. I’ve got go to songs for final intervals and such where I don’t really even hear it, but it’s there, it’s going and it isn’t helpful.

Apart from just gaining experience the best lesson I ever learned was bonking/hitting the wall spectacularly in race 20km from the end.

I was convinced I was 100% finished and was determined to get into the first sweep vehicle that came past, amateur racing with lots of groups so they we’re a long way back. It was flat-ish and I could just turn the pedals, slowly and managed to keep them turning despite my brain saying enough, legs were screaming in pain. No sweep vehicles came past.
By the time I got a few km’s from the end I realised I might as well carry on and finish. The finish was up hill and nearly killed me. I literally crossed the line and laid/fell down at the side of the road.

I’m in no way blowing my own trumpet but it was a great lesson on the brain giving up before your body does. It took an hour to cover that 20km and I don’t want to experience that again.