Training Mental Toughness for Long Efforts

Hello, TR! Great product, great community. 5 Stars and the bar by which I measure all other platforms.

I am training for the Climb to Kaiser which is a California road race of 150mi with 15K feet of climbing. Really, most of the climbing is within a 60mi block of the course. I am on this training plan: SSB 1/2 (repeating 2), Sustained Power Build then Century Specialty and I am confident that this will get me to where I need to be physiologically. However, I am concerned about the mental strength and how I can train that for such a long event. I dont want to end up in those dark places where I start questioning why I even own a bike (or six). “Why do I suck so much…?”, etc

Mental toughness is talked about in SSB when doing VO2max intervals but in the context of shorter duration efforts. What recommendations do you have with regards to training mental fortitude for long distance riding like this?

Thank you.



What works for me is breaking down the effort into small chunks, so it’s not 15,000 ft of climbing, it’s just one hill ridden at a fairly low to sustainable intensity. got that done? great, now it’s just the next hill, and so on and so on.

I would also do some outside days in training where I do a lot of cycling and a lot of climbing. I will do at least one ride of 200km/3500m climbing during training for my A race. This gives me the confidence that I can replicate it on the day


For me its breathing. A way of meditation. I will concentrate on my breath, deep and slowly. Loosening all my face muscles, arms and so on. And just breathing. That helps me to get through the dark valley and to see the light 2 or 5 minutes later. It does not always work. Sometimes its just suffering and knowing that my legs are not the ones who a crying - they can do it, so can I.

I haven’t ever done a race like this but I have done some self imposed 12 hours time trials for fun (350km ish). My experience with longer stuff like this is that you’ll probably question your sanity and why you do it at some point. I found that pre ride you need to accept that everything sucks some of the time and that you’ll be uncomfortable and just be okay with it knowing that it’ll pass and the good times will come back. As above though, break stuff down in to smaller blocks helps so so much.

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You WILL end up in those dark places, it’s unavoidable. You’re likely to revisit those dark places several times throughout the ride. However, train for them, anticipate their arrival, and build mantras and experiences to draw upon. You will get through them, but you don’t want your first visit to be the day of the Climb to Kaiser.

I’d get in some long rides outside and on the trainer. I just did Mount Alice yesterday on the trainer (3:30 duration with 164 TSS). Though the workout wasn’t super physically draining, mentally it was difficult.

Compared to suppression, acceptance reduces the unpleasantness of pain without reducing the pain itself. “This is going to hurt, but no worse than before”. “Mental toughness does not consist of any kind of superhuman imperiousness to pain and fatigue. Instead it takes the form of a steadfast refusal to accept in oneself that wimp that exists in all of us.” (How Bad Do You Want It - by Matt Fitzgerald)

Be comfortable being uncomfortable.


This is a good point. And it becomes easier to deal with these once you have experience of similar rides to fall back on.

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This very much. My main training goals focus on Ironman racing and in any long race as @MI-XC says you will go there otherwise you’re probably doing it wrong.

Embrace it, look forward to it, because that’s when the real racing starts, separates the competitors from the finishers and it’s when your abilities will shine as the others fade away :muscle::facepunch:

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@Josh_Willis, I’m sure you’ve seen this video, but I’ll throw it out for those who haven’t been introduced to the VC and it will also put some context related to the Climb to Kaiser ride… (race).


When “I” hit those dark places, I know I need to eat. My brain is hungry and screaming for glucose. Took me several events to realize what the body was telling me. I still forget. Easy to do.

You will need to practice for such a long event. Not the entire distance, but 50-60 mile rides will put you into that dark place easy enough. Learn to recognize the symptoms and what works to counter them.

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The VC “won” the Kaiser Fondo but he was so wasted after that he could barely talk/think/walk/etc.

It might help during the ride to remind yourself that EVERYONE will be suffering like a dog —even the guy who comes in first.

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A dark place in your mind IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT TO BE…

I was driving to New Orleans for a Full Marathon when I got a call about a young man that I knew well. The call was to tell me that he had cancer, and they were going to do a very aggressive treatment. Days before I had another friend that had fought and lost to the same cancer. All this news put me in a dark place, when I lined up for the race all I could think of was a friend that I just lost and another that I was going to lose soon.

I began to run, set my pace and the more I thought the more emotions that crept in. 11 miles into the race I broke my left foot jumping a pot hole and I slowed my pace preparing to stop when I thought to myself. Neither of my friends had the choice to stop, 1000’s of other people that had health issues could not stop. How could I let something so simple stop me, hell I had a choice didn’t I ?

I never stopped running until I crossed the finish line at 26.2 miles , walked straight to the St. Judes tent and looked at the kids, their parents and all I could see is some of the strongest people I could ever hope to meet.

Whenever you feel darkness starting to creep in, just realize that what you doing at that moment , how you feel IS NOTHING to what others have no choice in dealing with and they CANT STOP.

Fuel your soul with that and push to places that darkness will never reach…


If you don’t mind reading, I really enjoyed Matt Fitzgerald’s “How Bad Do You Want It”. It dives deep into exaples of how much power the mind has over the body, and how you can work to increase your mental toughness and Grit.


This is already a dangerous mindset to start with. Long distance racing is a dark place. Unavoidable. Accept it.

Find your motivation, what drives you. Why do you want to do it? Always remember this.

Practise, practise, practise. Read up on all those mental strategies and pick those which drive you. Practise them in training. Every time. May it be short memes or focus techniques. Or whatever. Practise them in every workout. I’m a big “focus” person, dragging my attention back into the moment. Especially when it hurts.

There are so many interesting sources out there, for example this:

Practise, practise, practise. And don’t be afraid, a dark place can become a wonderful flow state.But at some point it’s always just suffering. That’s simply part of the game. Accept this.


Definitely pick up Fitzgerald’s “How Bad Do You Want It” like Bryce suggested. It’s an awesome book and you will pick up a ton of useful and practical information.

For me, it’s all about nutrition. I can be hurting, the weather can be terrible, I can be beyond fatigued, but if I’m on top of nutrition I can get through A LOT. And vice versa, everything can be “perfect” but if I haven’t been eating enough I go to a really dark place and I can get to the point where I want to get off the bike and throw it in a ditch.

For races (70.3s for me) and outdoor rides my Garmin gives me an alert every 10 min on the bike. That’s my “eat something now” reminder. Even if it’s a single Clif blok or bite of a bar, or whatever. It also helps to break up the distance and I get a mini-refocus moment.

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Perhaps I missed the obvious but, for me long rides with a bit of climbing would be on the schedule. Maybe 1 ride/week and build each week so I was comfortable with around 100-125 miles and 10K climbing.

If nothing else you will learn what nutrition works or not late in the game. You may learn your insoles that worked fine for 5 hour rides don’t work so good at hour 8. You’ll learn that going over xxx watts early will cost you xxx watts later. So many good things happen on the trainer but, it shouldn’t be a substitute for long miles.

Mentally, doing those long rides each week will prepare you better than anything. When you hit a wall ask yourself what is the alternative? Many times just the fact that you talk to yourself you can talk yourself out of quitting. Focus on turning the pedals over; focus on nutrition; and focus on the finish.

Finally, if none of this works, think about how blessed you are to be doing this. Many are riddled with disease, fighting cancer or just mired in poverty and never get the opportunity. Maybe hokey but, it’s the way I think when times get tough.



Assuming it’s all about “being tough” is missing this crucial part of endurance events. Your moods, everyone’s moods, are greatly affected by the available nutrition.

Your body needs to be prepped for the exercise but also know that food and water is coming, and will keep coming to meet the demand. Otherwise, quite rightly, it’ll start telling you to stop.

@Josh_Willis the C2K is on my bucket list, maybe next year. I started road biking 3 years ago, and targeted the 15K / 123 mile DeathRide 2016. Our club had a series of century rides to prepare you for DR or Davis Double century, I wasn’t able to do all 10 rides however this was my progression that gave me the mental toughness to finish DR:

  • Feb 20 century in Napa 5,361’
  • Apr 16 Folsom to Dutch Flat 8,757’
  • May 13 flat century 3,941’
  • May 28 Cisco to Mt Rose 8,591’
  • June 25 Carson Pass 10,813’
  • July 9 DeathRide 15,423’

That progression of increasingly difficult climbing rides was crucial in helping me nail nutrition/hydration strategy, and building the mental toughness as a new road cyclist. The DR is maybe a little easier to break down, as you focus on a single climb at a time (5 total). Looking at C2K profile, I’d break it down into 3 major climbs and treat it that way.

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Just to emphasis the excellent points made above, the only way to can learn to cope with those feelings is by experiencing them. It’s no different from physical training to improve muscular endurance in that respect.

Also a big +1 to Bryce’s book suggestion

You all are awesome! Thanks for the comments and for correcting some of my bad assumptions.

This week I’ll be planning out a schedule for climbing the major segments on the route. Ive done a few centuries, even one in the Fresno heat so I am somewhat familiar with the distance.

I’ve really enjoyed reading through all of your experience. I’ll take all this to heart and use it to frame out my approach.

You people are awesome!



How bad it might get I think in large part depends on how fast you plan to ride it - If you ride to the max of your abilities vs. ride with friends, take, breaks, etc.

I did a 150 mile gravel ride over the summer with about 12k feet of climbing. A non-race pace with friends. I stayed positive throughout, and felt tired afterwards, but not too bad. Compared to Leadville where i was suffering on the later, tougher sections, and was destroyed afterwards.

No matter how bad it gets during the ride, in the future when you look back on it you’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment, and will be glad you did it. That’s one of the things that motivates me for long rides - when it’s all done, it’ll feel great. Another is to enjoy the experience along the way. Take time to look around and take in the scenery. It distracts you from the pain you might be feeling :grin: