Timeless Mental Tips for Mountain Bike Racing

While cleaning out my office the other day, I came across an excerpt of interview tips from my M.A. thesis. While studying at the University of Ottawa over the summer of 2000, I conducted interviews with ten of the best cross-country mountain bike racers in Canada at the time. The bikes may have evolved big time in the last 14 years, but I believe their advice and mental strategies are timeless. All of the athletes (men and women) were Canadian National Team Members at the time with several years of experience at the international level including World Cup and World Championship races. Four of the athletes are Olympians.Some have moved on from mountain biking, most are still enjoying the sport in one form or another, and one in particular is still racing strong at the top of the sport. Can you guess who? 🙂 To read the full published article, entitled “Focusing for Excellence: Lessons from Elite Mountain Bike Racers” click here.

Plate #23 at the tender age of 23 - Geoff at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he placed 9th Credit: Tom Hanson (www.olympic.ca)

Plate #23 at the tender age of 23 – Geoff at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he placed 9th Credit: Tom Hanson (www.olympic.ca)

1. Focus in Mountain Biking

“Focusing to me would mean concentrating upon the race coming up in the immediate future and just picturing yourself having a good performance. For me, positive thinking helps quite a bit”

“Focus to me is pretty general. If you’re focusing on an upcoming mountain bike race, you try to get your rest, you try to eat well, try and check out the course, work on any difficulties you are having with the course”

2. Staying Positive in Races

“I find that to help focus it is good to have key words that you remember. By using them in training it helps you to remember them during the race so you can key on a word that helps you to spin, reminds you to attack, that you are strong, that you love to climb, these kinds of things”

“As the race goes on, in the technical I’m trying to just relax. I talk to myself all the time, ‘relax’, ‘look ahead’, and ‘let it go’. I say these things to myself all the time”

3. Using Mental Imagery

“I visualize whenever I am just sitting around. I think about all the different parts of the course and how I’m going to ride them, go through the feelings I’m going to have before the race and at the start. Like just picturing staying relaxed and not getting upset if things are not going the way I want them to. I try to see how I’m going to start knowing and that its going to be harder at the end of the race and so I get ready for that”

“I visualize the first lap if I know the course, if I know what it looks like, just to visualize myself (doing it) ahead of time so its not like an alien situation that I’m suddenly in and it becomes stressful”

4. Race Focus Plans

“When I’m pre-riding the course usually I decide what areas are good for attacking, standing up, sitting down, doing certain things with the bike, going smooth, all these things. And then it’s just a matter of reminding myself before the race starts and then remembering that during the race. And even different strategies per lap, how hard I’m going to push, deciding what the goal of the first lap is going to be, second, third, fourth, and following through on that”

5. Refocusing

Flat Tire: “What I’ve learned is that you have to start back slowly, not to go crazy right off the bat getting your legs huge and full of lactate. So you just start easy again and try to be relaxed about it. Okay, I’ve lost so many positions but hopefully I can come back. You have to try and look at it in a positive way like I just got a rest, I had something to drink, stretched out, I don’t know. No there’s really no positive way to look at getting a flat tire but you can try”

Crashes: “I think you expect to fall especially in some muddy races and that’s usually not a problem. Its only the unexpected crashes which just kind of catch you by surprise which can kind of knock the wind out of you. But normally I’m so focused on keeping going that you can just bounce back up and get right back into it. Its only if you knock the wind out of yourself, or hurt yourself really badly for the first couple of minutes it’s a little harder to keep pressing forward. You just kind of have to keep your rhythm going until you start feeling normal again. And then you can get back into pushing harder”

6. Post-Race Evaluation

“After the race I think it’s important to look back on your race. If you had a really good race it’s really important to look back and see what you did well. Even if you did do well (had a good result), maybe you performed poorly and everyone else performed even worse. Even if you won, you still may have been able to improve on things. And then if you didn’t do well in the race, (it’s important to think about) your perception that things went badly, why was it that you didn’t do well. Was it your focus? Was it what you ate? Was it the course? Maybe the course wasn’t right. Were you too excited? Things like that. Or maybe it was just that you did have a good ride but your placing was really bad. There are so many things involved. I think it’s important to go back and look at it. But I also think that has to be done quickly and then to move on. Get information from it and use it but move on”

7. Improving Mental Focus/Confidence

“I think you’re always trying to work on your confidence. There’s always a bit of doubt coming into races whether you feel like you’re going to do well or not. I’m not sure how you work on that all the time. Another part you can always work on is just maintaining focus throughout the middle of the race. There’s always a time in the middle of the race where’s there’s a little bit of a lull. You sometimes let down a little bit and start thinking about how much longer the race is and thinking I’m not feeling too well, and working on being able to just focus on pushing through that and being confident right until the end. I don’t think it (confidence) is something you can consciously work on during a race. I think you can work on just getting ready, visualizing, knowing that you’re going to have those kind of feelings during the race. Just recognizing that it is going to happen, and coming into a race with confidence is fairly….confidence can be a very fragile thing. Its just comes with experience, having confidence that you’ve been training well and have taken care of your preparation, and other things”

 

 

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