Motivation, the last frontier. With enough of it any ordinary person can become a world class athlete. Without it the same person could end up begging for change downtown. Even a tremendously talented rider will go nowhere without motivation. How do some riders always seem to be so motivated? What are the sources of their motivation? This has been a central theme of sports psychology since its beginning when Triplett studied the effects of audience and competition on performance in the late nineteenth century. Though a great deal has been written on motivation since then it is still an individual construct. As an athlete you need to identify what motivates you and cultivate the sources of your motivation. Here are a few popular methods.
GOALS. One of the best sources of motivation is setting goals. Be specific and put them down on paper. Define your goals clearly and make them attainable. Short term goals are more important than long term goals and should be even more precisely defined. Set short term goals for things like going on a good ride this afternoon, doing five sprints, bettering your time on a known course, etc. Set long term goals such as training at least five days a week, placing in specific races, upgrading... DO NOT STRESS WINNING when defining your goals. Instead stress enjoying the ride and doing your best in every ride and race.
GROUP TRAINING. Training with friends, racing as a team, and all the other social benefits of our sport are also great for motivation. This is what clubs should be all about. With or without a club, group training is vastly more effective than individual training. The same intensity that can make solo training a challenge comes naturally in a good group. Ever notice how easy a smooth rotating paceline seems, until you arrive home to find a surprising soreness in the quadriceps? Why beat yourself over the head when a few phone calls (or emails) will generally find plenty of like minded compatriots. As a general rule try to limit solo training to between 10% and 50% of total miles.
REGULARITY. It's nice to be regular, in more ways than one ;-) Regularity makes difficult tasks easy. If you make it a point to ride every day, or at least five times a week (to be competitive), making the daily ride will become automatic. Riding at the same time every day can also be helpful but be careful not to become a slave to the schedule.
LOCATION. The 3 keys to a successful business, "location, location, and location" are also key to effective cycling. The importance of conveniently located rides, races, coaches, flexible school and employment cannot be underemphasized. Good training partners, good weather, good roads and minimal traffic can also make those long, hard rides both easier AND more productive.
RACING. The best European pros actually do very little training. Need I say more? There simply is no better way to improve fitness and skill. Whether racing to place or to train the savvy cyclist will do all the racing his or her motivation allows.
AS WELL AS cycling books, magazines and videos, new bike parts, new clothing, new roads, nice weather, losing weight, seeing friends, getting out of the city and breathing fresh air, riding hard and feeling good, and especially the great feeling of accomplishment and relaxation after every ride that makes life beautiful.
While high levels of excitation (motivational energy) are generally better for shorter rides and track races, be careful not to get over-excited before longer races. Stay relaxed and conserve precious energy for that crosswind section or sprint where you'll need all the strength you've got. Learn how psyched you need to be to do your best and be aware of when you are over or under aroused.
It's not uncommon, especially in early season races, to be so nervous before the start that fatigue sets in early or even before the race. Too much stress can make it difficult to ride safely and should be recognized and controlled immediately. If you find yourself becoming too stressed before a race try stretching, talking to friends, finding a quiet place to warm-up, or a crowded place depending on your inclination. Remember that this stress will disappear as soon as the race starts. Racing takes too much concentration to spare any for worrying.
Every athlete needs to be adept in stress management. One technique used to reduce competitive anxiety is imagery, also known as visualization. While mental practice has been credited with miraculous improvements in fine motor skills (archery, tennis) its greatest value in gross motor sports like cycling lies in stress reduction.
Actually winning a race can also help put an end to excessive competitive anxiety. But if you have never won (like most cyclists) nervousness may be keeping you from that rewarding place on the podium.
If you find yourself getting overstressed when thinking about winning, or even riding a race try this; Find a quiet, relaxing place to sit and think about racing. Second; Picture yourself driving to the race in a very relaxed and poised state of mind. Continue visualizing the day progressing into the race and going well until you detect some tension THEN STOP. Do not let yourself get excited at all. End the visualization session and try it again the next day. Continue this DAILY until you can picture yourself racing and winning without any stress. If this seems like a lot of work evaluate just how much you want to win a bike race.
Visualization is not meant to replace on the bike training but can make that training pay off in a big way. Eastern European research has found that athletes improve most quickly if visual training comprises fifty to seventy-five percent of the total time spent training! Like any training imagery will only pay off if you do it regularly and frequently. As my French club coach (CC Nogent Sur Oise) used to say: believe it and it will become true.
(C) 1989, Roger Marquis (www.roble.net/marquis), See also VeloNews, 3-91