The Importance of Mental Conditioning

Nothing prepared me for what happened just two minutes into my third Provincial XC mountain bike race. I got into my sprint position at the start-line, took a few final deep breaths and readied myself for the start buzzer. With countless hours of sprint intervals under my belt, I confidently launched off the start-line settling into a favourable position in the pack.

I felt strong that day and I was coming off a 3rd place finish in my last race. Every spare moment leading up to that race was dedicated to becoming faster on two wheels! My winter consisted of crosstraining and strength building, my spring was filled with endurance rides and base building, and my summer included a plethora of interval training and skills building. I knew within the first 30 seconds that I was going to have an awesome race. I was familiar with the course, I was comfortable with the obstacles, and I was in a peak phase of my training.

None of that mattered however, the moment that I hit the first section of bumpy terrain. The aggressive jarring launched my only water bottle out of its cage and onto the ground! We were speeding along at 30 KPH, so I made a quick decision to maintain my position and keep moving. Had I stopped for the bottle, I would have gotten stuck behind slower racers once we hit the narrow sections of the course (aka: single track).

Rules stipulate that racers can only receive refreshment support in the dedicated Feed Zone areas – typically one per lap. This meant that I had to endure my entire first lap without any hydration, which was something that I was very unfamiliar with. It didn’t take long for my mind to join the riders behind me in mounting an attack of its own! My unease elevated my heart-rate, which led to improper breathing, followed by undue physical exertion, worsening recovery and finally poor decision-making. Confidence erosion quickly ensued and I almost fell apart.

The truth is, I could have done one lap sufficiently without hydration. In fact, I later practiced racing laps without hydration to ensure that I was prepared should it happen again – which it did – two more times during the following race season!

It’s difficult to place the importance of mental conditioning in a training program, but it is certainly something to take into consideration. Professional endurance athletes, elite adventure racers, and even militaries train their brains to anticipate, and not overreact, to unexpected stress. The mind is a powerful thing! Be sure to introduce possible unknowns into your training regiment – your body will thank you when your mind tries to attack!


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