Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mental Toughness

You cannot run away from a weakness;
you must sometimes fight it out or perish;
and if that be so,
why not now, and where you stand.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

That quote summarizes so much of what I've learned in the past few months and pretty much the complete opposite of my behavior the last couple of weeks.

In many ways I made great strides in my training this season, since I have achieved levels of volume and consistency far beyond those of my past seasons, but I still haven't had the kind of race success for which I was hoping. It's been said that eighty percent of success is showing up, and I have to say I got really good at showing up this season, at least physically. As the summer wore on, I realized that the problem was a combination of not showing up mentally or lacking that other twenty percent when I did.

That lead me to seek out sports psychology books at my local library, and I checked out The New Toughness Training for Sports which a teammate had suggested on the Velo Bella message board. The most important thing I got from that book was the quote at the top of this post, but I started to glean some other good information as well. My main issue was that the book seemed way too focused on younger athletes, mostly in ball sports. I like many of the author's ideas, but I just couldn't identify when having pressure from my parents as one of my major stressors, so I returned the book halfway through and got Toughness Training for Life instead. I'm about a third into the book and I'm pretty happy so far, but I'm also a bit disappointed that author doesn't seem to realize that adult amateur athletes exist. However, I realize that my perception is a bit skewed as to the size of that population and realize that is probably significantly larger than it was in the early '90's when the book was written, due to the increased accessibility/popularity of running races, triathlons, and cycling races, especially cyclocross. Perhaps the author needs to get to work on "Toughness Training for Grownups Who Work Because They Have To, Race Because They Want To, and Wear Themselves Pretty Thin in the Process. " I would totally read that, but until then, I think I can get what I need from the later book.

All of that being said, the information in the book will help me, but it doesn't fully address the "weakness" as it applies to me. At some point in the summer, I realized that I was gravitating towards endurance racing not because I actually had a gift for it, but because it allowed me to run away from my weaknesses in cross country and cyclocross racing. While I think it's perfectly acceptable for me to prefer endurance racing, which after the DINO 6 hour I really believe I do, I realize that I must "fight it out or perish" when it comes to my shorter race weaknesses. I can't reach my full potential as a cyclist in any discipline if I'm running away from a weakness.

The part I'm having a problem with is, "Why not now, where I stand?" This could not have been any more evident than in my cyclocross races the last two weekends (notice the lack of race reports). Basically, I came into the races with low energy and low motivation, because I've been giving everything I have left into preparation for Pisgah, while I've been struggling against my usually August and September malaise. To make things worse, realizing that my cyclocross problems are in my head did nothing to improve them, it just helped me make excuses to myself.

So while "now, where I stand" is good in theory, I'm am standing on the edge of a much bigger and more imminent battle. At least it's one in which my strength, if there is one strength I have, lies. I really struggle with holding my intensity in the first few painful minutes of a cross country or cyclocross race, but it when it comes to the moments of, "Okay, Lindsay, you got yourself on this stupid mountain, now you gotta get yourself off," I know that I have a pretty good track record.

The good news is that I have formed a solid plan for conquering my weaknesses this winter and next season. After I return from Pisgah, I plan to rest up, regain my strength, and come out ready to fight next spring.

But for the next few days, this is what I am up against:

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Neil said...

I'm no expert, and I'm not fast, but I read "Sport Psychology For Cyclists" by Dr. Saul Miller and Peggy Maass Hill 9 years ago and still think about the book sometimes. There might be something there for you.

Lindsay Hall-Stec said...

Yes, that book has been highly recommended, as well, but I was being cheap and picking through what the library had to offer first. I will probably pick up a copy at some point.