By Karen Jarchow of Team Topeak-Ergon US
“Learning more and more that the breadth of the work that goes into being an athlete; Intervals, rest, strength training, time management...is all woven together by the thoughts in our heads. They can either propel us forward or set us back. I choose to keep them positive, because how can I expect to instill confidence in others if I can’t do it for myself.”
If you’re like me, and at times can hardly contain your enthusiasm for the sport, struggle with rest days, have a hard time getting any food down prior to a race – or, just want the most out of your potential, you may benefit from working on your headspace.
This realization hit me like a freight train early season after a series of lackluster races where I couldn’t even hit my training numbers. What was going on? Why wasn’t I able to perform when I was consistently hitting banner training rides? Well, through some guidance from my coach, Lynda Wallenfels, I started talking to a sport psychologist, Dr. Kristin Keim. After just a short introductory call, I quickly realized that what was holding me back, were my own thoughts in my head. It was time to flip the switch!
Here are a few tips and new routines that have helped me do just that!
For years, I’ve thought I’ve known and understood the importance of meditation. I dabbled here and there, went to the occasional guided meditation, or reached for it if I thought it would be a ‘quick fix’.
Turns out, that’s not how it works. So, per Dr. Kristin Keim’s suggestion, I downloaded the app “Headspace” and started my 10 minutes a day meditation journey. I was instantly amazed at how only 10 minutes a day can seem so easy, but in reality can be quite challenging.
However, once I got into a routine, I found it extremely beneficial to not only my daily "headspace," but my performance. It helped me become more present and aware of ways that I was setting myself back, how my self-talk was more negative than I was willing to admit, and how strong my monkey-mind really is! Awareness is the first step to change, and meditation was what helped me begin to turn things around.
Letting Go of Comparison
In competition, it can be difficult to not compare training rides, results, sponsorships, or your general idea of what your competitors have and how that stacks up to your own reality. What I’ve learned is that this comparison is more detrimental than motivational, and more times than not, it is never what it seems.
Social media has a way of making us all look like full-time athletes, swimming in a bounty of support without a care in the world. Well, I hope we can all accept that this is not true. We are all human, we all hustle, and we never really know for sure what others are going through – so, it’s best to just be kind to others and ourselves, and set down the comparison.
The older I get, the easier it gets to incorporate this into my life, and especially as I get into more competitive races. I need 100% focus on the task to be able to perform to my potential. If I come into a race with a head full of comparison, I’m already wasting energy and setting myself one step behind my ability.
So, just let it all go.
Now, it’s known that a certain level of anxiety is beneficial for performance coupled with another magical level of excitement. But, when one outweighs the other, that is when our excitement or anxiety can get in the way of our performance.
One way in which I consciously prepare to come to a race balanced is having a pre-race routine. A time that I allow myself to shut off social media, work, or whatever I’m dealing with outside of racing and just focus on what I love to do – racing my bike! I have gotten into the routine of shutting off social media for a couple days leading up to a big race, or scheduling posts at this time vs. the constant scroll of lost attention.
I also like to up my meditation from 10 minutes to 15-20 minutes a day and sometimes I even double-down. Now, the immediate pre-race routine can be dependent on location or the type of event. However, the staples of my routine have to do with putting my phone away, plugging into some good tunes during my warm-up, and plenty of laughs with teammates. Doing so helps to tether my anxiety/excitement tug-of-war and arrive to the start line calm, focused, and ready!
These are just a few of the things that helped me ‘flip the switch’ this season. Wrapped up in it all, one of the most important lessons is to just be more kind to yourself. Peak fitness and drama-free races can be few and far between, and the journey to those races can be long and frustrating or sometimes surprising and unexpected! We might as well learn how to enjoy the process and be a little easier on ourselves along the way.
Ride bikes, be happy, and enjoy the ride!
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