No doubt the mental game is as important as the physical game. 2 riders with equal equipment, physical condition and skills, will find the rider with better mental preparedness is more likely to come out on top.
Mental readiness can be broken up into several parts.
Training -> Race Simulation
It is important to run race simulations, via timing yourself and visualizing the race itself. Of course the terrain will be different, and even if there are other riders you are trying to overtake, or who block you. This is a mental game.
It is not only about improving your time, your riding, and getting comfortable with bike setup. Most importantly it is about limiting the amount of mistakes you make, and controlling your emotions to quickly recover and do damage control if you make errors or have equipment failure.
Races are won on lost on mistakes. When you are in the zone, you should make fewer mistakes, and if you want to be a champion, then it is all about no mistakes. Mistakes also cause injuries. This is the number one career ender and at the minimum will shorten your career.
Injuries are the most mentally destructive thing that can happen to your mental preparedness prior to an XC Cross Country Mountain Bike race or during a race. It takes great focus and mental fortitude to rise above bad injuries to become competitive once again.
Remember this isn’t golf. There will be many distractions such as crowds yelling, whistles, sirens, horns, announcements, other crashed riders, not limited to your own mechanicals.
Pre race day
Develop routines, both with your behavior and physical preparation.
By creating a checklist of items you do before every race, and completing them this action can help build your confidence and mentally prepare you.
Example Pre XC Cross Country Racing List Checklist:
- Eat breakfast at this time, to allow for proper digestion during race. Eating healthy foods in the proper quantity can help your mental awareness.
- Pack / Check all your XC Racing Mountain Bike equipment (if you didn’t spend the night at the track).
- Stretch for 15 –20 minutes.
- Warm up. Pedal on trainer or mild 15 minute callisthenic workout.
- Size up competition
- Final bike check and setup
- Stretch Pre Race
- Pre Race Warmup
- Breathing Exercises
This is just an example, and everyone will have a different list, some more complicated and others less. The point here is to not forget anything, and set up routine where you feel confident that your are properly prepared. This is all part of the mental game.
Some athletes wear certain clothes, and have other rituals as well they do especially when the start winning with certain combinations. This can be your favorite race tire, your own hand made power shake you drink or anything that sets your brain up mentally to win…
Simulation and practice go a long way here, and relaxing, focusing and not feeling pressure can help you to make the best start possible.
You will want to master having your gearing correct, your pedals in the right position and confidence in your ability to clip in or get on the pedals quickly and skillfully.
Everything may not have gone right prior to this moment, but none of that is important, it’s race time, go time — forget about everything before, and focus on the moment.
You should have been creating mental maps, and focus points during your practice sessions, and after the start, it should be all about the hitting your first race start checkpoint.
So your start might include coming out of the gate and hitting a specific line, or in an XC Cross Country Mountain Bike Race being in the top 10 to hit the first hill.
During the Race
Hit your mental checkpoints, focus on your lines, and try not to think so far ahead that you make mistakes on the parts your are on. Distractions must be dealt with quickly and you must immediately reset into your pace.
Getting tired, don’t give in. Remember everyone racing is getting tired, but this about management and will. Training is effective, but nothing compares to actual race experience to develop this killer instinct.
Learn. Learn….everything you can about what worked, what didn’t and make some notes on what you could have done better, or where things might have gone amiss.
Of course if you won, made the podium, or at least made your goal, congratulations. The trick is to be consistent, and repeat your success, and / or improve on it. That’s how champions are made.