I am standing on the start line of the first big race of the season. I look down and see that my heart rate is already at 140 beats per minute. The announcer starts counting down from five…four, three, two, one, GO! My heart rate jumps again to over 190 BPM as the group of 20 riders sprints up the hill. I got a slow start clipping in so now I am at the back of the pack. Now I have to move up anywhere that I can on this section before the first downhill. The downhill section provides a bit of recovery where I suck in as much oxygen as possible. Then its back on the gas for the rest of the first lap.
Cross country racing can be daunting, both mentally and physically. Not only are you racing for 1.5 – 2 hours, but you are going full gas the entire time. Your legs and lungs are burning, and your mind screaming at you. Your mind will always work against you. That is unless you trick your mind into thinking positive. I have found a few tricks to be especially helpful lately.
The first lap of a race is exactly how I described it at the beginning of the post. It is hectic and fast paced. Decisions happen on the fly and the best thing to do is try to position yourself as far up as possible. After the first lap, I find it helpful to break the course down into segments. There are three options. Uphill, downhill, or flat. On uphills, it is time to work, the faster I go up the faster it is over. Downhills provide a nice reward and time to recover. Flats can be hard, but there is less pressure on your legs than on an uphill.
You can do great things once you start thinking positive. I remind myself that “pain is only temporary”. If you can get over the pain, you will go faster. On this particular course, the climbs are not even a minute long. Most are steep but only in the one minute or less range. If you are willing to ignore the pain, there will shortly be a downhill at the top of the climb.
These mental tricks worked well for me this time, and I will no doubt use them for many races to come. I am well aware that my mind is the most powerful weapon, yet it is hard to control. I know what I have to do to win, executing it is the hard part.