Cleere’s Corner: Keeping The Lead

Keeping the Lead: Spot The Mental Struggles Quickly

By Dr. Michelle Cleere 

When you are winning, the hardest part is keeping the lead. Or you take the lead, and now you have to keep it. Or worse, you lose the lead, and now what?

A good friend and I used to cycle together. She was a great cyclist, but I’d say that generally I’ve always been a bit faster than her. However, when we were racing there’d be moments where she’d pull ahead and I’d struggle to keep up. It wasn’t a physical thing, it was a mental thing. Even though it appears to be physical, it is mostly all in the mind.

The mental struggles might look like this…

Step #1 – Frustration

When you take the lead, one of the first things that happens is that you don’t really think that someone will take it from you. You think it’s yours. That is until someone passes you. Many times, when that happens you are a little shocked and dismayed. What the heck just happened? That dismay can lead to frustration. This frustration leads to other cognitive and biomechanical issues. And for some reason, you aren’t cycling to your full potential.

Solution: Know that you can stay with the lead rider and pass that person if you let go of the frustration. Yes, let it go. Use your breath or refocus on staying with them.

Step #2 – Negative thoughts

Frustration starts with the thoughts in your head – I can’t believe I let this person pass me. I was in the lead. I had this. Why couldn’t I hold on. You start beating yourself up for losing the lead. I had it and now I’ve lost it. These thoughts then pull you out of the race and into your head. If you are in your head thinking, you are no longer cycling.

Solution: Develop your ability to be present, recognize that thinking and refocus. Be aware of what you are actually telling yourself. Refocus on technique, strategy, and/or a positive mantra.

Step #3 – Muscle tension

Negative thinking not only takes your mind & body away from cycling, but it creates stress which leads to muscle tension. Have you ever been in a stressful situation and either noticed that your shoulders were up around your ears or you had a stiff neck? That’s because when you are beating yourself up, thinking negatively and creating stress. That stress impacts your entire body.

Solution: Pay attention to which muscles get most involved when stressful situations happen. When stress happens, practice dropping your shoulders and relaxing your muscles.

Step #4 – Inability to turn over your pedals

A rider passes you, negative thoughts start going around and around in your head, your muscles tense up, and the outcome is an inability to turn over your pedals the way and at the rate you need. Why? As I said, if you are in your head thinking, you are no longer cycling. The thinking leads to muscle tension and muscle tension decreases your ability to pedal to your full potential.

Solution: Let go of the thinking and any negative thoughts, relax your muscles, and keep pedaling.

Step #5 – Continuing to fall back

This is the cycle and if you get to step #4 and haven’t found a solution, you will continue to fall to the back of the pack. These steps happen fast and the sooner you catch yourself going into this cycle the better. The faster you cut it off, the more opportunity you have to turn your race around and take the lead.

Train your brain to keep the lead

The best place to catch yourself is step #1 or #2.  Train your brain. Practice. The right mental training can help you do that, and win.

It’s hard to come from behind because a) you aren’t expecting it and b) negative thoughts, muscle tension and an inability to pedal are the initial reaction. Sure, there are some races where riders are jockeying back and forth for position and when a rider is focused on that, then they aren’t focused on frustration, stress or negative thinking but what happens when you lose the fight? You give up and then steps #1-#5 pursue.

Learning how to deal with this cycle is not something that just happens, it is something that you must practice. Just like you train and practice your physical skills, you must do the same with your mental skills, or this cycle will be out of control.

Losing the lead happens.  Be prepared for it and learn how to mentally prepare to stay in the race and get it back! Take the lead, keep the lead, and win!



Dr. Michelle

Elite Performance Expert

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