Find Another Gear. Go Beyond.
By Dr. Michelle Cleere
In certain moments of the race, it can be incredibly difficult to dig deep and find another gear. Your body gets tired. Your brain says I can’t do it; I don’t have it. Part of finding another gear is to train physically and train hard for it so you have physical capacity to push your body beyond. But more importantly, you also need to train your brain to work with your body.
What does finding another gear mean?
Many cyclists talk about finding another gear. In most situations, this means going beyond your normal capacity. Going beyond what you are used to doing. To do this, you have to develop your ability to push past your best or optimal effort. When this happens, you go to a place where you (mentally) thought you couldn’t go – faster, harder, longer or hanging with a competitor.
I was working with an Olympic hopeful track cyclist who talked frequently of being at tempo and needing to kick into another gear if someone made a move or towards the end, when he needed to pass people. At times, it was challenging for him to find that gear. His legs were burning and he got in his own head that his legs were burning and then couldn’t turn it on. He couldn’t shift into that higher gear. As we worked together, he became more aware of the moments he needed to find another gear and prepare, in order to make that happen.
It’s hard to find another gear after you’ve ‘hit the wall’. In many sports, hitting the wall or bonking is a condition of sudden fatigue and loss of energy which is caused by depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles. In other sports, hitting the wall can happen when you are down or behind and need to come back. This transpires when you are playing pretty consistently but can’t seem to find another gear to stay with someone as they move ahead of you or are ahead, and you feel like you cannot catch back up.
I have been working with a road cyclist who would crumble every time she was ahead and lost the lead to someone else. She felt as if she was riding her best and didn’t know what to do when someone matched her pace and passed her. What she came to realize is that she would get in her head and start worrying. This led to her muscles getting tight and more worrying. Before she knew it, she was no longer focused on the race.
You can physically train to find another gear. That means training to go a bit beyond what you think you’re capable of. For example, racing in competition to the extent that is a little outside of your personal best. It can also mean racing in practice with people who are better than you are and pushing yourself to find that other gear.
In the case of hitting the wall, it’s important to train yourself how to deal with moments when you have the lead, and when someone has passed you. In training, even if you aren’t in the lead, practice passing people. Learn to come back from a deficit and find another gear. Practice taking and losing the lead.
Even though you can physically train yourself to find another gear, you can’t do it without pairing positive mental skills with it. Training for it physically will give you the blueprint for what it looks and feels like. However, it’s generally hard to find another gear you didn’t think you had. It’s more mentally difficult than your normal competitive flow.
Physical practice helps your body know what it’s in for. Now you’ve got to train your brain for that next gear. This takes confidence that you can do it and acceptance that it may hurt. Digging deep always does.
When we start out cycling, we have one gear – beginner. If we keep practicing we develop numerous gears (speeds, tactics, ability, etc.). The same holds true for your mindset. Many athletes start off with a beginner mindset where not much bothers them; it doesn’t really matter. As you get better, that beginner mindset goes away and you have to learn how to deal with that and the different situations and moments that come with it. Switching gears and finding another more difficult gear is only one of them.