Cleere’s Corner: The Difference Between Training and Racing


Dr. Michelle Cleere

Training is designed to help you mentally and physically prepare for racing. We practice to grow, learn and get better. Training is considered explicit – you formulate, demonstrate and develop your cycling skills. Races are different. Races are an opportunity for you to use everything you’ve learned. Races are implicit – you unquestioningly and inherently ‘do’ what you’ve been trained to do. You’ve done all the thinking and analyzing in training and now you need to let all that hard work and muscle memory do it’s thing.

Why do we train?

Training is designed to help you build the skills necessary to compete. It is a time to build each skill set that’s important for cycling and racing. For example, a cyclist needs to learn how to climb and descend. The technique including the appropriate gears is an important aspect of cycling. Training is when you make mistakes and figure out how to correct them. It is also an important time to develop and use a mental training plan to go with your physical training plan. All of this is important during training. This is how you grow and get better and stronger. During training, you develop all the skill sets necessary to race.

In training, you get the opportunity to think about what you are doing, not doing, or what you need to do differently. You get the chance to make a game plan and made tweaks to your game plan for racing day based on your skill set, athletic abilities, and your own goals and expectations. You get to decide what you need to do physically and mentally to perform optimally in competitive situations.

However, training is not racing.

How is racing different?

Racing is different in many ways; the biggest being that there is not a lot of thinking during racing. Your brain can’t handle the pressure of racing and thinking about it. You train to be the best competitive version of yourself and you need to allow all that hard work to flow out of you. Too much thinking and nothing flows. You get tight. Your heart rate goes up. Your brain starts overanalyzing what you are doing at every turn. You can’t let go of mistakes. All of this pulls you out of your ability to perform; to do the thing you are trying to do best.

And so, racing is not training.

What needs to happen during a race?

During racing, you need to just do it! You need to bring out the best skills you have at that moment and let it flow. You’ve spent an enormous amount of time training so use that. Don’t muck it up by rethinking the plan or overanalyzing your attack. Use the mental and physical muscle memory developed through hard work and training and do what you’ve been trained to do – cycle.

Focus on your race plan only and any realistic expectations you have. Don’t focus on doing something outside of your ability or focus on a competitor Let go of overanalyzing and negativity. The focus should be on you and what you hope to realistically accomplish as you move through the race.


On racing day, many performers subconsciously think they ‘need to pull out the big one’ (cut a lot of time) or they think they will be ‘so much better today than yesterday’. There is no big one and you will not be much better today than you were yesterday. How does your brain interpret those messages? You want to what? When you don’t pull out the big one or cycle way better than you did yesterday, it sets you up for failure. When you fail, your ego attaches itself to that and takes over your body. Who’s the driver of your body?

It’s important to understand that you will have nerves. Nerves aren’t bad until you label them as such. They are a signal to let you know that something big…something important is going to happen. You have to train your brain that nerves don’t mean that something is wrong and that you will perform poorly.

Also, you will make mistakes and it’s ok. What’s not ok is how you interpret mistakes. Mistakes are not bad. They don’t make you a bad racer. Mistakes don’t mean you are a terrible competitor. Mistakes mean you are human. When you learn to let them go and stay present, you become a good competitor.



How do you prepare for a race?

You incorporate this thinking into your pre-race, during the race and post-race plans (as discussed in past Bear Dev articles). You start to realize that training and competition aren’t the same. The environments are very different but that’s for a very good reason – they are designed to do different things. Training is designed to prepare you for all aspects of racing so that when you get to a race you don’t have to think about it, you can do it. Cyclists often tell me that they can’t perform in a race like they do in training. They ask, why is that? I say it’s because you are trying to turn racing into a practice situation – overanalyzing, thinking, re-planning – that’s not what racing is for.

In races, you have to let go and focus on relatively few things other than cycling. Just let it roll and race your best.

Training and racing. Two different events. Two different physical plans. Two different mental plans. Two different mindsets.

Dr. Michelle

Elite Performance Expert

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