Maybe you have seen a swimmer standing on the pool deck, swinging her arms, rolling her head, doing odd little pirouettes--possibly with her eyes closed.
Or a golfer tediously taking his swing in small pieces before standing behind the ball and looking intensely down the fairway.
These are athletes who understand and practice visualization--playing in their minds the results they want, living in their imaginations the positive outcomes they anticipate in the heat of action when careful thought may be not only impossible but also counterproductive to their perfromance.
With a couple weeks left before the Assaults, I found myself struggling--an assortment of ailments that seemed to shift and change, but made me feel wiped out most of the time off the bicycle. So I decided to rest and look carefully at what may be the source of my struggles (other than the very real fact that I am 50).
Once I recognized that I had logged over 1000 miles in April--including four centuries and far too many high-intensity rides--I concluded that at least part of the problem was a stress physical and mental system that was simply saying "No more." It has been hard to skip rides with my friends, and I have been discouraged by not really feeling as well as I would want now that Mitchell is a mere days away. . .And through it all, my weight has remained between 5 and 10 pounds above my goal, despite the harsh training and high mileage.
Last Tuesday, after taking off Sunday and Monday following a challenging Saturday course that I rode at a truly low effort, I looked at the forecast and saw that threatening weather could keep me off the bicycle all week so instead of heading to Jae's ripping Tuesday night ride, I went out mid-afternoon to do laps around Duncan Park, where I could ride mostly in the shade and monitor my effort during the ride.
As I pedaled calmly around the park, I began to think about last year's Assault that started out at a blistering pace. During the first 50 miles, the front pack averaged over 25 mph, and over the second roller of Pea Ridge, the front group finally splintered with some of the top riders remaining in the group I sat in as we watched a small group roll away.
This group, as soon as we turned onto Bill's Mountain, accelerated, forcing me to decide there that I was overextended. I watched that group climb away with two of my riding friends disappearing around a switchback.
It was there that my mind let me down last year. I decided that my ride was over, that my goal of breaking 6 hours was doomed. From the top of Bill's Mountain, which I crested alone, I began debating dropping out in Marion. Instead, I rode on, and even reconnected with one of the friends who dropped me on Bill's Mountain as we began the climb on Hwy 80.
But Hwy 80 and the parkway were a deathmarch for me--I had checked out of the ride mentally. This was passing through my mind as I rode around Duncan Park because when I finished the Assault last year, a 6:10 time, I realized that I had in fact abandoned the ride mentally way too easily and way too soon. A tougher mental state last year could have shaved off those 10 minutes toward my goal.
During the ride, then, around Duncan Park this week I decided to recall and even imagine riding strong and relaxed at key points of the Assault--up Hwy 80, along the parkway, the grunt section once we turn into Mt. Mitchell State Park, and the last climb toward the finish line.
These visualizations and positive thinking left me relaxed and feeling better than I have in a while.
Golfers, basketball players, and swimmers have learned how to visualize and even pantomime the key movements of their sport. For cyclists, as stressful as the physical act is, we ultimately are no better than our minds will allow.
In the days leading up to the Assaults, along with taking care of your body, be sure to prepare your minds for game day.
Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor