The bike leg of a triathlon can be overwhelming for many of athletes.  You may start out with a plan and are feeling great but a few miles in you’ll feel stale setting a negative platform for the rest of the race.  Everyone experiences these rough patches.  I’ve had several races where I’ve felt like this is the worst day of my life on the bike.  Here are my strategies for overcoming these mental challenges and staying present on the bike.

  1. Create A Strategy And Stick To It:
    • It is important to drive or ride the course a day or two before the race, identifying the demanding and easier sections throughout.  Using this information, break the course up into segments, creating a race plan.  Keep in mind that these segments are not necessarily equal in distance or difficulty. For example, if you are doing a 70.3 there might be 8 or 10 segments and they are all different distances based on the typography, the terrain and the over all difficulty of the course.
    • Evaluate the segments that are challenging and keep your mind focused on how you will tackle this section during the race. Mentally  consumed with the difficulty before the race is simply a lack of preplanning.  Remember most likely you have overcome strategic segments in your training.  This is not new! Challenge yourself to use these difficult segments to make up time on yourStrategize on how are you are going to ride that section: Are you going to do some of it standing? Seated?  How’s your gearing going to feel?  How will your body respond as you start going up that gradient or into the wind?  .
    • In doing this pre-race preparation you have created mini races within the entire race allowing you to strategically attack thecoursephysically and mentally.  Remember when the gun goes off stick to your race plan.
  2. Ground Yourself In What You Know:
    • Remember your marker or test set numbers:  Whether it is heart rate, power or speed, these numbers are invaluable tools on race day. Race pace parameters defined through marker sets will help you identify when you are overzealous at the outset. For example, when you are surging; going up 30 watts on the bike or suddenly riding 2 or 3 miles per hour faster then you had planned, don’t panic. remind yourself where you need to be in order to hold this pace throughout the entire distance.  Employing this strategy will elevate your potential  to have a great day on the bike.
  3. Focus On Yourself:
    • If you find yourself struggling, shifting position or gears can help generate power or speed. For example, stand up when other people are seated, especially if your back feels tight.  Remember focus on yourself and not what your competitors are doing.  Quite often when you sit back down you can use a lower gear and then bring your spin rate back up.
    • I often advise my athletes to shift down to a lower gear so that they start stimulating the slow twitch muscle fibers and stop trying to generate a huge amount of force by pushing a massive gear. Go to a lower gear, lighten that tension at the bottom of your pedal stroke and you may find that your power actually goes up.  At this point you might be able to shift back up into that same gear that you were in while holding a higher work rate.
  4. Take A Physical Inventory:
    • Taking a physical inventory was something I did when I was racing in Kona especially when I hit a rough patch. This technique allowed me to regroup and relax keeping me present and focused on the bike. When doing an inventory you will start at the top of your head and travel down to your shoulders, neck, back, hips quads and finally to your feet. See the breakdown below:
      • Start at the top and focus on relaxing your head, think about drawing your chin in for proper upper body position. Avoid turning to the side or neck inflection.
      • Notice if your upper traps are turned in and feeling tight. Relax your shoulders by dropping them down and squeezing towards the middle of your back.
      • Move down and focus on opening up your lower abdomen to stabilize the spine.You want the space between the base of your rib cage and the iliac cress on your hip to be open. Keep it nice and long, not bent over.
      • Check your glutes? Are they firing at 3 o’clock on your pedal stroke?
      • Finally, focus on your feet. Try relaxing your toes, let them float in your shoes.  Lift your toes up so they are pressing the top of your shoe and drive forward so the pedal stroke feels more elliptical, like a watermelon. With your metatarsal pad, that padded part on the front part of your foot, apply pressure and relax your toes.  You will find that this also relaxes the muscles in your shin and the lower part of your leg.
    • It takes some time to go through this inventory. Allow yourself to dwell on how you are doing, think about your breathing, taking slow deep inhales through your nose and your mouth then exhaling. This will slow down nervous responses such as feeling panicky, rapid heart rate and respiration allowing you to get your head back in the game.

In summary, a day or two before the race go over the course. Break it up into pieces so that you have segments; little races within the race.  Strategize how you will attack each segment and when the race day gun goes off stick to your plan.  If you find that you have a rough patch turn it around by doing a physical inventory, focusing on yourself and grounding into what you know.