Wow, that title opens a big can of worms because there are many facets to achieving great endurance. I think of it like peeling an onion; there are many layers. Not all the facets to endurance may bring tears to your eyes, but when you combine them together you will begin to see noticeable and measurable progress. Tears to your eyes? Maybe not. A big smile to your face? Quite Likely…
When a client comes to me with a goal of increasing their endurance, my first approach is to take a snapshot of their current status in some very key facets to what I believe make up a great foundation to endurance. Once you know where you currently stand, then you can chart your course more easily…and it gives you a baseline for measuring your progress.
After coaching clients for the past ten years, I have noticed that the average cyclist does not take time or make the effort to do interval training. Without the assistance of a coach, my guess is that this is not something that would automatically come to your mind. Interval training is tough and it takes concerted effort to do it effectively. What I mean by that is after interviewing countless clients, I found that their perspective of interval training generally skims the surface to how often and how many repetitions they believe is sufficient.
Remember, our bodies are full of muscles and with cycling (like any other activity), we can train them to perform at any given level. Therefore, depending upon how big of an endurance goal will determine the intensity of your repetitions. For example, are you wanting to complete your first century or are you tired of being the last person to reach the top of a climb? There are some general approaches but certainly not an absolute cookie-cutter process. Suffice to say the bigger the goal, the more intense your interval training should be.
So why is interval training a key facet to endurance? I will not list them all but a few reasons are: 1. it helps to increase your breathing (or cardio) capacity, and 2. it trains your body to handle more stress than before. I remember my first bike ride; I thought I was going to die. I could not breathe, and that was just six miles. I laugh about it now but it was no laughing matter then. That first six miles had surpassed my cardio limitation. Think of your cardio strength like a muscle; you have to increase the level of intensity in your workout in order to gain or elevate your strength; your cardio is no different. Interval training creates the perfect scenario whereby you increase that level of intensity in order to gain or increase your cardio ability. Regarding the second reason of stress, the same principle applies like the muscle example I just mentioned. However, stress on the body from cycling results from multiple areas, not just from one area like your cardio. It is important to increase the overall stress level to your body, incrementally, so it can perform longer. Again, interval training creates that scenario whereby, if applied correctly, you are putting your entire body under more and more stress. As a result, your body gets use to that incremental increase and begins to allow you to do more and more and more.
This component has two layers. The first layer is the natural byproduct when you practice interval
training. It’s that ‘raw power’, so to speak, that allows you to create a burst of power at will. The second layer deals more with training for strength over long periods of time. What I mean is that you would do a ride where you would keep your cadence purposefully slower, staying in a harder gear for long periods of time. You will find yourself shifting far less than normal because the goal is to keep a consistent, higher amount of torque, or tension, on the pedal stroke. Obviously, the raw power component of strength will only last you a short period but applying tension over a long period of time will dramatically increase your endurance.
Of the three components I will cover in this article, the mental aspect is the most difficult and therefore I left this one for last. Why? So that it will be the last thing you read and hopefully the freshest component on your mind.
If we really understood the magnitude and power of our mind, hopefully it would ignite more of us to fully embrace this component. It has the ability to empower us to do and achieve things FAR beyond what we could ever imagine. Before I go any further, I just want to be clear that I am not a trained psychologist. However, when I played professional golf, I finally broke down and swallowed my pride and went to a sports psychologist; it forever changed me…in every way. I have experienced what I am about to share on a personal level as well as I have seen the dramatic change in my clients who embraced the concepts I will share. When you begin to see the power that our minds have, you will begin to see obstacles more as a challenge and you will activate your mind in ways that it will help you to become mentally tough in order to meet and exceed that challenge.
Am I an extraordinary cyclist who possesses unique ability? Absolutely not. But, I know that how I have used the power of my mind in my 17 years of cycling, has allowed me to continually achieve things that even still amaze me to this day. If you did the same things with regards to mental toughness as I have, then I could be easily describing you right now in the exact same way.
First off, we need to understand that our subconscious does not differentiate negative thoughts from positive thoughts; it does not know the difference. All it knows is that a thought has arrived at its doorstep. This is KEY!!! I always go back to the golf analogy that I have seen SO many times. Imagine you are on the tee box of a beautiful golf hole and before you lies several sand bunkers, a river that runs the length of the hole and lots of trees that line the fairway. Now, the average golfer who plays this hole over and over, will typically stand on the tee box and tell his golf buddies that he always goes in the water but today is the day that he will finally land on solid ground. He tees up his golf ball, swings away and seconds later, everyone hears and sees the splashing of the water as the golf ball finds its new home. For those who play this game, you know what I am talking about. Let’s delve into this example and see what went wrong. First, remember that I said our subconscious cannot distinguish a negative from a positive thought? When the golfer stood on the tee box and announced that he always goes into the water, he literally gave his mind the permission to allow his golf swing to do just that. Wait, you say; he also said that today was the day that he would land on solid ground, right? Yes, you are correct. However, the comment that has the most emotional connection, wins. Because his past performance carried more emotional weight, so to speak, that is the thought that won the battle.
Therefore, the lesson in this first aspect of mental toughness is that if we are going to activate our minds to help us achieve instead of setting us up for failure, then we need to begin to speak only positive statements. These statements need to be spoken out loud in such a manner that it states a specific, positive goal. For example, if you give up (mentally) even before you start a climb, then a good positive statement for this scenario could be:
“I absolutely love hills. They make me a stronger climber and it helps me to ride stronger overall as a cyclist. I love the challenge of every hill I encounter”.
In contrast, the average cyclist may have a thought when approaching a hill that sounds something like this:
“Oh boy, here comes another hill. Wow, this is a big one; I hope I can get up this one and just survive”.
Can you see and feel the different vipe that each of these thoughts creates? Trust me, it’s worlds apart….and so is the result. As my sports psychologist directed me, I took 3×5 index cards and wrote down statements about every aspect of my golf game in a positive statement. I had several sets of these cards and no matter where I was, I had a complete set always near me. I then read each card out loud several times a day but I spoke them with emotion. You recite the first comment out loud for long enough, your mind will begin to believe it and then take action to allow you to actually accomplish it.
The second component is one I just mentioned. It is one thing to speak a positive statement; it is totally another when you create an emotional attachment to it. The easiest way to do this is to use inflections. I absolutely LOVE hills. I LOVE the challenge of EVERY hill. They make me a STRONGER climber. You get the picture?
Now, let me prove my point on mental toughness. Tiger Woods. We all know him or know who he is. Did he posses supernatural ability? No. He DID possess unrelenting mental toughness that allowed him to pull off shots that amaze us still to this day. It is almost like he ‘willed’ the golf ball to do exactly what he wanted. His mental toughness was FAR superior to any other golfer he competed against. If Tiger was in the field, it was almost like everyone was playing for second place. When he did not have any major distractions, it was like he was unstoppable, which he basically was for countless years. With his bad personal decisions off the course, it served a devastating blow to his mental toughness. The result has shown up in his golf game and his results. I can guarantee you that if he ever gets his mental toughness back like before, he will be just as unstoppable as he was. That’s how powerful the mind is. Yes, he has suffered many injuries over the last couple of years, but take that out of the equation and you would see my point.
The last component of mental toughness I want to cover is the process in which our minds work; this is very important to understand because you need to be aware of what will take place so you do not stay in the dark. Once the mind begins to believe what it hears repeatedly (and I am talking about the new positive statements you say with emotion out loud), it will then go to work to find a way to make whatever the stated goal become a reality. Want me to prove this? Glad you asked. How many times have we been in a conversation and could not remember someone’s name, a song, a book, a circumstance or something specific? Countless, right? Then, sometime later (and it could be from a few seconds to hours to days) out of the blue, when we were not even thinking about that specific information we forgot, it all of the sudden pops into our conscious and we blurt it out? You know exactly what I am talking about. It’s the process I am referring to. You give your mind the permission to work on a task and it will relentlessly go to work. Now, the reason I mentioned the importance of being aware of this process, is that when this process actually begins, you will sense moments where thoughts pop into your conscious that just seem out of the blue; that is your mind prompting you to move to action or fuel you to fight your way through a specific challenge…like climbing a big hill. You have to be consciously aware of when these pop-ups happen and immediately respond; it is your mind telling you and directing you to certain action or it is convinced that you are capable of completing the challenge and is telling you to go do it….no hesitation, thought or question….just go do it. Like Tiger willing the golf ball to do what he wanted, so will your mind will you to do what it takes to conquer that big hill.
Folks, this is HUGE and has the potential to radically change your perspective on your cycling ability. Once you begin to achieve goals, you will begin to have an increase of confidence and passion to conquer the next challenge. It is almost like a drug….but legal by UCI standards. If you can wrap your head around this concept (no pun intended), you will forever amaze yourself at what you can achieve.
In closing, I have addressed the three biggest facets regarding endurance but the next step is for you to embrace them, put them into action with the majority of your focus and energy towards mental toughness. This facet, if developed with greater passion and effort, will absolutely positively affect the other two. If you would like some brief help in developing some positive comments regarding your cycling, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “Mental Toughness” in the subject line, and I will help you craft statements that can radially change your cycling ability and what you are able to achieve.
the epitome of mental toughness….my bride Kelly