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Doubt(15 posts)

Jun 11, 2002 7:33 AM
LFR mentioned something about doubting yourself in races in a thread below and I happened to have just been discussing this on Sun w/ another friend. What do the other racers on this board think?

I have just moved up to pro in MTB. When I first started my LONG term goal was just to be a mid-pack expert. So, I have way exceeded my goal. I should be happy, right?

Well at each step along the way, I have doubted myself. When I sucked in sport, I told myself I was just not a good endurance athlete. Then, one day I was leading sport races and moved to expert. Same thing - when I was not performing, I told myself I had reached my peak. I finally started winning expert races and am now a pro. Same problem.

Self doubt alone is not too much of a problem - I had some of my best races when at the start was worrying about being DFL. The problem occurs when, in the middle of a race, negative thoughts (I sore from yday, maybe Im sick, Im not a good climber, its too hot, etc) creep into my head as excuses for why my heart rate is so low when the real reason is that Im not pushing through the pain 'cuz maybe Im afraid of giving it 100% and failing!

So, the $100000 question:
How to CONQUER the self doubt, and stay motivated enough to give 100% and reach my true potential?
re: Doubtbrider
Jun 11, 2002 8:15 AM
You're talking about your mental self-talk, and you need to make some changes bro. Do some reading on the mental aspects of the game. "Psychocybernetics" is a good start. Positive self-affirmations. Do some searching. Chaing the negative thoughts out of your mind with positive will make a big difference in your racing. Sounds like you have some talent that just needs to be refined a little with the mental game.
head games...RockyMountainRacer
Jun 11, 2002 9:18 AM
One of the biggest parts of athletic success is the conflict in your own head. I come from a background of contact team sports (football and lacrosse) where it is extremely important to have your head screwed on straight. The competition is always trying to psyche you out and make you doubt yourself through physical intimidation, trash talk, cheap shots, and the like. They try to make you afraid to go the goal/run the ball with authority by making you afraid of pain and threatening you with injury. If you give in, you have already lost. Once they make you doubt yourself, they don't even have to physically dominate you because you have beaten yourself.

This is much the same in biking. In a crit, people are always giving you the threat of contact to try to make you scared of crashing and consequently more timid in the pack. Then its easier to steal wheels from you. But the biggest thing is pain. When you're hurting, you have to figure out a way to not dwell on the pain. When you dwell on your own pain, its only a matter of time before you shut down and give up. Positive self talk is very important. Repeat something over and over in your head like "They're hurting more." One thing I like to do is pretend that the pain I feel in my own legs is being broadcasted into the legs of every other cyclist on the course/trail that is competing against me. As soon as the "damn that hurts" thought enters my brain, I imagine my competition hurting more because of my own efforts. That helps me forget about the pain. I turn the pain into aggression on the other riders.

The other thing that helps me is setting small goals within a race. In a mountain bike race, I always set the goal of catching the rider that is front of me NOW. When I catch that rider, its on to the next one. If you can't catch them, make the goal to not let them out of your sight and get up the trail on you. I try to be as aggressive as possible and not get complacent. Hope that helps a little.

One other thing: Why would you be afraid of giving it 100% and failing? It is always my goal to give 100%, come what may. At least that way I can know at the end of the day that I gave it my all, and I will only get better next time as my fitness improves. Some days we all have bad days, but I am always upset after the race if I feel like I didn't push myself as hard as I could have.
head games...mtber
Jun 11, 2002 9:45 AM
Thanks for the advice. Im with you about reeling in one rider at a time - this works great for me. The problems usually start when I can't really see anyone up ahead.

I prob need to clarify some: This doesn't happen every race - only occasionally and usually after a bad start. I kind of give up for a while and defeat myself. Usually I am able to give 100% and be happy with my results. The 'don't want to try 100% and fail' is just a guess on why I let myself make excuses when I think my HR is too low.

I will try what you said and try to come up with some positive thoughts to get me through the pain. CO Senator Ken Chlouber, who puts on the Leadville Trail 100 events (and has run in all the runs) makes a good point in his pep talk before the race:
If you keep riding you will hurt for another few hours, if you quit, you will hurt until next year when you come back and try again!
On the "pain" thingbrider
Jun 11, 2002 9:54 AM
Start thinking "Klingon." It ain't good if you're not in pain. TAKE THE PAIN! EMBRACE THE PAIN! The pain let's you know you're alive! Make it a contest of who can hurt more. KNOW that you can hurt more than any one else.
Stop caringshirt
Jun 11, 2002 9:54 AM
I spent my high school years running track and cross country. Miserably. I always trained my ass off, but when it came time to race I was constantly consumed with self-doubt. There were other issues you may recognize: I was constantly terrified to find out what would happen if I actually gave 100%. Would I die? Would I come in DFL? On top of all that was a healthy dose of religious justification (not naming the guilty party): Is what I'm doing the Right Thing? If it is divinely authorized, why does it hurt so much? Layers upon layers of mental challenges, to be sure...

Fast forward to the last race of my high school career (1983.) I'm running the first leg of the 2-mile relay. To date, my best 800m time was 2:04. Faster than the JV runners, but by no means that impressive. Because it was the last race of my life (so I thought) and because the outcome was determined by four boys' efforts, not just my own, I found myself in a curiously detached frame of mind before the race. As a matter of fact, my dormant sense of humor surfaced and I was able to get the entire team laughing at me.

Under typical St. Louis springtime conditions, the track was under an inch of water and the wind was blowing like mad. The gun went off and I settled in mid-pack. Before the first lap was over, I found myself realizing that track is a GAME. It is meant to be played, not suffered. Your body is merely a tool that you use to play the game. I can't explain how this thought/feeling overcame me, other than since I was no longer personally vested in the outcome of the race, I was free to see the truth of what I was doing.

About 100m into the second lap I moved towards the front and forced the pace, just to see what would happen. Three or four guys came with me. Moving down the backstretch, I decided to check out. For some reason this seemed like an interesting idea. I didn't worry if I could maintain the pace to the finish or not, I simply thought it would be an entertaining move.

I turned up the heat all the way. Coming down the final stretch I looked back and had gapped the field by almost 50m. I was absolutely flying and felt no pain! As you may know, the handoff zone begins before the start/finish line and finishes after it. The referree had to re-shuffle the teams so that I had a straight shot at my team-mate. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention and ran straight to the Lutheran South dude. I stopped, tripped over him, somehow fumbled the baton to my guy and he took off. I then remembered I had to cross the line to get my split and walked across the line.

I timed a 1:58.

According to my coach it would have been a 1:55 if I'd run through the line. As I mentioned before, I felt NO PAIN. Sure I was tired, but the overwhelming sensation was one of joy and lightness. Yes, there was (and continues to be) the pleasure of kicking the asses of my competitors, but it's always done in the context of "this is a game. Let's play."

I believe if you can disassociate your ego from the outcome of the event you can do some pretty remarkable things. I know most of you are protesting that a lot of the great cyclists have great egos. I won't argue or begrudge anybody their personal experiences, but I will stand by what I've experienced myself.

Remember the race I won in March? Same deal. I had no pressure to perform and was simply out to have a good time. It's a difficult line to walk, but if you can find that sweet spot between commitment/intensity and playfulness you've got it licked.

I'm not much into sports psychology, but I am an armchair philosopher. If you're interested in this frame of mind, you may want to read:

"The Bhagavad Gita, A Walkthrough for Westerners," by Jack Hawley. Also: "The Power of Now," by Eckhart Tolle.

If I've offended anyone by my excessive meanderings, uh, sorry. :-)

Well put........Len J
Jun 11, 2002 10:07 AM
I had a similar experience as a freshmAN in HS. It was almost like I was watching myself as an uninvolved spectator. You really described it well.

Another way to deal with the pain is to get "outside" it. When my wife was in labor, my role was to distract her & get her thinking about anything else but the pain. Every time I was able to do this, her body relaxed and the pain eased. I have tried this while riding hard & it works, I think its another form of the detachment you describe. If I'm concentrating on the rider I'm chasing, my focus is "away" from the pain. It works.

shirt, you rocklonefrontranger
Jun 11, 2002 10:54 AM
you can never ramble on enough for me. This is exactly the kind of discussion I wanted to trigger with the mental burnout thread. I know self-doubt is a crucial mental limiter for me, and I've worked on it throughout the years. It would help if I hadn't been one of those "athletic retard" type kids in school; you know the fat ungainly one who always made those pathetically weak throws to the wrong base, or got hit in the face with the volleyball... I was so utterly convinced that I was bad at sports that even after years of positive reinforcement it's still hard to think of myself as good at cycling.

The psychology of sport is so incredibly important. Self-doubt is often the only factor that separates the challengers from the also-rans.
You're onto something...mtber
Jun 11, 2002 12:56 PM
When you are winning (or doing better than you had expected) you experience a euphoric high. Your HR might be through the roof and your legs may be burning, but you don't notice the pain, you just enjoy the race. So if I could just put that 'fun' back into the equation when I am not leading ...

Ill work on it. Thanks.
time in painDougSloan
Jun 12, 2002 3:22 PM
I feel your pain. I, too, ran everything from the 400 to the marathon in highschool and then the 400 in college. For a 400 or 800, the pain doesn't last long. It's relatively easy to disassociate and bear it.

However, for events that go on for an hour or more, that gets tougher. You have lots of time for self doubt. Crank that all the way up to something like a double century or a 500 miler, and jeez, you have an entire day for self doubt. I frequently find myself thinking, "why am I doing this?"

When I get like that, I do as some of you have suggested. Break it down. Just take a small increment at a time. Get over that next hill. Pass that next rider. In the 508, I focused on 50 mile chunks, a hill, or the person in front of me. I just "lived in the moment," and ignored consequences. A guy had passed me up a hill before the last 25 miles. When I saw him again off in the distance, I focused on nothing else but passing him. When I did, I focused on nothing more than keeping him from passing me back. I averaged over 21 mph the last 20 miles (and no tailwind).

We've all been there many times. I think "break it down" is about the best way to deal with pain or doubt.

BTW, you didn't run for Lindberg, did you? (I ran for Jeff City and Cape Girardeau, grad 1979).

Same way you conquer physical limiters--training!!bicyclecoach_com
Jun 12, 2002 7:15 AM
If your power at LT is limiting you, what do you do? training workouts that will raise LT. If negative thoughts during races are limiting you, what do you do? mental training "workouts" that will help train your thought patterns and mental habits. At the highest levels, I am convinced that mental training is necessary for success.

Here's a mental training exercise that I use with athletes: Visualize the last race you did when these negative, doubting thoughts came up. You have to really get into this, and really try to feel the race: the vibrations of the terrain, pushing your legs on the hills, heat building in helmet, etc, etc, etc. Once you're into it, then, "visualize" one of those negative thoughts coming up in your mind. NOW, this is the key, visualize your immediate, positive reaction to the negative thought. Example: "I'm not a climber" Immediately visualize yourself thinking something positive, such as: if I pace this climb well, I can catch the leaders on the flats. OR: "Maybe I'm sick" Immediately visualize yourself thinking something positive, such as: I've done tough things before, I can do this. OR "It's too hot" Immediately visualize yourself thinking something positive, such as: everyone else is feeling the heat.

You're not trying to trick yourself into avoiding the reality of things. Rather, you're recognizing that reality will be what it is, but you can choose how to react to that reality: negatively or positively. Negative reactions inhibit performance, positive reactions enhance it.

By practicing having positive reactions to negative thoughts/situations (doing 3 or 4, 10-15 min visualization sessions per week), you will be prepared to turn your negative thoughts during races into postive ones, so that, as a matter of habit, those negative thoughts are so brief that they won't affect your performance potential that day. Also, the more you practice avoiding negative thoughts, the more you will avoid having the negative thoughts altogether--they simply won't come up because you have practiced being positive and thinking positive thoughts.
Jun 12, 2002 9:14 AM
Visualization is an extremely interesting concept for me. I road raced motorcycles for seven years and would spend a fair amount of the off season visualizing myself on the tracks I knew so well. I got so good at going around the tracks in my mind's eye that I could close my eyes and open them exactly 1:34 or 1:13 later, those being the times it took me to go around SIR and PIR.

Oddly enough, I started finding new ways around the tracks doing this. And the scary thing is those new things I discovered actually worked on the real tracks! Talk about blurring lines...

Without thinking about it I've found myself visualizing myself in crits I've done multiple times over the last two years (when I started bicycle racing again.) I visualize good places to break, sprint, hang back, etc. Like before, I've found that work invaluable when I actually go out and race with my body.

re: DoubtMr Good
Jun 12, 2002 9:50 AM
I have only recently started focusing on my own race psychology, which I used to dismiss as less important than physical training. But I found myself giving up mentally at the hardest part of a race, or even in the last two miles of a long race! I would think "this hurts, these guys are too fast for me." Then I'd give up MENTALLY, and only then ease off my physial effort. Note, the physical effort wasn't really too much for me, but once I decided that I couldn't do it, then I really couldn't do it anymore!

Fast forward to this year, and I'm getting good results by refusing to give up the mind game. Before the race begins, I tell myself that I'm going to play the game out to the end, and my body will have to give up before I will.

In answer to your specific question "how to conquer the self doubt"--I decide in advance that I'm not going to doubt or give up, then I have to keep my promise to myself. I tell myself "the rest of these guys are hurting as much as I am, maybe more--keep on pushing." I ask myself "Why did you come this far, only to give in now? What's the point if you don't suffer through to the end?" Here's my latest, and favorite: when I really start suffering on a climb, I sing (in my head) the Beatles' "It's getting better all the time." Even though my legs actually feel worse and worse, the mental power of telling myself it's getting BETTER, and the cheerful music in my head helps me get to the top of the climb while others drop off.

These are just examples of mind games to defeat self doubt. Others may work better for you. The important thing is to realize that these mind games are not a silly addendum to physical training--your mental attitude is a HUGE part of performance, and whatever you can do to improve that attitude is worthwhile! Keep on pedaling!

PS--here's one more, obvious, but it works for me: focus on your successes in the past. You've done well before, you've upgraded through the categories, there's no reason you can't replicate that performance again. Sure it involves effort, even suffering, but that's a given--maybe even the reason why we do this!
re: Doubtmtber
Jun 12, 2002 1:20 PM
You described it very well. When I give up mentally, I then back off physically, which I then try to justify with lame excuses. In one race, I came around a corner, only to see one of my competitors up ahead, whom I then managed to reel in. This gave me renewed energy and suddenly my HR was back up (5-10 bpm) to my usual race pace. So I know I have it in me.

Funny you mention the song - when I did the Leadville Trail 100, I had the song No Sleep til Brooklyn (Beastie Boys) in my head for a good part of the race.
Thanks all - here's a summary for those interestedmtber
Jun 12, 2002 1:45 PM
Mental Training Lessons:
1) Push pain out of your mind by thinking of positive phrase or song. You can also pretend your pain is being 'broadcast' into the legs of others - I like that.
2) Realize that pain means you are alive. The Klingon reference reminded me of another: Pain is weakness leaving the body.
3) Remove the pressure to perform. Put yourself into the 'Im winning this race' frame of mind.
4) Add visualization exercises to training.
a) visualize race where negative thoughts took over and attack the neg thoughts w/ pos ones
b) visualize race where you are doing well
5) Focus on past sucesses - they did not come without 100% effort