Focus on controllables
It’s important to working on your mental game throughout the whole year. But with an important event getting close, you are likely to confront an extra challenge – self-doubt. Have I trained enough? Do I have the necessary fitness? Thoughts like this are common and they can make the last week before the race very stressful. Some people panic and start adding extra rides to their plan, just to test whether they’re ready.
The important thing to realise is that with 1-2 weeks before a race, you’re as physically prepared as you’re going to get. If you need to build confidence, it’s better to go over your training log for the past weeks and months instead of turning every ride into a mock-race.
Once your mind gets into a stressful mode, it’s easy to come up with many more reasons to have doubts. What will the weather be like, how will my competitors perform, will the race be well organized? Whenever you start slipping into this spiral, refocus on you can control instead, things like nutrition, hydration, sleep, executing your remaining training rides, and getting to the starting line on time.
There are actually a few extra things you can do in the last few weeks and days before the race. One of them is visualization. It’s something that many successful athletes in a variety of different sports do. Basically, you go over the race route in your mind, imagining the challenges you may encounter, and how you will overcome them in as much detail as you can. You can practice different scenarios in your head and think of how you’d react to them, like losing a lead, digestive issues, or a technical issue.
To expand on the previous point, you can attach and reinforce self-talk to the outcomes you want. The way you talk to yourself in these challenging times can have a big impact. If you manage to keep the conversation positive and motivating and are able to shift your thoughts away from negativity, you’ll have a powerful advantage. You can try using positive affirmations to reinforce your confidence and ability to perform well. But it’s important to use phrases that resonate with you. Examples might include sentences like “I am strong”, “I can do this”, or “I am well-prepared”.
Principles of taper
Once you get to about 7-10 days out from race day, it’s time to think about a taper. You can’t really do much to improve, but you can certainly screw things up. Here are the basic rules of a taper.
- Reduce training volume by decreasing workout length by 30-40% compared to normal
- Keep doing your interval training, you need the high intensity in your last week to feel sharp on race day
- Maintain your training routine, ride as often as usual, just make the rides shorter
- Do what you can to preserve sleep quality, especially if you’re travelling for your race
- Maintain your usual diet, don’t start eating a lot less because of the lower training volume, you’ll need the food for recovery so you feel fresh on race day
- Manage overall stress, avoid scheduling important events or extra work into your taper week
- Avoid new activities, this is not the time to experiment, you don’t want any surprising muscle soreness when racing
With this, the 6-week peak for your next cycling event is coming to an end. If you successfully included all 6 elements into your preparation, you maximized your chances at succeeding in your goals. But even if you didn’t, use the experience you gained and try it again for another event. Practice makes perfect.