by Haley Smith

This piece originally featured in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Canadian Cycling Magazine

Stretch Haley Smith

This past fall, I was on a mountain bike ride with two-time world champion Catharine Pendrel. I was extremely nervous before the ride – nervous enough that I doubted my skill level and seriously wondered what I’d gotten myself into. I showed up stressed and convinced I would perform poorly. It should be no surprise that that’s exactly what happened. I made mistakes, rode well below my ability level and forgot to have any fun. One hour into the ride, I’d been dropped and felt pretty downtrodden.

What went wrong? Why did my skill pack up and leave?

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The answer lies in the mental state I brought to the ride. Our mental states have more power than we give them credit for. As the saying goes: “What you think, you become.” Many riders are derailed by their thoughts before they even hit the trails or the road. Whether you’re a fondo rider or a pro, devoting some time to your mental state will always pay dividends. Here are my top-five tips for cultivating a mindful headspace to increase your performance and enjoyment on the bike.

Practice yoga

In yoga, you will learn which thoughts to nurture and which to ignore. Here, you’ll build your foundations for mental strength and adaptability – and you’ll get some major stress relief in the process.

Zone-in

Before your next ride or race, take five minutes to set your frame of mind. Start with five deep breaths down into your belly and draw your focus inwards. Then think about what you want to achieve that day. What attitude will you bring to the group ride? What are you hoping to accomplish? Focusing your energy this way will help you persevere when the ride gets tough.

Check your ego at the door

Accept that not every day will be your best day. Keep in mind that you can always learn something from your ride buddies. Be willing to work, learn and have fun.

Reflect

After each ride, pick a few things that you did well. Spending time boosting your confidence in this way will train your brain to be more positive – and thus increase your ability to keep going in tough situations.

Practice mindfulness activities

Mindfulness is a practice that is gaining huge momentum in the sport psychology world. Essentially, mindfulness is the process of being aware of your thoughts. You can kick-start this practice with a few deep, “mindful” breaths while you’re stretching, a short 10-minute meditation practice or with any activity that allows you to be fully in the moment (such as journaling or colouring). Allow yourself to get to a place where you can observe the steady stream of your thoughts without fixating on any one of them or passing judgment on yourself. This practice is the foundation for reliable mental performance in the face of adversity.

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