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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Psychology for Competitive Cyclists

The psychological aspects of cycling should not be ignored, in fact, you can not.  Simply put, athletes are not pure machines.  We have thoughts, emotions, feelings, beliefs and values which in turn effect our behaviors.  As a result, athletic performance can be greatly connected to psychological or mental factors.  My intent in this article is to discuss psychology for bike racing and identify several skills and techniques, including anxiety management, attention and concentration control (focus), imagery, visual mental practice, and self talk, that can improve performance.

Let's begin with visualization, or the technique of using one's imagination to picture or imagine specific behaviors or events that have or can occur in one's life.  It is important to note, that the act of visualization can significantly improve an athlete's performance.  The value of visualization or mental practice is well established in research.

One such study used sixty beginning basketball players split into three groups of twenty each.  The first group practiced shooting baskets from the free-throw line, attempting a specified number of shots in a specified time for a period of two weeks.  The second group was asked to do the same thing, but only as a visualization or in their "mind's eye".  The third group was a control group and performed neither mental or actual shooting practice.

Each group was tested at the beginning and end of their two-week practice.  As expected, the third group didn't improve.  The group who only used visualization, or mental practice, however, improved almost as much as those who physically trained. (Dan Millman 1999)

In another well known study on visualization in sports, Russian scientists compared four groups of Olympic athletes in terms of their training schedules:
     Group 1 = 100% physical training;
     Group 2 =  75%  physical training with 25% mental training
     Group 3 =  50%  physical training with 50% mental training
     Group 4 =  25%  physical training with 75% mental training

Group 4, with 75% of their time devoted to mental training, performed the best.  "The Soviets had discovered that mental images can act as a prelude to muscular impulses." (Scaglione & Cummins 1993)

The Brain Cannot Tell The Difference Between a Real and an Imagined Action

"According to Lynne McTaggart in her book The Intentional Experiment, electromyography (EMG) has shown that the brain does not differentiate between the thought of an action and a real action.  In an experiment with a group of skiers, EMG discovered that when they mentally rehearsed their downhill runs, the electrical impulses sent to the muscles were the same as when physically engaged in the runs." (Chadwick 2009)  This illustrates the power of visualization. 

This information is HUGE in it's potential impact on athletic training and performance.

A few clear advantages of mental practice versus physical practice is that it's safe, you can do it anywhere, anytime, it produces no physical bodily wear, and because mental practice can be error free, there's no fear of failure.  For competitive cyclists it's an ideal way to rehearse hairy field sprints, or dangerous mountainous descents, and high speed cornering, etc.

Here's how I personally applied visualization to my goal of winning a National Championship.  Among many details,  well in advance of the race, I used the internet and Google mapping to inspect the course that I would be racing on, and later I rode the actual course before the race.   Throughout my training and racing season, I visualized the course and the riders that I had raced against the previous year repetitively in my mind.  I also mentally re-raced the finish of the previous year's National Championship races in my mind with several variations of possible tactics and with as much sensory detail as I could muster.  Always, I would be victorious in my visualizations.   I would imagine myself riding flawlessly, no errors, just perfection. I would imagine myself  calm, collected, confident, calculated, and alert, exhibiting perfect drafting, bike handling, and apply perfect tactical  racing.  I would think keywords such as:  smooth, invincible, strong, smart, patient, focused, etc.    I did this over and over again throughout the year, on my stationary trainer, on long rides, sometimes before sleep and also during travel to races.  In races, I would recall the keywords (smooth, focused, confident, etc) to boost my confidence and performance.     This virtual training combined with my actual training lead me to believe that I could win and become a National Champion, which in fact, I did.  

I have added some more material to the topic of "Psychology for Competitive Cyclists".  It can be found and read by clicking here.

To learn about the best video camera in the world for videoing cycling (which is the cameras that I use for my videos) click here.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

National Champion Forevermore.

This is my Men's Masters Criterium National Championship video.  The race was held at Jeffersonville, Indiana on August 7, 2010.

The best part is........ that I WON!!!!   I Won a friggin' National Championship!!!!  I'm a National Champion forevermore! It's in the record books Dude! 

Now, I know there are plenty of people who would say, "Big deal, you beat a bunch of 40 year-olds at some bike race".  Well, that's true, but that same kind of attitude can be applied to all achievements.  For example, "You climbed Mt. Everest?  Big deal, all you had to do was go up an incline."  Or, "You walked on the moon?  Big deal, try Mars, now, that would be impressive."   Some people think this way. 

For me, this National Championship win, was my crowning achievement for my entire career of racing bicycles.   It was something that was very difficult to achieve and many others would like to do the same.  I've had friends tell me that if they won a National Jersey, they would "sleep in it", and have "sex with it".  It means that much and it's that good.

So here's my cliff notes from the race. First I must give a shout out to my friends Bob Cummings and Maurice Hessel.  They both treated me like a true team-mate even though we aren't officially (it's not uncommon for local competitors to become allies while abroad).  Both Bob and his wife treated me like family and offered me shelter and great company during the "off-times".  Maurice played a key role in giving me critical information during the race. 

Critical indeed, for most of the race I was hanging in the back (as per usual for me).   Maurice let me know what's up from the side-lines.  Actually, at one point I thought my race was all but over.  About half-way into the race, a break-a-way of several riders had gained over 24 seconds on the field.   Maurice's split times eventually told me another story.  The gap was closing; the break-a-way was going to get caught.  Game back on!!!!!  And the rest was timing and pure effort on my part. It is well documented in the video above.

In my video, I should point out that at minute 2:34, I came up quickly on a group of riders while I am trying to bridge up to the winning break-a-way.  These are lapped riders!  At first it freaked me out.  I had to be patient and wait to pass (@3:05) because of a series of turns.  This allowed my chasers to reattach, but I went again.  To some degree the lapped riders helped to slow my chasers, but not much.

I caught the lead break-a-way at minute 4:05 (in this video) and attacked at minute 4:21 and took Dan Martin with me.  The peloton was closing on the break-a-way as we went.

According to my video time-line from my raw footage: At 63minutes and 45seconds Dan Martin and I took off from the break-a-way group with about 4 laps to go. We finished about 5 minutes and 30 seconds later with a gap of ...around 7 seconds. The race lasted approximately 69minutes and 19seconds. (I'm glad I have this on video).

Speaking of video: I wanted to show the entire last nine minutes, but the YouTube limit for video size is 2GB (and I'm right there). So I removed about one minute of me and Dan Martin during our final effort.

I should also mention that the music in my video is "Plastic Flashing Lights" by Professor Kliq and the last song is "Roller Coaster" by JCRZ. I have aquired licenses that allows me to legally use both tunes for my videos. (I don't want to anger "the man".)

The below image is a graph of my watt/speed from my SRM data (1% smoothing).  As you can see, the race average speed was 27.47mph with an average of 272.4 watts.  The last nine minutes I averaged 28.42 mph and 368 watts with a peak of 1262 watts and 35.7mph max speed (with some cross wind). The course was approximately one kilometer long.  My data indicates that we raced for 50.81km for a total of 1hour and 58seconds or so. 
One fact that I should mention is that the front camera video appears very shaky.  This is because a piece of one of the extensions to my camera mount fractured during the race.  This happened for a couple of reasons.  One I added two extensions to the bar mount, in order to place the camera forward of the brake/shift cables.  This made the mount a little weak and bouncy.  So, in order to stabilize the camera,  I added a heavy metal wire that dropped from the handle bars to the extension for support. I then added some rubber-bands for pull-down tension.  Apparently, the repetitive road shock (from this and several others) combined with the multiple extensions, resulted in a fracture of the mount.  Happily my support device kept the camera on the bicycle and filming.

The image below shows my forward mounting system.
The rest, shall we say is history! :-)

Wait a second..... did I mention that the race was close.  I mean REALLY close.  Check the below pictures and you'll see just how close.

I would say about 3 inches.  But here's the weird thing, I knew I had won (or at least I had guessed correctly).

Interestingly, I thought I had lost the National Road Race Championship by about this same distance last year.   

Oh, and here's a nice article written by Tom Carbone for the Missourian about my National Championship achievement.  

And other nice article written by Joe Walljasper for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

To learn about the best video camera in the world for videoing cycling (which is the cameras that I use for my videos) click here. 
National Champion!


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