Race Workshop: Mindset

Racing is about more than just physical fitness and riders who have trained their minds as well as their bodies generally put themselves in a better position to achieve their goals. We take a look at some different approaches to achieving a healthy racing mindset, inspired by the riders who have been through it all.

Reading time: 5 min
Cyclist riding into the distance

 

Preparing for a race has many components: making sure you have the right kit and that your bike is set-up for the conditions you’ll be riding in, as well as ensuring that you’ve done the appropriate physical training. But what can often be overlooked are the mental challenges associated with racing and how to deal with them. Just as you should prepare your bike and your body, preparing your mind should be an essential element to any rider’s bikepacking toolkit.

I’ve come to realize that it’s not just mastering one proficiency, but rather accumulating a diverse range of skills that leads to being a competent, self-sufficient bikepacker.

-Meaghan Hackinen / Multi-disciplinary bikepacker and racer
Meaghan Hackinen

Pre-race

 

Goals and motivations

Different people will have different goals for their chosen race, whether it’s to win, finish or just get as far as they can while enjoying the experience. Before you start any race, spend some time thinking about your goals and focus on why you want to do it in the first place. Use this to realise your motivations for doing what you’re doing and try not to lose sight of them. When things get tough, remembering the “why” can be a handy thing to repeat to yourself.

When I start a challenge, I have a finish line in mind and I know before I start that I really care about that, and won’t be happy unless I meet it. I usually don’t know how long it will take me, and it often feels like it takes me way too long to get there, and I’ll get frustrated, bored, exhausted and despondent… But I’ll find that note that I wrote down before I started to remind me what the finish line was, and that will always snap me back.

-Jenny Tough / Adventurer and bikepacker

Plan, prepare and practice

Just like training rides will be good practice for all of the physical and mechanical elements of racing, they will also help you prepare for the mental challenges too. The more riding you do, the more you will expose yourself to all of the potential scenarios that can occur. Dealing with the ups and downs of an everyday training ride and learning how to overcome negative thoughts that could derail your efforts will put you in a great position on race day.

Apidura rider Marion Dziwnik used a series of non-competitive events called the Orbit360 Gravel Series to prepare for her Badlands attempt in 2021, which she went on to win.

“Dealing with unpredictable road conditions is something I find challenging when riding off-road,” says Marion. “But the Orbit360 routes were deliberately demanding, with unrideable hike-a-bike sections on which I made slow progress. This gave me plenty of opportunities to work on my mental strength while dealing with the more challenging parts.”

Marion Dziwnik

I experimented with different mental techniques and learned how to control and redirect my negative thoughts in those situations. It also became clear to me what motivates me about ultra-endurance rides. I was finally ready to start again for a multi-day race.

-Marion Dziwnik / Badlands 2021 winner

During the race

 

Responding to challenges 

In order to help them overcome negative thoughts during a hard race or ride, many riders recommend practicing mindfulness in their every day lives. Abdullah Zeinab, who won the Rhino Run race in 2022 – despite a series of mechanical challenges, including losing one tiny screw in the desert sand and having to spend several hours looking for it, almost jeopardising his leading position, attributes his mental resilience to the meditation he forced himself to do in the build up to the race.

“I began to meditate for 20 minutes per day. Nothing fancy, just focusing on my breathing,” Abdullah recalls in this journal piece. “I slowly found a spot where I was relaxed but focused at the same time. Thoughts pop up, but my focus would allow me to notice it and not get too involved. Thoughts of quitting would rush in, and I found myself able to leave them. I might experience a pretty intense period of mental activity but if I left it, eventually it passed, and I was still riding my bike.”

Ultimately, learning how to stay calm in challenging situations can be one of the most useful things you can do to achieve a good racing mindset.

Abdullah Zeinab

If your race goes wrong you may be exhausted, sleep deprived, stressed and other things. This does not make it easier. Keep calm. Try to find a structured way to think about possible solutions. Take your time – you will not solve this within minutes, but if you act wisely, you’re much more likely to fix it.

-Ulrich Bartholmoes / Ultra-distance racer

Staying focused

Being able to focus on the task at hand not only helps you overcome challenges when they arise, it also helps to keep you efficient. The “efficiency mindset” is used to describe the process of thinking ahead and anticipating your needs before it’s too late, allowing you to minimise faff time and maximising your time off the bike. There’s nothing worse than stopping at a resupply point, such as a supermarket and having no idea what you need, wasting time and no doubt spiralling into a negative mindset when you realise you’re wasting time.

Before you plan to stop, take a few minutes to mentally take stock of how you feel and what you need ahead of time. This will pay dividends for your mindset throughout the race.

Ulrich Bartholmoes

The experience of a race like this is so intense and enriching that I wish everyone would get to experience it at least once in their life. It is a journey to your inner motivation, bringing you closer to yourself than anything else… which may just change your life forever.

-Marion Dziwnik / Badlands 2021 winner

Post-race

 

A learning experience

Processing something like a bikepacking race can take quite some time for a lot of people. After pushing your body and mind to their limits, it’s no wonder riders still feel the emotional ups and downs of racing even after the event has finished. Take this opportunity to reflect on what went well and what didn’t and use these insights to bolster your mental resilience for your next event or adventure.

Like with anything, what works for some might not work for others and finding what’s best for your racing mindset will take practice. But with time and training, you’ll get to know yourself and how to put yourself in the best possible position for a healthy racing mindset.