Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Killing Nerves

Below is a post I made to the Fixed Gear Fever forum. It was a summary of my thoughts and learnings so far about how to control nerves and anxieties before championship events.

The full discussion can be found here at FGF:

Like Spinal Tap - this one "goes all the way to eleven". :)

I previously commented* on my first ever track race (teams pursuit) which was many years ago now but the nerves were mostly about not letting the team down. I didn't, 'cause once I was out there and you're going full-bore, well that's all you can concentrate on!

Lesson #1:
So from then on I knew, once the race started, any nerves I had before hand would usually disappear.

* I remember my first ever track event - it was a teams pursuit. There was absolutely nothing left in my bowels before that race!

We made podium with a 3-man team and gave the other teams with many current or former National and World Champion riders a shake. Being on the podium with a World Champion’s jersey standing next to me was building confidence (OK - I didn't know the world's jersey next to me was owned by a sprinter and not an enduro but that didn't mater at the time!).

Lesson #2:
Results built confidence and lessened my anxiety/nerves next time round.

Since I was lucky to have success in a team event, this turned out to be the way in which I was best able to attain championship race results in the early years. Half a dozen team championship medals followed in the years to follow.

Lesson #3:
Team results built confidence more quickly for me even though as an individual rider I didn’t have the capability (yet) to attain individual results but I was able to contribute to team results – hence Lesson #2 came into play more quickly.

Then I raced as much as possible to gain knowledge and experience in a wide variety of events, mostly 'cause I loved it so much but also it gave me a fair idea of what I was (i) best at and (ii) what I needed to improve and eventually focus on.

Lesson # 4:
My nerves have been lessened through sheer volume of racing. So get out there and get into it Alex!

So after racing for a while, I improved and thought I'd start racing at individual championships, State and National (our States are pretty similar standard to Nats anyway). Well my first championships were fine - no nerves because I had no expectations of myself. But as the years progressed, I started to expect more of myself and there was a growing mismatch between what I wanted to achieve and how good I was at the time. That mismatch then fed performance anxieties which would start several weeks out and go right through to race time. That was probably the worst I ever felt. Championships were no longer enjoyable. I needed to step back, set realistic goals and remember why I was there in the first place.

Lesson #5:
I learned to set realistic performance goals. With realistic goals, my anxiety was lessened as success became redefined and more attainable. And remember Alex – “I do this because I love it”.

In my racing, I began to introduce the idea of having a strategy, or at least some tactics to use in races. This I found was a great way to both improve and find out what I was actually capable of - races became more than just another race, it was a challenge to try something out and I was looking forward to racing even more. Importantly I had something positive to focus on before the race and I still got something out of a race that either I didn't win or perhaps was unlikely to anyway due to the level of competition. I also remember leading into an important race (an individual pursuit qualifier) having “brain fade” – result: I seriously underperformed compared to what I was physically capable of on the day (and I have the data to prove it)! That mistake was a great lesson to me about pre-race thoughts.

Lesson #6:
Now I will try to have a strategy/plan/tactics in mind before a race and replay them to myself - then I am focussed on what I want to do, rather than what I can't/shouldn't do. Takes up brain time otherwise used feeding nervous energy!

I also realised that with support of others, nerves and anxiety could be lessened as you were both supporting your mates and as well as being encouraged to do well by them. I avoid the negative talkers. I do let this creep into my language at times, so some of my buddies now recognise when that happens and are pretty quick to get me back on track.

Lesson #7:
Hanging around riders with a positive and successful attitude, created a similar thought process and helped reduce my nerves.

So then I began to understand the individual events better and started to simulate the racing stresses in training. I had a coach guide my conditioning. I earned coaching qualifications myself. I ventured (enthusiastically) into the world of training and racing with power meters. Suddenly I knew the demands of what I was aiming for and where I was currently - I had a road map of how to get there. Then after following the map - I had a breakthrough, an individual podium result at championships. I record important data and make full use of the fantastic tools available for tracking performance (e.g. Cycling Peaks WKO and Performance Manager) - the lessons and data collected are invaluable aids and help me focus on what's important. But caution – it takes time and experience to properly interpret the data and you can draw the wrong conclusions (but don’t be scared to make mistakes – we learn more that way).

Learning to make use of the new tools available for tracking and managing performance / training is giving me confidence in my conditioning and training (especially the data from power meter). It means I’m learning to determine beforehand what I’m capable of and how to get the most out of what I’ve got. Reminding myself of this before races helps me.

This last one is getting better and more important for me with experience and a growing bank of historical power data. Only last weekend I was able to confidently predict my form on the day, which was a significant contribution to wringing the most out of myself (through appropriate pacing) and earn yet another team championship medal (this time a road TTT).

Lesson #8:
If I can, I try to simulate race conditions beforehand in training – then on race day they seem normal and I can remind myself of the fact, e.g., “Pace the first lap and a half just like in training”.

Lesson #9:
Learning to read and predict my own form has reduced my fear of the unknown. I now know pretty much what I’m in for before I start (and how that might influence my strategy in a race).

Lesson #10:
I realised over time that some pre-race nerves are good and are normal (so I am used to feeling that way as I know it means I have the right level of arousal). It might be slightly counter-intuitive – but I get worried when I don’t get a little nervous before a big race!

Lesson #11:
I’ve realised that I must make sure I don’t forget to have fun, celebrate and have a good laugh at having been nervous in the first place!


Alex Simmons said...

Thanks but no, I am not interested in using this blog to make money. I do this simply to share my experiences and learnings with anyone so interested and is especially written for those that share the same passion as I about riding a bike competitively.

Any future messages with "spam-like" qualities will be rejected.