Author Topic: psychology and racing  (Read 1243 times)

psychology and racing
« on: July 08, 2019, 08:12:48 am »
We all know that psychology pays a big part in racing performance:
"heart wasn't really in it"
"couldn't be bothered"
etc

How many of us train our brains to race?

I had a big race on Sunday. I was also, for my sins, 'team captain', which meant handling the logistics of getting 30 people (and their kayaks) to the race, plus the entries. A very stressful week at work. I arrived at the race not really caring about the race, and boy, it showed in my performance.

Normally, I set off in a race like a hungry animal. A third of a way through this race I found myself going wide on a bend so that a competitor didn't get caught in weeds . . . erm, they were behind me; taking the fast line through the bend and forcing *them* wide (or through the weeds) would have been the valid racing option!

I raced like I was on bloody holiday, didn't get shifting until halfway through.

<i>Marmite slave</i>

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2019, 08:55:57 am »
Was prize money at stake? If not, put the performance behind you.

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #2 on: July 08, 2019, 09:05:28 am »
Why should money have any influence on whether I want to win a race (or place well)?

To me, if that is the attitude of a competitor, then they might as well give up.

If you compete, you compete. End of.
<i>Marmite slave</i>

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2019, 10:48:14 am »
There is a difference between friendly competition and win at all costs competition. On the bike, I'm in friendly competition mode...

Kim

  • Timelord
Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #4 on: July 08, 2019, 01:21:26 pm »
I'm rubbish at being competitive.  If I'm racing, I'm doing it for fun, which usually means making a decent effort to see how fast I can actually go.  If I know I'm in no state to go as fast as I otherwise might, there's no point in flogging myself.  *shrug*
To ride the Windcheetah, first, you must embrace the cantilever...

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2019, 04:36:20 pm »
Getting yourself in the right place to be able to race is not something I have been particularly good at.   I found my old thread yesterday where I talked about pre-race nerves.   This is still an issue for me but I'm probably way more controlled these days.

I am quite good at pushing harder when I know that I am close to or ahead of PB but I'm really bad at pushing when I can see it's going to be a bad day.   I think some of this comes down to focus.   I will regularly drift off, particularly on the longer ones where the pace is not that hard.

In my world you're only really racing yourself and your own targets.   Also no-one really cares how well I do and believing that they do just adds to the stress.

Watching top end riders over the years shows me just how hard they can go with examples of being carried off bikes, struggling to walk and throwing up.   I've never been able to do that and will always back off.   Again I'm not going to destroy myself to get a PB and being able to function again quite quickly is very much key.   

Remember also some bad days are just going to be bad days.   For all the prep work with equipment and physically you can still just be below par at times.


Kim

  • Timelord
Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2019, 04:39:53 pm »
Watching top end riders over the years shows me just how hard they can go with examples of being carried off bikes, struggling to walk and throwing up.   I've never been able to do that and will always back off.   Again I'm not going to destroy myself to get a PB and being able to function again quite quickly is very much key.

Also this.  I enjoy riding my bike too much to excessively risk my ability to ride a bike for the sake of any particular bike ride.
To ride the Windcheetah, first, you must embrace the cantilever...

quixoticgeek

  • Mostly Harmless
Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2019, 05:06:19 pm »
Watching top end riders over the years shows me just how hard they can go with examples of being carried off bikes, struggling to walk and throwing up.   I've never been able to do that and will always back off.   Again I'm not going to destroy myself to get a PB and being able to function again quite quickly is very much key.

Also this.  I enjoy riding my bike too much to excessively risk my ability to ride a bike for the sake of any particular bike ride.

I'm still trying to write this up a ride report blog post for my RatN attempt, and when I do it will elaborate on this further:

I have entered 3 races, and started 2 of them so far. My first race I was so naive I had no chance of anything. For the second race, I entered thinking I could finish, but expecting that I'd finish last. The quality of the other races it was a forgone conclusion, just a question of how far behind those of us in the bottom half would be. Then on day 4, as I'm struggling into the headwinds, as my knees are hurting, I get the news that the pre race favourite has scratched, and I'm up to 2nd. As the next day or so progresses it becomes clear that not only am I in second, but it's highly unlikely that 3rd can catch me. All I have to do to get 2nd is finish. Just another 800km or so to go. Get to the end, in the time limit. My knees were agony, and in the last 100km the Achilles on the left started to play up, with 60km to go, it was just agony. I found a position for my foot on the pedal that hurt the least, and didn't take it off the pedal for the final 30km. When I finished, I collapsed on the floor, pulled my shoes off, and asked for Ice, the Achilles was just total agony. I would go on to spend a few days hobbling about on a crutch to try and keep the weight off the left foot. I had to allow an extra 30 mins to get up the 2 floors of stairs to get to my physio appointment (the lift is broken). Had I not been in with a chance of a top 3 finish, I probably would have scratched at around 1200km mark. Got on a train, and gone to physio to get my wounds fixed. But knowing that all I had to do to get 2nd was Finish, I threw everything at it. It would cost me a lot in terms of recovery to get fully fit again, it was doubtful at one stage about whether I'd be able to start the TCR in July.

Slogging hard for so long wasn't especially fun, but I knew I could do it, I'd done it on multiple audaxes as part of my RrtY attempt. I know some say that RrtY just teaches you to go slow and faff. But it also teaches you to Just Keep Pedalling™.  Yes it's cold, yes it's wet, yes you've had this headwind for the last 100km, but Just Keep Pedalling™, it will stop soon.

I'm rambling. IMHO, yes you can train your brain, but it's not easy.

J
--
Beer, bikes, and backpacking
http://b.42q.eu/

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2019, 05:19:25 pm »
It makes a huge difference, knowing you are going to be one of the top finishers.

That's something that is killing my motivation now. I find it hard to duke it out in the middle of the pack. There is a club expectation that I will be a top three finisher in my division, but I've screwed that up in my last two races.

There is no way of getting to be a top 3 finisher (once past about div7) without hammering yourself. The races are still short, so the prolonged torture and endurance described by quixoticgeek isn't required. More the hammering that is needed to get through a half-marathon at maximum pace, where if you cross the finish line and are able to stand afterwards, you didn't run hard enough.
<i>Marmite slave</i>

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2019, 06:21:22 pm »
It makes a huge difference, knowing you are going to be one of the top finishers.

And that’s valid.   A couple of years back a fellow rider tried to convince me that I was quite good and I started to believe him.   It wasn’t right, of course, and what followed was a few mediocre rides, a couple of high profile DNFs and one or two outstandingly fast rides.

It’s a rollercoaster.  You can’t always be good or better than the others, but you have the chance to achieve goals that many others will never be able to do.  But I would say stop or take a break when you stop enjoying it.   That’s what I’ll be doing at the end of this season.

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2019, 06:52:36 am »
It's an interesting subject and there are different aspects to it - which a few of the comments above (several of which I can identify with very strongly!) bring out well. 

There's the aggressive, competitive side, whcih the OP referenced, which is more relevant to road-racing than TTs or ultras - looking for the gaps, spotting the breaks, making the attacks.  I think a lot of that is personality.  One or two people at my club are like that in that they are always competing, in a friendly way.  They will ride far above their normal ability to get to the top of a hill first, or to win a sprint.  They are just natural racers.  I think of Mark Cavendish as the embodiment of that.  It was said about Ray Booty, the man who first broke the 4 hour 100 mile barrier, that he was too nice to be a good road racer.  Largely you either have it or you don't.  I don't have much of it. 

The ability to drive yourself into the ground is what makes a good TTer great.  Adam Topham is the embodiment of this.  He could kill himself in races because he did it 5 times a week in training.  I don't have very much of that, either.  I generally finish TTs in a condition where I could do another lap.

Ultra-racing is a funny one.  Preparation and planning is really important but what really counts is the ability to sit on a bike for long periods and tap out miles without stopping, losing concentration or getting distracted by twitter, by cafes and by pain, boredom and your own thoughts.  Kristof and James Hayden are at the peak of this.  I'm relatively better at this than the other aspects.  However, the bit that fascinates, attracts and also terrifies me is the last stages of an ultra-race, when I am very tired and want it to finish.  I've only experienced this once, at the end of TCR 2016, and it was quite the weirdest place mentally I have ever been to.  I'll have another shot at it in a few weeks time where I hope I can draw on lessons from it. 

Re RRTY - I accept it teaches you to keep going but my point was that it is not the only way to learn that.
   

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #11 on: July 09, 2019, 11:27:02 am »
On Saturday I ran a (lumpy) trail half marathon.
We were warned that there was a bottleneck at the start. I'm always wary of going off too fast, so I made no particular effort to get too near the front, and just took my time to get through the gate and get going. I then spent the whole of the rest of the race passing people.
About 12km in I met my husband who told me that I was 4th woman. If I had not known that, I would have continued at the comfortable pace I was doing. Knowing that, I went as hard as I could were I could. (I remained 4th, but was 1st FV40.)
I also wonder what would have happened if I had been a bit nearer the front at the start.

I think of myself as a decent but unexceptional runner, but at the standard I run at my position depends hugely on whether there are lots of fast younger women around or not*. So at ParkRun (which isn't aimed at people like me), I need to start a couple of rows from the front, and will end up at the front of the field (I've been 2nd woman once, and my worst position was 6th woman I think). At the Scottish Cross country nationals, which is all club runners, I will end up in the bottom half of the field.

To what extent does this change how I race? After all, I'm there to have fun. But running a "fast" time (FSVO fast) hurts at the time but is satisfying afterwards. Every time I've been going for a time I've had to ask myself how much I want it, and how much I'm going to hurt myself to get it. (For example, my road marathon PB is anomalously slow complared to my half marathon time, but I'm not prepared to go through the training and racing I'd need to do to take the 15-20 minutes I possibly could take off the marathon time.)

I'm not sure if that adds anything to the thread. I've never used psychologial techniques for racing. I do seem to be able to hurt myself quite hard in training or racing, but that feels innate, I haven't trained that.

*or faster older women... I was once the only FV40 in a race, but was beaten by the entire FV50 podium!

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #12 on: July 09, 2019, 02:40:30 pm »
fimm, you sound to have a better mental set than myself. However "If I had not known that, I would have continued at the comfortable pace I was doing. Knowing that, I went as hard as I could "

That describes me in a race to a T. I find it hard to summon up power and effort just to race in the middle of the pack. On Sunday there was someone who kept catching & passing me at the portages (I'm very unskilled and slow at portaging). Even paddling badly, I was faster, so I would then pass him on the water. Six portages meant this happened again and again.

After the finish, he came up to say 'great race'. To him it had been some sort of epic duel, whereas I was just thinking how pathetic I had been, couldn't really have cared less about him, I was bothered about not catching the 2 people 500m in front of me.
<i>Marmite slave</i>

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #13 on: July 09, 2019, 02:44:25 pm »
Quote
After the finish, he came up to say 'great race'.

Whenever someone says something like that they rarely ever mean it.
"Yes please" said Squirrel "biscuits are our favourite things."

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #14 on: July 09, 2019, 03:57:45 pm »
Quote
After the finish, he came up to say 'great race'.

Whenever someone says something like that they rarely ever mean it.
He was probably thinking "Who is this long-haired, scruffy old git in the battered slow boat, who can't even portage properly, but is going faster than me, the sodding bastard?"

He was paddling about 3k of sleek fast carbon modern latest design (possibly a club boat), I was in a 20-year old lump.
It is like someone on a carbon aero bike with look cleats being beaten by someone on an old steel bike with toeclips.
<i>Marmite slave</i>

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #15 on: July 10, 2019, 11:06:13 am »
Quote
After the finish, he came up to say 'great race'.

Whenever someone says something like that they rarely ever mean it.

On my last 600 I was repeatedly passed by someone with all the ultra racing kit travelling at Mach 3, but taking a lot of stops.   Every time he said 'Good Effort'.   Condescending pr1ck.

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #16 on: July 10, 2019, 01:01:12 pm »
That happens to me often, including on ultra races. 
Most people don't realise that 90% of being fast-ish (as opposed to being really fast) over long distances is not stopping.
Maybe he didn't realise that you were the same person over and over again!

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #17 on: July 10, 2019, 01:44:04 pm »
After the finish, he came up to say 'great race'. To him it had been some sort of epic duel...
Hmmm, you can't know that. After I'd finished on Saturday I went and spoke to a man who I'd been back and forth with for about half the race. To me that's just acknowledging a shared experience, just as you might make an effort to speak to someone you'd seen a lot of during an Audax.

There's a balance between being competitive and being too competitive I think. I once manned a (running race) control on top of a hill and a number of the people at the back of the field were stopping to take photos and chat with their friends... that isn't me, but who am I to criticise how other people take part in these things?

Kim

  • Timelord
Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #18 on: July 10, 2019, 01:55:06 pm »
After the finish, he came up to say 'great race'. To him it had been some sort of epic duel...
Hmmm, you can't know that. After I'd finished on Saturday I went and spoke to a man who I'd been back and forth with for about half the race. To me that's just acknowledging a shared experience, just as you might make an effort to speak to someone you'd seen a lot of during an Audax.

I think it could be both.  I've certainly been in BHPC races where I've been in an epic duel with someone in a completely different class (most of the people I'm competitive with are men, and many of them have fairings).  They don't have to be working hard to make it interesting, especially if they've got a better bike.
To ride the Windcheetah, first, you must embrace the cantilever...

quixoticgeek

  • Mostly Harmless
Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #19 on: July 10, 2019, 02:31:49 pm »

I think it could be both.  I've certainly been in BHPC races where I've been in an epic duel with someone in a completely different class (most of the people I'm competitive with are men, and many of them have fairings).  They don't have to be working hard to make it interesting, especially if they've got a better bike.

On RatN I was really pleased that Sheila had waited at the finish until I'd arrived. We hadn't seen each other since the start, yet we'd raced each other for 1900km, she quite quickly had an unassailable lead, but because we were riding out of phase slightly (I was pushing much deeper into the night, but then starting later), There was quite a lot of leapfrogging going on.

When I said to Sheila, "Well done, great race" I really meant it. It was a shame Suzanne, the only other finisher, wasn't around to congratulate too.

J
--
Beer, bikes, and backpacking
http://b.42q.eu/

Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #20 on: July 10, 2019, 11:25:29 pm »
Not really a race but interesting Physcology.

CTC social ride tonight and because of the numbers there's always a bit of a race in the last 3 miles to the pub.  I'd gone on my Brompton as it gives my legs a much better workout than the road bike on the hills. 

This led to two observations

1. After initially being overtaken I'll generally overtake those on carbon road bikes further up the hill as they gear down and I continue at the same speed having hit my lowest gear early on.
2. They hate this but can't catch up before the hill ends.

In the last 3 mile sprint they hated that I could keep up. Of course I was drafting (I'm not stupid), the Brompton aerodynamic positioning isn't going to let me pull away from them.  They were desperate to reach the pub before me, but knowing a shortcut into the garden and Bromptons being easy to park with a flick of the rear triangle , I beat them to ordering at the bar. Cue grumpy faces.

Physcology when you are on a different or inappropriate bike is fascinating and amusing at the same time. You can get similar reactions when you leave them for dead on downhills or the flat on a recumbent.

Kim

  • Timelord
Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #21 on: July 10, 2019, 11:51:29 pm »
Only a fool picks a race with someone on a Brompton.  There's no way that can end well.
To ride the Windcheetah, first, you must embrace the cantilever...

Cudzoziemiec

  • Solar powered, tea fuelled cycle-wol
Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #22 on: July 11, 2019, 12:30:37 pm »
I was third in the monkey race at school sports day when I was seven or eight. Actually, I might have been second. (Monkey race was bounding along on all fours.) I've no idea why I was any good at this, but I was. I do remember that I had an unusual technique, in that I jumped facing more or less sideways. Again, I've no idea why, it was not a deliberate tactic just something that happened. Apart from that, I'm pretty sure I've never won any race or been concerned about winning or losing. In the same vein, I never find tales of amazing athletic performances or feats of endurance impressive or inspiring; yes, I can appreciate how much effort it took, how difficult it was, what an achievement it was for you, but so what? It doesn't make me feel like doing anything of the sort.

So, that's me: a sideways bounding monkey. There's got to be something in that...
sideways bounding monkey lounging under fruit tree

simonp

  • Omnomnomnipotent.
Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #23 on: July 11, 2019, 12:44:40 pm »
We were practicing for Llandaff Regatta on Tuesday. Two relatively inexperienced crews (myself and one other in our boat excepted) racing side by side, short 250m efforts.

Both crews got faster once we stopped racing each other and just focused on our own boat and rowing as a unit. There's a tendency for the less experienced rowers to keep looking over to the other boat rather than focusing on following stroke and maintaining a good rhythm and discipline.

Focusing on the process rather than the outcome leads in this case to a better performance. I've got a nice video from our club captain from the first regatta win I was in (this was the semi final), where we had a poor start, but rowed through the opposition. On the video you can clearly hear the opposition's cox shouting loudly "It's very level Hereford, don't let them get you!". Our cox was heard to be saying "On the legs!". We'd had a terrible start but worked on establishing ourselves in the race and then putting in a couple of bursts - one to get us level again, and then the second to take the win.

We won because we focused on rowing well. They focused on what we were doing and worried about us - they totally lost their form.


Re: psychology and racing
« Reply #24 on: July 11, 2019, 02:50:47 pm »
Interesting.
The analogy in ultra-racing is that some people frequently look at the tracker to see who is near them.  They might then decide to ride an extra half an hour into the night to get clear of / catch someone.  But it is better not to look at the tracker and ride your own race.