Out spokin’

Training in adverse conditions helps build mental toughness


The weather in Colorado serves up a bit of everything. One day you’re basking in 60-degree weather in January, and a few days later the highs barely crack single digits. In the spring and summer we have our thunderstorms and mysterious temperature inversions. But training must go on, because very few endurance competitions are called off on account of bad weather. It’s my belief that the mental toughness to be an endurance athlete is achieved through repetition and experience, as well as success and (to a certain degree) failure. In addition, meeting adverse conditions with a degree of preparedness is crucial to success in all conditions.


Here’s what I’m talking about:

Repetition of skills — Confidence comes from practicing until the most complicated tasks or movements are completely natural. If you’ve drilled something over and over in training, you know how your body will respond when it’s time to test it in a race situation. Descending, cornering, and riding in a tight pack can be stressful, but deliberate practice enables you to get comfortable in these situations. Once you no longer have to think about those things, your mind is free to focus on strategy, tactics and winning.

Success and failure — As an endurance athlete — as in other aspects of life — failure can be a good thing. Most of us have experienced what it feels like to get dropped on a climb or to lose contact with the pack on a group ride. Doesn’t feel very good, does it? However, within that failure is the information that will help you get stronger. The point at which you fail tells us a lot about how to target your training. If you can stay with the group on a certain climb at 10 mph, but you get dropped when the pace is 12 mph, then we can use specific intervals to develop the power necessary to reach the summit with — or ahead — of the group. And success breeds confidence, especially when you take the time to reconcile the achievement with the work you put in to get there.

Training in adverse conditions — The experiences of our life help to define us, and they impact our reactions to future circumstances. How many times have you not gone out to ride because it’s raining, only to show up to the start line of a race in a downpour? How do you handle that? Do you bag it and go home, or do you stay and stick it out? Occasionally training in the rain or the cold or the snow helps to prepare you for the inevitable experience of having to compete in poor weather conditions. These training sessions help you realize what you can withstand, so that the next storm doesn’t seem so bad.

(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.