Coach Hughes: Cycling Mental Training pt. 3
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Mental

Part 3: Managing Pain

With every pedal stroke my right foot burned.

“Smooth spin.”    “Ouch!”    “Lift up.”    “Ouch!”    “Wiggle your toes.”    “Ouch!”

With a couple of hundred miles to go in the race, I had serious hot foot. My analytical mind understood the cause—pressure on the nerve—and tried to solve the problem, but the remedies weren’t working.

by Coach John Hughes

John Hughes is the author of Anti-Aging: 12 Ways to You Can Slow the Aging Process and of the book Distance Cycling. He has written 40 articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for More about Coach Hughes.
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

Mental Training Techniques: Relax, Breathe, Do Nothing Extra
Part 1: Calming the Emotions
Part 2: Gathering Energy
Part 3: Managing Pain
Part 4: Creating a Positive Attitude
Part 5: Visualizing an Event

We’ve all been there—pain reaches out, grabs our attention, and distracts us from riding our ride. What we need is a way to let go of the pain.

Pain is a feeling. And feelings influence thoughts . . . which influence feelings. Pain can cause us to tense up “will this get worse? ” and to worry “can I finish? ” As we get tense, the feeling of pain is literally amplified.

What to do? Use breathing to manage the pain. There are two different strategies for doing this:

1) Go into the pain
When you feel pain, use the pain as a cue to remind you to focus on your breathing. As you feel the pain, try to focus on the basic rhythm of your breathing. Pain disrupts the rhythm. Try to get back to a smooth rhythm. Let the pain just be there. Draw in energy and exhale tension. Breathe and relax. Don’t fight the pain. Relax, breathe and do nothing extra.

Imagine that you are breathing in soothing energy. Breathe in cool blue to calm a hot foot. Or warm red to soothe an aching muscle.

2) Reduce the pain
Again, start by focusing on your breathing. Re-establish your rhythm. Feel that rhythm apart from the pain. Direct your attention to your breath, away from the pain. Then direct your attention awayfrom your body. Focus on the rhythm of the telephone poles. Or on the silo down the road.

Then, focus on changing your thoughts. Think “powerful”, “smooth”, “steady”.

Last month you experimented with different images of energy. Inhaling red mist. A spinning water wheel. Recall your most powerful image. Recall it in detail. Examine each detail in your mind.

Go out and hurt! What? To use either pain management strategy effectively, you need to practice it. In training you are probably doing intervals or other forms of intensity training which, if done properly, hurt! Focus on your breathing and experiment with:

  • going with the pain
  • reducing the pain

Does one method allow you to produce a little more power than the other method? Or does one technique help you to sustain the interval a little longer?

Pain in a long-distance event isn’t good—it’s a sign that something is wrong. When something hurts, first try physical adjustments to eliminate the cause of the pain. For example, loosening tight shoes, or adjusting the saddle height. If that doesn’t eliminate the pain, then ask: is this a potentially serious injury that could keep me off the bike for weeks? Or just annoying? If the pain is potentially serious, stop. If it is just annoying, breath into it, relax, and use one of the above strategies.

On most of your training rides, you shouldn’t be in pain. On these rides, practice the fundamentals. Focus on your breathing. Concentrate on the rhythm. Consciously focus on inhaling, feel your in-breath. As you exhale, let tension go. With each in-breath, feel energy flowing in. Try to direct the energy to different muscles. Use an image to feel the power in your spinning legs.

In the next column, we’ll learn to use breathing to create a positive attitude. Until then, keep practicing five to six days a week . . . and feel the pain receding.

Mental Training Techniques: Relax, Breath, Do Nothing Extra
Part 1: Calming the Emotions
Part 2: Gathering Energy
Part 3: Managing Pain
Part 4: Creating a Positive Attitude
Part 5: Visualizing an Event

More Information

  • Mastering the Mental — How to prepare for the inevitable mental challenges and how to deal with them on a ride of 100 km or longer. 17 pages for $4.99 from
  • Stopping Cycling’s Showstoppers — How to prevent and if necessary deal with anything that would force you to stop a ride. 65 pages for $14.95 from
  • Other articles by Coach Hughes


  • Lynch, Jerry. & A. H. Chungliang, Working Out, Working Within, Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York, 1998
  • Miller, Saul & P. M. Hill, Sport Psychology for Cyclists, VeloPress, Boulder, CO, 1999
  • Young, Shinzen, Meditation in the Zone (audiotape), Sounds True, Boulder, CO, 1996

Originally printed in UltraCycling