Coach Hughes: Cycling Mental Training pt. 4
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Mental

Part 4: Creating a Positive Attitude

“Whenever I started feeling bad, I’d think ‘I’m doing RAAM!’, a smile would come to my face, and my speed would pick up.”—solo RAAM rider.

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

Words and thoughts create images in our minds, and the images have a powerful effect on how we ride.

In the first column, you learned how to focus on breathing as a way to control emotions:

  • Noticing the rhythm
  • Feeling the inspiration
  • Relaxing any tension

In the next column, you experimented with different images of energy. Inhaling red mist. A spinning water wheel.

In the last column, you learned to use breathing to re-establish your rhythm, relax, and accept pain. Relax, breathe and do nothing extra.

Each of the techniques above uses breathing to control feelings and improve performance. Now you’ll learn to use thoughts to improve your performance. As the RAAM rider did, you can use words to change how you think. By controlling your thoughts, you can change your feelings and improve your performance.

Get out a piece of paper and free-associate. What words describe you as an endurance rider (or describe the rider you are becoming)? You may think of words like “strong”, “fast”, “smooth”, “steady” and “aerodynamic”, which describe how you ride physically, for example, how you climb or descend. You may also identify words like “aware”, “in control”, “focused” and “relaxed”, which describe your attitude while riding, that you are alert to the course, conditions, your nutrition, etc. Other words may describe your intentions during an event, e.g., “chasing down”. These words help keep your intentions focused down the course, instead of looking over your shoulder. Looking back, even with your mind, may evoke fear of getting caught, which produces tension, so you don’t ride as smoothly.

The key words should be so powerful that it actually creates an image in the mind and a feeling in the body. For example, “aero” might evoke the image of a diving hawk and the feeling of your body extending and becoming streamlined.

Each word can be used in a specific situation to help your performance. When climbing, think “strong" or “rhythm”, instead of “damn this hurts”, you’ll climb better—and enjoy it more! While fixing your second flat, repeating “calm” can help you focus on the task and not waste energy.

In addition to key words to use in specific situations, more general affirmations can change how you think and improve your riding. For example, I coached Allen Larsen for RAAM. In every conversation, we talked about how competitive he is. He has a strong image of himself as a competitive racer. That image, reinforced by the phrase “I am very competitive”, helped him push himself to exhaustion to beat Stefan Lau in an epic battle for 2002 Rookie of the Year.

First, look at your list of words or phrases and pick at least three to help you feel powerful on the bike. Each day when you ride, start by using your breathing to help you focus, to still the perhaps negative chatter in your mind. Then, in a specific situation, repeat the appropriate word several times, to evoke that feeling. Riding into the wind repeat “aero”, or “streamlined”, or “low”.

Second, write down several affirmations, sentences that describe a positive aspect of your riding. “I’m consistent and tireless, like flowing water.” “I’m fast and powerful like a mountain lion.” Each morning repeat your affirmations, repeat them again before your ride, and after you ride, and before bed.

Repetition is key; by repeating the words over and over on a daily basis, you’ll change your thought patterns. Research has shown that when such techniques are practiced over a long-term period, your thoughts become more positive. Relax, breathe, repeat your affirmations, and do nothing extra.

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