Mental Toughness Lessons

I shared in a guest post at a friend’s web site last year about a story of one of my toughest Road Races when I first started racing. It was about how I decided I wasn’t a very good climber and how I just couldn’t seem to do well when the roads turned up. My coach was out riding the course with me and he shared some great tips with me.

I was complaining about how hard and long the climbs were and that I wasn’t any good at climbing. He stopped me in my tracks and said. “As long as your thinking that way you won’t be good at climbing.” We rode along and talked about Mental Toughness and positive self-talk and how it could be applied in my case. It was a great lesson that I think back on often.

When I look back on my mental toughness moments I think about workouts I have completed and races where I struggled but prevailed. Lately, I have been thinking about the athletes I coach. When I was looking for an image that would do a decent job of conveying toughness and overcoming the pain of training and competing I came across photo after photo of many men and women in the US Armed Forces training for their jobs. I am proud and honored to say that I have been able to coach and train many from our armed forces. Some that I coach are from the Army, Marines, Navy and even special forces and I promise you they are all very tough men and women indeed!

What can we learn from Olympic athletes?

I love watching the Olympics and hearing the athletes being interviewed. You will hear the athletes say that almost all athletes participating are on equal ground when it comes to fitness and ability but that winning or losing comes down to mental toughness.  So what is mental toughness you might ask?

Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to cope better than your opponents with the many demands (e.g., competition, training, lifestyle) that are placed on you as a performer.  David Yukelson, Ph.D., Coordinator of Sport Psychology Services Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes, Penn State University

But I am not a competitive cyclist

All cyclists could learn and apply the characteristics of mentally tough athletes to their event rides and tours. Doctor David Yukelson, mentioned above, has provided four easy to remember characteristics that everyone can learn from when trying to become mentally tough. I am going to adapt these to be more appropriate to the tour and expedition rider but they will still be applicable to competitive athletes. So here are some characteristics of mentally tough athletes.


You must believe in your ability to complete your cycling goals! You must also understand that you bring unique abilities to your ride that allows you to complete your goals.


You need an unflappable desire to train and ride in order to meet your goals. You must not look at training or riding setbacks as the end to your goals just as new challenges.


When things aren’t going to plan or your body is not living up to its potential you need to be able to remain focused on the task of training, riding and touring. You need to be able to discern what is a distraction and what is a priority.

Composure/Handling Pressure

I like to think of this as “Grace Under Pressure”. The ability to not cave into negative self-talk when the ride gets harder than my body or mind is used to. This may be the hardest to train for.

While it’s helpful to read over tips on mental toughness it requires a consistent and concentrated effort and practice to develop mental toughness. In training, we need to recognize that all training is planned, training doesn’t just happen.

If you find that you are no longer enjoying riding due to one or more aspects of your training, riding or touring you need to ask yourself why. If you cannot find the answers to this question I strongly suggest you seek out more knowledge on sports psychology or even speak to a sports psychologist.

“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.
Vince Lombardi

Train Smarter not Harder!

Coach Rob

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