One of my favorite quotes is from the baseball great Yogi Berra, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
Last week’s column was 8 Tips for Coming Back From Time Off the Bike. Following Berra’s insight here are ten mental tips:
Grieving comes from an important loss. We typically associate grieving with the loss of a family member or important friend. Your cycling is important and grief is also a normal reaction to not being able to ride or not riding nearly as much or as well. Your ceased or reduced activity will reduce those endorphins and the athletic high. Your cycling loss may also result in sadness, anger, lower self-esteem and denial. Be particularly careful about denial — denying your physical condition has changed may make it worse. You may also have physical symptoms such as increased fatigue and insomnia. Hopefully these 10 suggestions will help you to cope.
1. Accept negative feelings.
The above are normal responses to injury, setbacks and time off the bike. There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling these ways.
2. Seek Community.
Rare are the cyclists who’ve never been injured. Talk with other cyclists in your club or community. Share your feelings you’re your family. Talk with non-cyclists at work, church, service clubs, etc. Social media aren’t for everyone. If it works for you, join an age-related Facebook group to post your issues and progress, read supportive responses and read about others’ problems. The main point is to share your feelings with others — don’t keep just dwell on them.
3. Pace yourself.
You know the importance of pacing yourself on a ride. The same applies to coming back. If you pace yourself correctly then you feel physically and mentally ready for your next physical therapy session, either with a PT or on your own. If you’re dreading it then back off for a day or two.
4. Allow pain.
Physical therapy is a form of training. You push your body a little harder and it hurts but also gets better. Pain is a physical sensation, which your mind then interprets negatively. Get your mind to accept the pain.
5. Small goals.
One of the hardest parts of coming back is staying in the present. It’s natural to reflect on what you could do before the injury or surgery and to think about what you want to do in the future. But thinking these ways also produces the negative emotions. Set small, achievable goals for what you want to do this week and this month, but no farther into the future. Write down your goals.
6. Track your progress.
Write down what you do this week toward your goals. Then write down what you do next week toward your goals and compare it to the preceding week. Writing down your goals and your progress makes them more tangible. Stay focused on the small improvements.
7. Anticipate setbacks.
Recovery is non-linear. Occasionally what you write down one week isn’t an improvement over the preceding week and may even be a setback. Don’t beat yourself up. These are normal. Most important, don’t redouble your efforts to try to overcome the setback, which risks further setbacks. Just stay with the program.
8. Expect anxieties.
When I was hit by the truck in 1989 my left leg was crushed. After extensive surgery and PT I was finally able to get back on my bike, which was very scary. Gradually through repeated safe rides I overcame most of my anxiety. But I still can’t make a U-turn to the left. If I have to turn around I stop, turn my bike around and re-start.
9. Modify your identity.
Part of your identity is being a cyclist. I don’t want you do give that part of your identity up. But rethink what kind of cyclist you are, at least temporarily. Rethinking who you are is a healthy way of responding to the grief and the other emotions. Hopefully you can get to point where you can resume your full identity as a cyclist.
10. Redefine your identity.
For decades my identity was a very competitive and successful endurance cyclist. Because of injuries I had to change my identity to recreational cycling. My riding partner and I now have two rules on our rides. First, never pass (almost) anyone. This keeps our rides non-competitive and always aerobic. Second, always have coffee or lunch. This reinforces the non-competitive, fun part of cycling.
- Coming back:
My eBook Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling Most cyclists can improve more by spending some time each week in practicing mental skills than by the same amount of time in training! This is especially true after age 40. I demonstrate how sports psychology can be another tool in your toolbox to help you improve your cycling, just like effective training, good equipment and healthy nutrition. Gaining a Mental Edge is a workbook with a progressive set of skills to practice and master. Just like you can practice specific cycling skills you can also practice and learn specific mental skills. The 17-page Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling is just $4.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.