A three part series of blogs where I will share my thoughts on Mindset and the capacity to grow in this area as well as the techniques I am using to enhance my confidence and improve my mindset on race day.
So how does your mindset affect your confidence, well now racing in my 12th year of international cycling I believe that mindset plays a massive role in performance. Physiology is huge in cycling and performance however at the top level I believe the difference is made in mindset. Or phrased differently, the mindset can influence the physiology to a greater degree than what many may realise.
I believe that there is so much information available on how to physically prepare optimally to compete at the highest level, there is an abundance of coaching, training, sport science and many more support systems available for athletes to progress. But working on your mind and your mental approach to training, preparation and racing is where there is untapped potential.
Cycling is a hard sport, if you crash, the peloton doesn’t wait, there are no time outs and if you don’t finish a stage, you can’t sub someone else in. You develop resilience in this sport to keep going no matter what, but to reach the very top echelons of the cycling world you need more than resilience, you need confidence. According to Psychology today: ‘Confidence is a belief in oneself, the conviction that one has the ability to meet life's challenges and to succeed—and the willingness to act accordingly. Being confident requires a realistic sense of one’s capabilities and feeling secure in that knowledge.’ So what does that really mean, I believe relating it to cycling, it means that you really truly believe in your heart that you not only have the ability to perform to a certain standard, but that you feel secure in that belief. Hoping is not confidence.
I have been working on overcoming self doubt and limiting beliefs in order to build my confidence to take on my goals and dreams. Self doubt is propelled to the limelight come race day IF you are not confident in your ability to perform. Everyone has a different story and upbringing that has shaped them into who they are today and also shaped what they believe. I have learnt that having limiting beliefs is something that you can change through different techniques. My own struggles on race day have been gripped by a belief that certain courses are not suited to me even though data or previous performance may counteract that belief. Building confidence is not something to happen overnight but an area that needs constant maintenance, much like physical fitness. I look forward to sharing some skills I have picked up on overcoming self doubt to build confidence next.
Recovery is a key component to elite sport. While training is obviously a key element to success in any field, allowing your body and mind adequate recovery is key to improve physiologically and mentally as an athlete and person. Personally if I don’t get enough adequate recovery I am not always happy so without adequate recovery I am genuinely not as good physically on the bike or at life stuff in general.
When I was younger in my career, I used to think recovery days were opportunities to go shopping and have adventures with my friends or days to get all the other things done. I have learnt that this is not the best for me. My recovery day is usually spent not doing a lot at all and trying to get a solid afternoon nap in as well. I also love to hang out at the cafe or call a friend to tune out from bikes and the cycling bubble. While I know some athletes who respond really well to having very full ‘recovery’ days, it is just something that doesn’t work for me.
Photo: Laura Fletcher
I think the most important aspect of recovery to consider is sleep. Sleep is the only state wear the body can fully recover and prepare for the next day. You can do every recovery technique in the world but if you have poor sleep quality it is hard to measure up. According to Matthew Walker’s ‘why we sleep’, sleeping less than six hours a night actually makes it as dangerous driving a car as drink driving. Think about that for a moment. You body and brain need sleep to rebuild and rewire every day to create new memories and remove waste. Not only does increasing your sleep hygiene improve longevity, its my number one tip to help you recover better from training and races. If you want to improve you recovery then improve your sleeping habits.
Some other proven recovery tips I love:
Cold water immersion; There are a lot of studies to do with cold water therapy and it is a technique I love. I believe in full body emersion for 10-15min. I know this helps recovery; It actives the parasympathetic nervous system, ‘rest and digest’ system and helps you sleep better and the pressure of the water on your muscles helps them to flush the waste products away. This is also perfect in summer after a long day on the bike!
Massage/physio treatments; I have regular massages, in training blocks I usually try to have a massage every week in order to flush the muscles and also to pick up on any tightness I might have missed before it can lead to injuries. I work with some key people depending on where I am as they know my body and where the tension usually sits. On tour we have a massage daily to aid recovery and flush the race out of our legs.
Food; Nutrition is a key part of success. I am not a nutritionist but I have a love for learning in this field and I am forever trialling different techniques. I believe that everyone is different and has different demands for their body for the optimum recovery, however adequate protein is always key for muscles and cells to rebuild and grow. If you have a second session within 24 hrs, nutrition can play a more major role, if you aren’t training again for at least 1 day then I believe it is less important as you can refuel your body adequately if you are eating a balanced diet that is inline with what works for you. For women, your cycle plays a major role on your ability to access carbs, if you feel tired and struggle to recover in the week before your period, you may need to add some extra good quality carbs to fuel you body.
Stretching/foam roller; Something I think everyone should do every day regardless if they are an athlete or not. I usually spend 5-10 minutes each morning doing some basic yoga stretches and foam roller my back, legs and butt. I think adding this to your routine can really benefit your recovery and set up your day well by getting everything moving.
Meditation; I know it’s a popular thing right now, but I have really enjoyed getting on board. I start my ride each day with a 20’ meditation and I finish my day with a 10’ meditation to wind my mind down and to listen to my body. For me this has been a game changer and I look forward to seeing how this will help me when we get back to the races.
Recovery is a key component to elite sport, but I will argue that it is a key component to life and something everyone should be focusing on to ensure optimum performance, at work, at home or on the bike. I would love to know your recovery plan or what you focus on.
I announced earlier this week on social media that I am looking for two female cyclists to mentor for three months. I am running this as a free opportunity where I want the recipients to gain insight and knowledge on how to take action to make their dreams a reality. Having had a lot of time to reflect on my career to date and my future goals and plans, I have re focused and redefined my purpose in the last few months. I realised I gained so much from helping others and setting up a mentoring program to share my experience and knowledge with the next generation of cyclists gets me seriously excited.
Over the ten years I have been a professional cyclist, I have overcome injuries and setbacks, I have been exposed to many different cultures through different teams and teammates and I have ridden and performed over every type of terrain and in every condition the weather has thrown our way.
Growing up in Port Macquarie, regional Australia, I didn’t have a clear path to the top level of the sport, my story is filled with overcoming obstacles and developing a ‘find a way’ attitude. Everyones path is different and thats what makes the story exciting. I recognise the need for role models and mentors for young athletes and now, in the times of social media and technology, it is possible to connect and embrace the opportunity and responsibility I feel I have as an elite athlete.
I will be establishing an ongoing mentoring program opportunity for athletes to have the chance to connect with me and others as I share my knowledge on different aspects of the sport and how these aspects can be applied to make the next step in their journeys. I intend to cover multiple topics with my mentees, ranging from nutrition options, recovery techniques, general training structure, mindset and meditations, strength training techniques, yearly periodisation, goal setting and exploring missions/purpose and passions. Individual programs will be tailored to each athlete with weekly calls to focus on areas that are the key growth areas for that individual. I believe everyone needs someone they can bounce their ideas off and learn from, I intend to provide that opportunity for athletes.
Establishing this program gets me really excited and emotional. I want to empower others by sharing my story with purpose and passion.
Resilience is a term we hear more often these days, particularly in relation to sport and overcoming adversity. But why is it something that we should consider and something we should work on?
Being resilient allows you to overcome adversity and generally be in a stronger position than before facing the obstacle.
In my own experience, being mental resilient has not only increased the longevity of my cycling career, it has opened doors in many different avenues in life leading to opportunities to grow as a person and an athlete.
Photo; Andy Rogers, TDU 2020.
In 2014 I experienced an injury ridden season, While this season is my worst in terms of results or input towards team goals, it is also the year I learn the most about myself and grew as an athlete and person. I began experiencing pain in my left leg whenever I went ‘hard’ for more then about 30 seconds. This mentally hurt me because my first thought was that I simply needed to train harder and then I wouldn’t be dropped in races. I knew deep down this wasn’t right and with the help of my family and coach I sought out help, I was diagnosed with external iliac artery endofibrosis. This is a reasonably common problem with professional cyclists, however one that requires surgery and a lengthy time off the bike to recover. It was March when I found out these details, basically 1 month into a 8 month season. In discussions with my coach and family, we decided to stay in ‘the flow of the seasons’ and have the surgery at the end of the season. That meant I faced the rest of the season knowing I was limited in my physical performance and recovery.
This is the time I really learnt how to train, previously I didn’t place the value on quality training that I had to in this moment, I was faced with a clear obstacle in my career and training smarter and at a higher quality then I ever previously had was the result. Mentally this was a tough period, while I couldn’t physically perform to a high level, that I expected, I was faced with a team director who didn’t believe my diagnosis and became challenging to work with, this lead to high stress for me as contract negotiations were beginning and without options for a 2015 contract I had my back against the wall. Financially I was struggling, all the funds I earned as a rider I put back into my development, through gym memberships, massages or training days. I know you only get out what you put in and this was a time to invest all I had into future me. I had learnt growing up that you can always find a way and your attitude plays a massive role in your situation, but my beliefs were stressed and values questioned during this time.
Winning the Ronde van Overijsel in 2015 in The Netherlands
Mentally this year was hard and looking back there were a lot of times I was unhappy, but I knew it would change, I knew that if I trusted the process, it would work out and I just put my head down and concentrated on what I could control and tried to not worry about what I could not. I was offered a contract extension by Team Hitec Products as they valued me as a person and still believed in my potential. This lifeline and faith from Karl Lima (team manager) kept me in the sport and focusing on what was still possible to achieve. I had the surgery at the beginning of October in 2014 and I went on to win 5 UCI races in 2015, including the Oceania Championship title and my first big race in Europe, the Ronde van Overijssel in The Netherlands, as well as being nominated for the Australian female road cyclist of the year award. I am grateful to have faced and overcome the challenges physically, mentally and emotionally in 2014 as it lead to 2015 being my most successful year to date on the bike in terms of victories and has played a key role in every season since, showing how important resilience can be.
In Hospital April 2018 after crashing in Amstel Gold Race
When I crashed on my face and broke my arm in the 2018 Amstel Gold Race, I worked hard through the rehabilitation period to stay mentally fresh and motivated for the second half of the season. This freshness from six weeks away from competition, I believe ultimately lead me to a successful back end of the season where I took 2 victories in France for my team. I was fresher then many of the other women in the peloton, both physically and mentally, as I was ‘forced’ to take a break and ultimately became stronger because of it.
Facing obstacles makes you stronger. For me the deeper you have to search within yourself to overcome a challenge and find a way through, the higher you can soar when you overcome it. Attitude is everything, focusing on what you can control and finding the silver lining to the situation leads to resilience.
Photo: Thomas Maheux
Winning my last race of the year in 2018, GP Isburgues in France
Fletcher and Sarker’s ‘A grounded theory for psychological resilience in Olympic Champions’ highlight 9 steps for developing resilience;
Develop a positive personality
View your decisions as active choices not sacrifices
Use support available to you from other people
Identify your motivation for succeeding
Focus on personal development
View setbacks as opportunities for growth
Strengthen your confidence from a range of sources
Take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and behaviours
Concentrate on what you can control
I believe that these 9 steps are fundamental in overcoming challenging times and soaring to new heights. Resilience is a powerful asset to any athlete or in business. Growing this skill is within your control.
I have re-signed with French registered Women’s World Team, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. This will bring my time with the team to a five year term, as I began working with the team in 2018.
I believe that within any workplace, team spirit and resilience through tough times are what make a team great and ultimately what will lead a team or workplace to perform. Our team is one of the longest running teams in the women’s peloton and that long term commitment and story is something inspiring to me.
photo : Thomas Maheux
There are a number of reasons to why I have committed to two further seasons with this french squad. The team manager and management really value me as a person and a cyclist and are committed to continuing to develop my role as the road captain but will also allow me to continue to explore my potential as a leader for the hard Spring Classic races. This team is focused on the long term development of the squad as a whole, and have supported me through challenging times as well as fruitful times over the past two and half seasons.
In 2018, my first season with the team, I broke my arm and required plastic surgery on my face after a crash in the Amstel Gold Race. I have never felt more supported by a team than in the month that followed the crash, they never put pressure on me to return to racing quickly and provided access to the best medical advice for an 100% recovery. I went on to take two victories for the team later that season. These victories were a direct result of feeling supported when times were tough for me.
The world is facing an unthinkable situation, something no one planned for, yet our team seems to have taken it in their stride. The team have continued to fully support me and my team mates, I’m sure there has been some stress behind the scenes, yet the leadership from Stephen gives me faith in this team, this project and our future as a squad.
Photo: Laura Fletcher
This squad has a french heart but there is an international vibe, there is the deep french emotion and love of the sport running through the team, yet there is a cool and likeable Scandi influence from the northern European team members, balanced out with the laid back Aussie way to round it all together.
I believe the best is yet to come, for me and for the team.