Cycling isn’t easy! But there are some things about virtual cycling that make it easier mentally for me.
As I stepped out my door to begin my doggie domestique’ duties, I noticed my neighbor was already in the final K of the canine community circuit, and his chihuahua ‘Caesar’ appeared motivated.
My labrador ‘Cane’ and I took to the chase, quickly closed the gap (Cane’s legs are a lot longer than Caesar’s), and were timing our attack solidifying proper placement on the podium of prime pooch nature break spots when it happened.
He turned to engage me in conversation, and I had a feeling what was on my neighbor’s mind. It may be the bicycle-themed planter on my lawn or that I occasionally walk Cane in my sweaty chamois, but they all knew. I was a rare species, an avid cyclist, and my behaviors required extensive study.
I’ve lived here long enough to have all the primary research questions out of the way. Like “You ride how long?” or “All in one day?” My neighbor’s inquiry clarified that he was commissioned to engage in more in-depth research.
“Does your body ache after your ride?” he asked. The only response that came to mind, and once I was sure the variables of his hypothesis didn’t account for, was, “Only if I do it right.”
As Cane ushered me off to attend to his pressing post-potty hydration protocol, I could faintly hear my neighbor as he gathered his thoughts to follow up with, “Then why do you do it?”
Let’s face it! Our sport isn’t easy. It requires a great deal of effort and is often as mentally challenging as physically. Here are a few things that help me stay in a good headspace when the going gets hard. It is nothing revolutionary or ground-breaking, just what works for me and why.
Number One - I Listen To Music
There is something extremely demoralizing about listening to yourself pant uncontrollably. Your legs know that it’s hard. You don’t need your ears and lungs kicking you while you are down.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Human Sport & Exercise, the researchers found that listening to music during strenuous exercise boosts performance. The potential performance benefits of listening to music are nothing new. There is plenty of research. The theory proposed by the sport and exercise physiology researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland that I find exciting confirms my suspicion.
In short, the study found that listening to music tricks the brain into thinking that the exercise isn’t as strenuous. In addition, exercise while listening to music erases the negative effect of mental fatigue that results from high-level training and allows athletes to perform at the same level as when they are mentally fresh.
Music helps distract from the painful stimuli felt by your tired brain and reduces the perception of the exercise intensity.
I knew I wasn’t the only one. My teammates know this and assume that I will have my Discord mic muted when we race. They have assured me that it isn’t an issue, but for some reason, I am self-conscious about having my playlist blasting in their ears.
Come to think of it, hearing someone else pant uncontrollably in my ear over Discord while racing has the opposite effect on my motivation. Sorry guys!
I use these speakers in my Gain Cave. They sound great, can be controlled by an app on my phone or by Alexa, and they hook directly into my home Wifi.
Number Two - My Wife and Family
I know what you’re thinking. My wife didn’t make me say it, and yes, we are equal partners in the household. Please wait for a second while I turn the music up REALLY loud. Some painful stimuli are coming this way!
In all seriousness, training alongside or racing with my wife working out beside me adds a level of accountability and comfort that makes a huge difference. My wife is my biggest fan, and for someone whose most significant victories occur in the solitude of their basement, that means a lot.
She has become adept at timing the finale and will pause her household domestique duties to act as my powerup co-pilot.
She is also one of the few people on earth who truly knows how hard I work to be an amateur. My wife understands the sacrifice I make to pursue my fickle passion and is sensitive to its thankless and oft unforgiving nature.
I also know how much my wife sacrifices in the name of MY cycling. It was much more significant when I was racing up and down the East Coast, and my family acted as my soigneurs, mechanics, logistics managers, and cheering section.
Knowing that my children were waiting at the top of Mr. Washington to run beside me for the final 500m was incredibly motivating. It gave me confidence knowing that my wife was there to catch me from falling over in exhaustion at the top of App Gap during the Green Mountain Stage Race (after waiting for over 3 hours because the road to the summit is closed and you have to take a shuttle bus to the top).
To be honest, however, my greatest motivation was not to let them down. Of course, deep down, I am 100% sure that my family’s feelings are unconditional whether I finished first or last. Much like my family is aware of how hard I worked to get to that spot, I know how much time and effort it took for them to be there to support me. Imagine the expectations of two cold and wet teens waiting on the side of a mountain…with NO WIFI?
At first, I thought that this recent study that uses the Kohler effect and Social Comparison theory to explain my situation wasn’t relevant, but then it dawned on me.
The Kohler effect theory proposes that exercise with a partner can increase motivation, persistence, and performance when the subject is paired with a superior workout partner.
If I raced my wife on a bike, virtually or on the road, the outcome would be clearly in my favor. As a runner, my wife is far superior and would crush me any day of the week. Not to mention that I admire and look up to her for so many other reasons.
Social comparison theory believes that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others.
In the Kohler effect and Social Comparison Theory, athletic performance is affected by if and who you are exercising with.
Then there is that she is also much tougher than me. She will run in the most extreme weather imaginable. Now that you mention it, the kind of weather that convinced me to become a virtual cyclist in the first place.
Number Three - Discord
It’s not just a misery loves company thing. I’ve cycled long enough to have gone to that well so many times that it is as dry as a desert. It’s much more than that.
When connected to my teammates through Discord voice while racing or training, I increased my confidence level. Through the shared experience of countless hours in the saddle and on the course, I know I can rely upon them to affirm my performance anxieties and offer an objective and realistic assessment of my abilities.
I enjoy my riding career’s most well-coordinated and rewarding race experience through in-game communication via Discord. The support and sacrifice of my teammates are significantly greater than any I have ever experienced on the road.
Through Discord text, the bond is created and nurtured, however, to the point that I now consider my virtual cycling friends some of my most treasured. Sure, the pre-race strategy and training conversations are great, as are the post-mortem adrenaline-fueled euphoric race recaps. But that is the least of it.
The honest, open, and forthright talks about life, parenthood, and quite frankly, nothing, I find the most rewarding. Like having a comforting voice in my ear while racing, knowing someone out there is going through the same life challenges as you is empowering and liberating.
Discord provides a unique benefit to virtual cycling that enhances the experience immeasurably for me in ways that far exceed riding, racing, and training and is another on the long list of reasons I choose to ride almost exclusively inside.
I use these waterproof earbuds. They plain work, you can use one if you want to listen to the music in your gym, and they have lasted me over three years so far.
Conclusion - Our Sport Isn’t Easy
Cycling is not easy, mentally or physically. If my neighbor ever found out that I log the vast majority of my miles below sea level without moving a meter? Let’s say that conversation would feel as if it lasted dog years.
The truth is, there are many aspects of virtual cycling which make it mentally easier for me. The ability to listen to music or watch TV without safety concerns is key.
The inclusive and immersive spectator experience is incredible and adds a way to share in the experience and enhance the relationship between the cycling you and your loved ones.
The social community and support network nurtured by the ability to communicate before, during, and after events is invaluable and found in very few other recreational athletic pursuits.
Those are a few of the many things about virtual cycling that make racing and training mentally easier for me. In fact, they also make life mentally easier for me!
What works for you?
Are there things that you do to make riding, racing, training mentally easier? Comment below.
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Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit, and through its work and the pages of this site, Chris is committed to helping others with his bike. His gain cave is located on the North Fork of Long Island where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two college student children.