My attempt to be more mindful came at a price I wasn’t willing to pay, but I will be better.
Suffice to say, and perhaps it is stating the obvious after reading the many previous posts on the topic, but I am fascinated by the mental aspect of cycling. I am working hard to finish in the middle of the pack of the mind game.
I have consented to the benefits of being in the moment. The volume of the automatic negative thoughts that I experience has waned to a whisper (at times). The jury is still out, but I may even be more fun to be around.
All of that stuff is great. How is it making me a better bike racer?
For more background into my struggles with the negative race thoughts in my head and attempts to be more mindful check out Part One and Part Two of this personal sports psychology series.
It’s Hard to Meditate When You Can’t See Straight
I can’t meditate when I’m racing. I have a tough enough time breathing at all, never mind falling into a relaxed rhythm. It would be far easier to get in the flow if no one else was around trying to disrupt it.
As my mindfulness pendulum swings, I have overcompensated, and the results were a fail. If honing my focus made me better off the bike, and better prepared to get on it, why not while I am racing? My myopic strategy ended in a selection up the road, and I didn’t even know it.
Heightened sensitivity to race performance (and lack of) has made me a quick study. Or keen to know when my way was the wrong way and needed a change.
The Good News, Not So Good
The good news is that my mindfulness skills are improving. Unfortunately, when I focused on myself during the race, my attention dominated, and I lost track of what was happening around me.
I was filling my focus and awareness bidons from the same mental jug of cerebrocyclo fluid. The more I put in the focus bottle, the less there was to share.
My conscious mind was dividing my mental matches between the two. The more I burned to focus, the weaker the flame of my awareness.
It became clear that I would need to find a way to increase my awareness and attention simultaneously to rectify this situation. Sacrificing one for the other was not a successful race tactic.
Finding the Optimal Balance
The optimal balance would be my winning mindfulness race strategy. How?
My single-minded race focus left me numb to the surrounding stimuli. The race data and position of my opponents, the course map and grade, the climate in the room, I ignored them all. It wasn’t until my wife told me that she was working out in the room with me (and I didn’t realize…shh!) that I knew I had a big problem.
Unfortunately, the more I widened my scope and the cues I mentioned became more apparent, the more I tried to refuse them. As I attempted to look away, the greater the urge became, and I eventually gave in.
As I tried to suppress the distractions, my focus weakened, and I became more distracted. I was stuck in a negative feedback loop of diversion.
My Brain’s Propensity For Paradox
Maybe I could use my brain’s propensity for paradox in my favor? Rather than dealing with the flood of race-related stimuli by pretending it wasn’t necessary, which only seemed to cause me to perceive it as more profound, I would do the opposite.
By purposefully acknowledging and dedicating awareness to the multi-faceted distractions that are a fact of racing, I could balance the scales in my favor—sharing the contents of my mental jug with a whole bunch of shot glass-sized bidons.
Or, more practically, emptying the contents into one and effectively sipping the mixture of distraction and awareness ingredients. By dividing my attention equally between all the elements of the race scenario and not designating any as primary, there was no distraction and nothing to be distracted from.
Free to Fly
My subconscious race computer was free to crunch the numbers. My conscious is clear to consume the cues. I was free to fly!
I had always admired my opponents and teammates who could ‘see everything’ when we were racing. They always knew who was up the road, getting gapped, and how many more beats they had left in reserve. I admire this skill and how closely it correlates to success.
Virtual Cycling is Unique in This Aspect
Virtual cycling is unique in this. The technological interface between cyclists and avatars provides a cornucopia of visual details. We know specific performance metrics about ourselves and our opponents in real-time and can monitor and interact.
Zwift even lets us know when our opponent is making his move by flashing its betrayal in a blaze of red. Of course, racing outdoors IRL presents a different set of skin-preserving stimuli.
Once eliminated from the equation, virtual cycling disproportionately rewards the racer who has perfected the skill of rapidly processing environmental cues.
Putting Myself in the Best Position to Succeed
To hone this skill, I would need to give myself every advantage. I have positioned my monitor down low to be directly in my line of sight. I mounted my phone to access the companion with the brevity of head movement.
Everything I need is in easy reach and, through repetition, no longer requires a glance. I have backups at the ready. I make sure my equipment is maintained and in top shape before any big race.
I’m not a big Discord talker, but I stay tuned to any verbal cues my teammates provide. I take every bit of help I can get.
The goal is to make it seamless and automatic. I want to take it for granted that my mind has solved the focus-awareness riddle. I’m sure it has made me a better virtual bike racer.
If we lose awareness of the bigger picture, it is hard to bridge the gap between attention and diversion. We become more prone to distraction, procrastination, and it stifles our creativity. Our relationships and productivity suffer.
Forgive me for saying this. There is more to life than racing bikes on video games. The skills we assimilate and the lessons we learn when pushing ourselves past the limit translate well when met with life’s challenges.
The minimal gains we make on the course make a big difference if applied in life with dedication and commitment.
Can balancing mindfulness and distractions while under stressful cycling situations make us better able to see the big picture in life? Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
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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. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!