One thing that’s struck me a number of times in my multi-sport adventures these past few years is the power of belief. It sounds trite, I know, because it’s been said so much the phrase has nearly lost it’s meaning. Nearly, but not quite.
There’s a significant impact to performance when you believe you can do something. No, not just “I think I can”. I’m talking about the confidence that you know you’re capable, you deserve it, and by golly you belong there. Now, I’d never suggest that the power of belief can turn someone into a 6 minute miler from an 9 minute miler over night. That’s not what I’m getting at. It’s more like how there was as flurry of milers breaking 4 minutes, once it was done once. Suddenly, it was achievable. I’ll share some of my epiphanies to clarify.
Yesterday’s pack ride was a great example. I’ve been putting myself into group rides intermittently for the past 5 years. The more I do it, the more I learn and I get a little more comfortable. At the same time, I’m getting stronger and am able to stay closer and closer to the front on a regular basis. Just last year, I was pretty strong, but I was regularly spit out the back of early season road rides. And it didn’t surprise me one bit. Something has happened since then. Yesterday, I found myself in the lead 100 or so riders. OK, well, I rode up to the lead 100 or so riders on purpose. The difference was that once I was there, I looked around and believed I was stronger than at least half of the people around me. I believed I belonged there. Not just there, but further up. I believed I would outlast most of the riders around me. I also knew the pace would be pretty brisk to drop some of these people and pare the group down to a safer size for open roads. Since I knew I belonged in that lead group, I made sure I stayed there. That meant watching for the weaker riders to start struggling and going around. That meant staying with the stronger riders’ wheels. That meant being ready to ride a bit hard up some hills and staying off the brakes on the downhills unless traffic warranted. Somehow, once I knew I belonged, I knew where I needed to be in the pack. I know, I know. I was at the back eventually, but that was after the big break was made. Point was, I was ON just like I intended, and, I would argue, BECAUSE I intended. My legs were a bit tired, so it wasn’t due to any super surges or huge work capacity. In fact, I had to be smarter because I was tired and knew I couldn’t afford any big chases.
I’d also suggest that this sort of belief helps me win (or place highly) in races where I don’t feel very good. There’s a lot of power in believing you belong at the front because you’ve been there lots of times. The first few wins for me were a little different. I won those from the age group waves, so it wasn’t immediately obvious. The next few races were more “I hope to win or place highly”. After a while, it was my race to lose. I got used to being in the front and I’d say that belief that I belonged there probably led to better quality races. It doesn’t mean I’ll always win and it certainly doesn’t mean I feel like I have to win. It just means that I’ll race tactically to make it happen and I’m willing to work for it.
Cyclocross taught me something really great about my cycling handling skills– that I have them! It was suggested by several people that cyclocross is a good way to improve your handling, and it probably does because creative course design forces you to ride a bike over terrain no sane person would select as a safe route. Repeatedly, because it’s a circuit course. The most amazing observation I made were the amazing maneuvers I could pull off when I HAD to. After a few narrow aversions of disaster, I realized that my handling skills are pretty good when I don’t have time to second guess myself. With this realization, I turned the corner and started believing they were good, so now I behave as if they are. Which makes them better because I’m more relaxed. I can’t tell you the difference in how comfortable I am on all of my bikes this year. No need to worry about potholes and road debris if I know I can handle it. I believe I can handle it.
For the future. I believe I can run faster. In particular, I believe I can run a 10k in 6 min / mile pace if I train appropriately and stay uninjured. When I first started to run in preparation for my first triathlon, an experienced running coach took my running for about 3 miles and tested my speed. Good lord that was a hard run! He then asks me what kind of intervals I’ve done. Well, I’ve done swimming intervals, sure, but no never any running intervals. At the time, I had wanted to develop enough speed to run a sub-20 minute 5k. He then informed me that not only will I be able to do that, I have the capability to run 18:xx and possibly 17:xx 5k’s if I train for it. I scoffed. I just wanted to run sub-20. Those other times sounded ridiculous. Within a couple years, I decided that yes I could run sub-19. I believed it was possible, even though all of my 5k’s tended to be mid 19′s or so. Even though a friend of mine sounded doubtful when I stated that as a goal. Didn’t matter. I believed it. So I find a flat 5k that fits in a taper for triathlon so I’m rested and ready and I go for it. What do I run? I couldn’t believe the clock when I came in– 18:35. To this day, that is my PR, but I BELIEVE I can run faster. And I WILL. I promise you.