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Ultra-Endurance Racing: Heads Win

October 4, 2011

The mind matters more than the body parts that propel an athlete through a race. The importance of mental toughness in finishing ultra-endurance races arises again and again as I draft pieces about the rides this past weekend of Kerry White and FLiBYeRacing in the 24 Hours of COS (Colorado Springs). While we wait for the finished stories, warm-up to the topic with the following insights.


  • “Well, bike-racing is 90-95% mental strategy and tactics and 5-10% physical anyway.”
  • “This is so true. In bike racing, especially crits, it has so much more to do with strategy than anything. You can safely asssume that nearly everyone is at about the same physical level, but the winners are those with the strategy.”

From SonicBoom

  • “Whatever anyone tells you, cycling is a mental game. You trick yourself into believing that you’re not tired. You convince yourself that you’re not going too fast to make it around a corner. You look yourself in the mirror and, straight faced, tell yourself that your shaved legs, spandex shorts, and ridiculous tan-lines are totally manly. Part of being a successful cyclist is creating a version of reality and buying into it completely, without doubt or hesitation.”

From the blog:

  • “Most successful triathletes will tell you that racing, especially long-distance events, is 95 percent mental.”
  • “That percentage may seem high, but if you’ve put in the hard training, the only thing standing in the way between you and the podium, or simply a good experience and not-so-good experience, is how you deal with obstacles.” Obstacles include fatigue, going out too hard, cramps.

A coach referenced in this blog, Brian Maiorano, believes suffering is related to an athlete’s mental state. “Suffering is entirely mental. If you dwell upon your discomfort, it will turn into suffering. You’ll feel sorry for yourself, become miserable, sink into despair, and eventually slow down.”

“Discomfort [different from pain] such as sore muscles, blisters, overall fatigue, a stiff neck, is part of racing, and part of pushing yourself to a top performance. Embrace it and rejoice that you are fit enough and tough enough to push yourself so hard. You will thank yourself after crossing the finish line.”

24 hours of COS, lonely at night

Finally, to understand what can occupy a rider’s mind during a 24 hour mountain bike race, read about the “dirty biker’s” experience in 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.

Is winning — or achieving a goal — 95% mental in any endeavor, and not just ultra-endurance events?

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