Head and body, one unit

I got the most out of the past week. I spent a lot of time on mental preparation. Just keeping to several simple approaches does wonders. I attended an excellent seminar on this theme in Prague. Otherwise I had 21 hours of training load, mainly in Andorra. For a week in November this was more than enough.

I would describe mental resilience as the ability to respond to a situation and not let it throw you off balance.

Back in the regime

As opposed to last week, getting up in the morning got noticeably easier. For the most part I didn’t need an alarm and around 7 o’clock I was up. In Andorra it is still dark at this time. I always try to use the first ten to fifteen minutes after waking up for breathing exercises and meditation. I then make a coffee and head to the gym. I spend just under an hour there. I loosen up for a while and then continue working on my explosive strength. I like to exercise on an empty stomach; I can start training straight away in the morning when I have most energy and it thus best stimulates the connection between the brain and muscles.

I then take breakfast in one of the local cafes. My favourite choice is bocadillo con jamón, a baguette with ham, olive oil and squashed tomatoes. In addition I often have a slice of carrot cake. I know there are healthier alternatives, but with regards to the fact that the season hasn’t started yet, and I’m training a lot, I can allow it to myself. I eat healthier in the evening when I don’t need to digest my food quickly.

Perfect training

On Monday after gym work I immediately set off on a mountain bike. This time with one training partner. Guy works as a fireman, but in his free time he competes in mountain biking at world cup level. He has both excellent performance and technique. And above all, he knows all the best trails in the region. Three hours with him just flew by. On Tuesday I hiked up the Pic de Casamanya, a snow-capped peak 2 750 metres above sea level. The views over the surrounding hills and valleys were truly breath-taking.

I completed the three-day training block with training on the road with Canadian Mike Woods. Mike had an excellent end to the season, won a stage on the Vuelta and came back from the World Championships with a bronze medal. I like training with him; he is always in a positive mood, we have things to talk about and when training with him I have never ended up doing less than planned. On the contrary, I have to be careful not to overdo it. Instead of three hours we did four and a half.

Air Force One – office in the air

During the free day I travelled to Prague. I made an office out of my seat on the coach and plane, and did some catching up. I wrote emails, answered messages and planned the following days. I also read for a while and looked from the aeroplane window. I will probably never grow tired of looking down on the sea, the Alps and the setting sun.

Planning to the minute

I strived to make full use of my time in Prague. I carefully planned everything in advance. Gym session with trainer Michal Kollert, replacing my mountain bike with a new model, physiotherapy with Pavel Brynda, dinner with family, watching a track race and, of course, training. I had planned it almost down to the minute. I was pleasantly surprised how nicely it all went to plan.

Mental coaching

On Saturday I attended a seminar given by Radim Valigura focussed on mental resilience. Most of the information from the seminar I was already aware of. As they say, repetition is the mother of wisdom. With the passage of time a person also sees things differently. I became aware of the mistakes I was making and the things I had forgotten about completely. In addition, there was a great group of us there – twenty-five athletes and coaches. We had an interesting discussion and exchanged our practical experiences.

I would describe mental resilience as the ability to respond to a situation and not let it throw you off balance. It is important to realise in time that your standard thought process has been disturbed, and to be able to effectively counter this. An important piece of information for me was that attention cannot be maintained, but must be reacquired. I like the comparison with an aircraft. Do you know how much of the time it is on its optimal course? Almost never – it continually diverges from it and the pilot must constantly adjust its course.

Breathe and relax the mind

I regularly use a number of techniques. Every morning I try to start with breathing exercises. Three sets of 30 rapid breaths followed by holding my breath. It relaxes my mind beautifully and it should also have a positive effect on the immune system. I learnt this technique from Dutchman Wim Hof. When holding my breath I apply elements of mindfulness meditation. I focus attention on various parts of the body and relax areas that feel tense. Then for a few minutes I visualise the most important moments of the day. What awaits me, my main training goals, any unpleasant situation I can expect, or how I intend to use any free time. During the day I often ask myself the question: How do I feel? I then compare this with how I wanted to feel at the given moment. Most importantly I ask: What am I prepared to do to achieve it? It helps me to experience a greater part of the day with awareness and reduce the time when I am responding to events without thinking. It is not a hundred per cent effective, but as a rule it helps me to maintain a positive mood six out of seven days.

Not now, come after the races.

I have two main techniques that I apply when actually racing. One I could term a dialog with myself. I maintain a constant internal dialog. One internal voice urges me on, whilst the other voice whispers to me to ease off, that it’s hurting too much. You have to conquer this voice. What works for me is to tell “him”: Come back after the race, now is not a suitable moment - I will listen to you then. If this doesn’t work I try to bribe him. I perhaps promise “him” something good to eat. It is not about trying to silence this voice. It is necessary to work with him and pay attention to him when there is opportunity. The second technique is to divide the race into short sections. I focus attention only on the following few seconds. For example, up to the next corner or bollard. It needs some practice, but it is possible to deceive the mind in this way even during a half-hour climb. It helps me to squeeze the very maximum out of me. Both techniques were taught to me by Marian Jelínek. I have been working with him intermittently for several years now.

At nine I turn off my phone

My great challenge is sleep. In particular before an important race I often toss and turn for hours before finally dropping off. In this regard I find regular meditation and reducing importance to be very helpful. Awareness of the fact that I am able to put in a great performance independent of whether I slept six or eight hours makes getting to sleep easier. For the most part an inverse relationship applies – the less I think about sleep, the deeper I sleep and the faster I fall asleep. I also pay attention to sleep hygiene. Observing several basic rules works wonders. Coffee only in the morning, not using electronics after nine, the correct room temperature, a light dinner. The final few minutes before sleep I calm the mind with a brief meditation. Or a short read.

Peace for training

Sunday was noticeably less hectic. The weather was frosty, but wonderful. During a four-hour training ride I gave my new bike a proper test – it rides fantastically! On Monday I will return to Andorra. The following week will be noticeably less busy. I will not have to plan activities down to the minute, and above all I will be able to relax a bit. I look forward to having sufficient time during the day to properly push myself in training and in the evening to relax in the sauna or have a massage.

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