Focus for Ultra-Endurance Racing

One of the most common things I am asked about training for ultra-endurance events is “how do you keep going when every fibre in your body wants you to quit?”. Ultra-endurance events are mostly in the mind so this question deserves a real discussion.

People enter these events for all kinds of reasons, from those looking for an excuse to get some more time in the saddle, to the competitive guys at the front trying to outdo one another. Regardless of the reason for signing up you’re going to go through the same thing as everybody else..

It is ultimately going to come down to two things:

  1. Keeping your head strong
  2. Listening to and looking after your body

Obviously, neither of these two things are easy – especially when pushing yourself, but there are several things you can do to keep yourself going through your darkest hours.

Listen to your body

Your body will tell you what it needs to eat and when it needs to rest – you just need to listen. There are a few ways to quickly get a psychological boost of giving mind what it wants:

  • Give yourself a variety of food in the pits – this allows you to select what ever your body feels like you need (just try to avoid too much sugar!).
  • Short, more frequent stops – Stopping occasionally for 5-10 mins can stop you from becoming so broken you must sleep.
  • Fix pains before they become problems – Pain is the bodies alarm system, telling you when something is wrong (it’s not a punishment!) – try to understand why you’re aching and think about what you can do to fix it.

Generally, if your body is telling you something, listen to it; but be strict and get moving as soon as you can.

Look after your body

This is all about preventative maintenance!

Keep yourself fed, hydrated, warm and dry.

This will not only reduce the physical loading during the event, so you can keep going for longer, but also keep the mental suffering to a minimum. This is particularly important for winter racing. Keeping your hands and feet comfortable is tricky – too many layers and you’ll sweat excessively, not enough and you’ll suffer unnecessarily. Naturally this is heavily linked to listening to your body!

Environmental training.

Planning the next few hours

Hours into your ride, your body is aching, fatigue is setting in and a crack begins to form in your mental game – you need to stay focused! Planning the next few hours of your ride is a great way to keep your head in the game while distracting yourself from what you’re going through. Not only have you repressed any negative thoughts, you’ve got a plan of how to attack the next few hours of the race and you’re motivated to get around the course and execute the plan.

Focus and assess what’s happening

Keeping a solid head space is tough. You have so much time to do little other than think that if negative thoughts take hold, they can be hard to get out. It is easier just to get rid of them as soon as possible. The easiest way is to focus and assess what’s happening around you.

Where is that creaking coming from? When did I last eat? What is my rough lap average? How many laps until sunrise?

It’s surprising how much time you can spend figuring out what lap you’re on!

Mental tricks

There are a ton of tricks that people find useful, but these are more personal – you have to find what works for you. Hopefully you’re training will be close to the race conditions and you’ll find a few of these work. Use them when ever you can.

  • Recede into your Pain Cave – focus your mind and your body. Don’t let external thoughts enter in – get your head down and keep riding.
  • Remind yourself why you’re doing it. To win? Bragging rights? To get fit? All of these things say you should keep going!
  • Concentrate the small details. Breathing and cadence are good metronomes to keep you chugging on.
  • Counting down from 100. When you undoubtedly lose track – start again. This will keep your mind from wandering too far. Get down to 0? Do your 13 times tables.
  • Music / podcasts. Taking your mind off can ruin your race plan, but if the idea is just to get around they are a fantastic tool!


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