Dealing with Race Jitters

By Marilyn Trout | 04/25/12
Dealing with Race Jitters

Photo courtesy of UnithedHealthcare Pro Cycling

We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

The following tip is a reprint of an February 2010 question submitted by Voler E-Mail List member Laurie Stojanovic.

Dealing with Race Jitters


I'm looking forward to another season of racing. Any suggestions of how to deal with race jitters before I get to the start line?



The goal of mental training is simple...simple as in uncomplicated rather than simple synonymous with easy. It's all about transforming your thoughts into believing in yourself and minimizing the things that distract you from performing at your best.

Although some may hide it better than others, each one of us battles with confidence. If we can know our strengths and not be afraid to confront our weaknesses/or the stressors that pull us away from realizing our potential, we will be that much closer to "finding the treasure within."

Take yourself back to some of the races in the past.

  1. What are the things that enable you to race well?
  2. What are the stressors that distract you from performing your best? (These can be found in other areas of life as well as cycling.)

Upon discovering the ingredients that enable you to train and race optimally, discipline and fortitude will take you a long way. However, in order to go further up the road to meeting your goals, figuring out what to do with the stressors is a different animal. (Many times this “animal” comes in the form of other human beings; their presence, speech, actions or expectations.) To deal with any of these distractions, your “mental power tools” have to be picked up without delay. Just like every cyclist should have a Third Hand tool in their tool box, here’s one for your mental tool box.

Third Hand Mental Tool: Relaxation/Visualization/Focusing

  1. Relaxation – With your yoga background, you are definitely more accomplished than most cyclists in your ability to calm the body and mind. The next step is to take these skills to the saddle building in a more stressful situation as time goes on. You want to be able to physically elicit a relaxed and positive response while bringing a stressor to mind.
  2. Visualization – In a controlled training environment, introduce the mental stressors that wreak havoc with your mind in a race and put a positive spin on the situation. During the tough threshold intervals, think about sustaining the speed in a blistering paceline, in speedwork/sprint training visualize being the lead rider in the final 200 meters or matching the speed of a ferocious attack and in force work try to pull up the image of a tough hill that threatens to crack you. See yourself pushing the pace during the toughest part of an “A” race you have planned for this season. The pedals are turning effortlessly, your breathing is controlled and powerful and the speed is exhilarating. Remember, "the body will only do what the mind allows it to do."
  3. Focusing/Refocusing - Just as your physical training is intentional and specific so too the mental training. Being able to focus on your goals (performance goals are a very small part of the overall picture, task goals are always a better choice) and refocus when distractions/stressors come, will allow you to control the outcome when your energy falters. Here’s something to think about during those tough intervals when you don’t think you can squeeze out another one…”you’re on a tough climb hanging onto the lead group. You’re starting to slide back through the riders. Just can’t hang on anymore. Easing up will stop the suffering. The thought has gripped you and can’t think of anything else.” A great opportunity to refocus on the goal and redirect your negative thoughts. The unknown brings fear and doubt. If we have already “been there” and know how to deal with it, we can compete with a more determined disposition. Determination always beats fatigue in the end.

So, in the training days ahead, relax, visualize and focus.  We want to do battle with the race situation time and time again before the actual competition.  Grab a hold of the threat that whispers in your ear that you don’t have what it takes and the best thing to do is give up rather than hang on. I’m sure there have been times when you wanted to give up but you clamped down like a badger, didn’t give in and discovered a chink in your competitor’s armor. That’s the image you want to have etched in your mind.

Lastly, you want to hone your race day sequence - warm-up/start/... Write down an ideal race day sequence (script) that works well for you. I believe that if you are able to have a "script" or plan, it'll help you stay focused when the "hammer comes down."



blog comments powered by Disqus

New to Cycling? Voler has you covered with training tips and gear to get you started.  Find out More