UPDATED May 15, 2012

BY Brian Hoeniger

IN Silk Route

no comments

UPDATED May 15, 2012

BY Brian Hoeniger

IN Silk Route

no comments

Coach Rob Lesson #8 – Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness

I shared in a recent guest post at a friend’s web site about a story of one of my toughest Road Races when I first started racing. It was about how I decided I wasn’t a very good climber and how I just couldn’t seem to do well when the roads turned up. My coach was out riding the course with me and he shared some great tips with me.

I was complaining about how hard and long the climbs were and that I wasn’t any good at climbing. He stopped me in my tracks and said. “As long as your thinking that way you wont be good at climbing.” We rode along and talked about Mental Toughness and positive self-talk and how it could be applied in my case. It was a great lesson that I think back to often.

What can we learn from Olympic athletes?

I love watching the Olympics and hearing the athletes being interviewed. You will hear the athletes say that almost all athletes participating are on equal ground when it comes to fitness and ability but that winning or loosing comes down to mental toughness.  So what is mental toughness you might ask?

Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to cope better than your opponents with the many demands (e.g., competition, training, lifestyle) that are placed on you as a performer.  David Yukelson, Ph.D., Coordinator of Sport Psychology Services Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes, Penn State University

But I am not a competitive cyclist

All cyclists could learn and apply the characteristics of mentally tough athletes to their event rides and tours. Doctor David Yukelson, mentioned above, has provided four easy to remember characteristics that everyone can learn from when trying to become mentally tough. I am going to adapt these to be more appropriate to the tour and expedition rider but they will still be applicable to competitive athletes. So here are some characteristics of mentally tough athletes.


You must believe in your ability to complete your cycling goals! You must also understand that you bring unique abilities to your ride that allows you to complete your goals.


You need an unflappable desire to train and ride in order to meet your goals. You must not look at training or riding setbacks as the end to your goals just as new challenges.


When things aren’t going to plan or your body is not living up to it’s potential you need to be able to remain focused on the task of training, riding and touring. You need to be able to discern what is a distraction and what is a priority.

Composure/Handling Pressure

I like to think of this as “Grace Under Pressure”. The ability to not cave in to negative self-talk when the ride gets harder than my body or mind is use to. This may be the hardest to train for.

While its helpful to read over tips on mental toughness it requires a consistent and concentrated effort and practice to develop mental toughness. In training we need to recognize that all training is planned, training doesn’t just happen.

If you find that you are no longer enjoying riding due to one or more aspects of your training, riding or touring you need to ask yourself why. If you cannot find the answers to this question I strongly suggest you seek out more knowledge on sports psychology or even speak to a sport psychologist.

I hope you have enjoyed all of the articles and come away with some knowledge that has helped you on your way across the Silk Route. In the final article for Silk Route participants I will be answering some questions from readers and providing some common questions and there answers too. I look forward to hearing how everyone does on Tour!

I hope you found this article on mental toughness helpful and if you have questions related to this or other articles please feel free to email me.

We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.” – Vince Lombardi

Have a great ride,

Coach Rob

Coach Rob Grissom is a competitive cyclist, runner and duathlete who coaches both competitive and recreational cyclists. Rob is also the owner of Positive Performance Coaching and the co-host of the popular Cycling360 podcast. When Rob isn’t racing, training or coaching he can be found spending time with his wife and two children at their home in Central Kentucky. 

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