Hoops & Spokes
As cyclists we use process every time we ride. Simple enough...riding a bicycle means that each leg is making a full rotation, or cycle, through the pedal stroke on each side of the bike. Process can seem to be mindless, unless we're struggling with it like when riding up a big hill. Process as a mindful exercise, however, has rewards. Getting a spin rate up around 90 rpm on a bike is great for efficiency. A nice spin means that the rider can be more relaxed. If the rider is more relaxed the benefits include less tension throughout the body and a longer time to fatigue, as well as more awareness which is a key to safety and enjoying the ride itself. Looking up and out, instead of down is easier if the rider is not struggling to pedal smoothly. Having a proper fit is a key to all of this. If a rider is uncomfortable then all those bad things can happen sooner...tension, fatigue, bad process. Everyone gets fatigued at some point, of course, so eating, drinking and getting off the saddle are all important to do regularly.
Thinking about process, reminded me that relying on the repetition of a process like pedaling makes it easier to get and stay in the moment or zone of performance where you want to be. I am more or less restating what I wrote in the first paragraph, but hopefully that good feeling after a ride is in here with the place where focus on the task at hand without distraction leads to performing at the best of your ability. This is often confused with outcomes. Perfect process is not a guarantee of success. An athlete can only control what they are doing, not what is outside of them. We can influence our environment, but can't control it.
I’ve focused on getting into the zone for racing, as well as at work, but for a long time, despite race driving coach Ross Bentley’s advice on how to restore a loss of focus mid-race, I couldn’t do it. I read about how to do it in his Speed Secrets books, and talked with him too. He gave me suggestions for triggers, but I couldn't get it to stick during a race. A piece of the process was missing, and like the salt shaker in front of me on the table, it was right there when I looked instead of overlooked it. What I mean is, I focused so much on my pre-race routine that I failed to work on what to do when the initial plan and focus melted away in the midst of the opening lap melee or my concentration lapsed halfway through a race.
I started writing this during NCAA March Madness and found myself looking for the players and teams that were playing within themselves and sometimes beyond themselves. Watching hoops gave me the idea for this post. I loved playing for my high school team as the starting point guard, but I would always be so amped up that I forgot to breathe during the first sprint down the court. I remember feeling the tension in my shoulders and arms translating into a lack of feel at my hands which is definitely something you don't want in your point guard. When I started breathing again I was able to get into the flow, and then things would slow down and my focus would become better. I think my coach recognized the energy I brought and used it to help set a tone for us and against our opponents. The guard who came off the bench for me brought different skills. He brought less nervous energy and tension, but more offensive skill as a result too. I hated coming out (who doesn't), but looking back we made a nice combination, and it was good coaching strategy.
What do I do now? I compartmentalize my races so I have a plan for the opening lap and then the next set of laps, and don't worry about a lapse in concentration since I know I have a trigger word to snap myself back into focus. It doesn't always work, but that's okay.
And cycling back to 90 rpm uphill, well, take it as an opportunity to not get sucked into being a slave to the process itself. Work on being adaptable about the process and get out of the saddle.