How Lance Armstrong uses the Power of his Sub-conscious
Tags: Lance Armstrong, le tour, mind power, motivation, performance, success, tour de france
It’s July again and millions of people are glued to their TV screens to watch the Tour de France. Le Tour as it is affectionately known lasts 3 weeks (21 stages) and this year will cover roughly 3 500km. Plagued by drug scandals over last few years, it has also been the stage on which the world’s greatest inspirational story – Lance Armstrong won the race 7 years conscutively after being given slim chances of surviving testicular cancer in 1996. Lance has some "secrets" he uses – OK they’re as much a secret as lining up the metal bits on a zipper in order not to get it stuck.
This week a training partner told me he thought that the 2009 Tour de France was like the 2005 one which saw Lance Armstrong win his 7th before retiring. He mentioned to me that this year’s Tour de France was “clinically boring” and predictable. He went on to say that a Hollywood scriptwriter could not have written the 2005 Tour any better. And he had a point! Somehow we all knew that Lance would go out strong in the opening time trial and then manage the race from there in 2005.
Lance’s Tour WAS scripted. As always, he’d mastered the route through early season recce’s, practice rides and by carefully studying maps, gradients, corners and road conditions at each of the Tour’s key stages. He knew that a superior performance in the longer-than-usual opening time trial would send a very deliberate message to his rivals. Catching Jan Ullrich for one minute after 12 kilometers certainly did that. From here on in, with Phil Liggett and co’ worrying about the strength of his team on the first Alpine stages, Armstrong followed his script – his message was clear – “I know exactly what to do, and when to do it!”
And so should every endurance athlete’s races be scripted. Obviously we wish we could also script our competitors race, but we need to focus on what we can control. Scripting your race delivers certain benefits, both in terms of “race management” and “performance management”. Here’s how we can script our own races.
We have to be very honest in saying that, although endurance athletes drive themselves beyond the comfort zone, we all have a need to stay within a comfortable space as often as we can (like on those cold, wet mornings when our training diary requires a LSD). As humans, we should endeavour to create an ever bigger comfort zone allowing us to push beyond our current boundaries (of pain, performance, trust, you name it) and thus the first step in a “race script” starts with a routine.
I recommend to my athletes and business folk I "coach" to start with a Wake-up Procedure. This is also invaluable when you are traveling to race and will wake up in an unfamiliar environment. An effective “Wake-up Procedure” starts with awaking slowly. Avoid using an alarm such as a cell-phone. They’re called alarms for a reason! When you wake up with a sudden noise, you’ve guessed it, then you’re alarmed!
Rather wake up in a gradual, less threatening way. If you can afford them (about R 150-00) get one of those radio alarm clocks. Then set it to go off 5-10 minutes before you would normally awake. Choose a relaxing radio station – you don’t want to hear about the petrol price first thing in the morning! (Apparently, for a little more than R 150-00, you can get an alarm CD player, then you can listen to your favourite motivational music when you wake up. Try “I am the one and only by Chesney Hawkes.) First prize though would be to get your spouse to buy into your yearning for better results and have him / her wake you with love AND your favourite pre-race beverage.
While you’re awaking slowly, engage in some positive self-talk. Talk positively to yourself and even go so far as to develop a set of statements that you can use.
Stretch! Use as many muscle groups as possible at a low intensity. Your early morning stretch should be pleasurable. While stretching, SMILE – you’re going into the race to have fun, so why not remind your body of this now. The result of your wake procedure is to make you feel good. Allow enough time and don’t stop until you feel good. I remember waking up late in Gordon’s Bay for the inaugural Totalsports Challenge and all I could hear was the howling wind outside! Without enough time for my wake-up procedure, I started the surfski mentally drained and swam most of the way!
Secondly, you need a script for the actual race, or your actual business egagement. This is best done using “segmentation”. Do this 6 – 8 weeks before the event, or in the car on your way to the meeting. Divide your race into manageable segments. For adventure-racing or any multi-sport it’s easy – use each discipline as a segment. On longer events, you can further divide each discipline.
By segmenting, you require yourself to focus on each segment as you are busy with it. Therefore you are not distracted by remote goals. As you attain the goals for each segment, they build on each other leading to eventual finishing goals. Achieving your final goal therefore depends on correctly completing everything leading up to the finish.
Naturally you’ll also develop recovery routines which will come into play should you not complete one segment as you’ve planned. Recovery routines should include coping mechanisms to help you deal with whatever unfortunate incidents that have lead to the situation you find yourself in. For example, after crashing your MTB on a technical single track descent, focus on your form, pedal stroke and rhythm for the next segment of your ride. This helps you forget the crash, refocus on the task, and it will help take your mind off the pain (pride included). What if you bonk with 20km to go? Since a PB is now not a factor, use the last segment as training to focus on breathing technique, body position or find a nice lady and finish the race at her pace!
At the end of each segment evaluate your segment goals to see if you’ve achieved them, and then proceed with the next segment. If the goals were not achieved, enact the recovery routine until these procedures are complete before moving into the next segment.
As Lance does, script each segment. This way you’ll know what to expect, how to handle it, and what to do if things go wrong. Let’s see if Lance Armstrong can get his script to play out his way in the 2009 Tour de France to become the oldest winner in the race’s history. Hell be 37.
About the author: Erik Vermeulen segments his day from about 05H30 when the first segment involves sneaking out of bed without waking his wife and three cats to go training. If they do wake up, his recovery routine involves immediate coffee for the wife.