It is very common for athletes to struggle with race nerves AND test nerves . If you find training and intervals very fun and your numbers in those rides are great BUT at the same time your race results are hampered by start-line nerves and/or that your tests often result in a week of stress ahead of time, failed attempts, or less than you expected then this post is for you!
Rather than avoiding testing in your training it is better to slowly get more and more used to showing up and doing the work at a certain time (this is ‘performance’ ). Much like overcoming fears you can even edge into this by watching race videos or doing tests that you ARE willing to do. A lot of people have issues with 20 minute time trials so doing 12 min or 30min or 5min (or whatever) seems to get it done a little nicer. Doing ‘8/10 tests’. This concept of a ‘not max’ test is a great way to trick ourselves into testing. Start the test (using your lap button/timer) and pedal a little harder, then a little harder … and when you can ‘see’ the finish line pedal a little harder again! (this has worked REALLY well with clients).
Workouts are Tests
This is easily taken to far, we don’t need to be maxing out daily (or really that often at all) but If you have a power meter, Strava, or friends who you compare yourself with you are already ‘assessing’ how you are doing regularly. If you did hill intervals and watched you lap-power (or distance) each interval [this is a great idea] than you know roughly how you are doing. It is important to know and expect that most days are not great, and in fact some will not be better than the last one.. That is training. Not every data point requires that we use it or that we judge our progress by it BUT if you are very nervous about tests try to use the thought experiment that a 20minute time trial tells us something very similar to 3 x 10 minutes of threshold intervals.
Use Your Feeling
A superb experiment, that you can and should run weekly, is to do a workout (or a portion of a workout) by feeling. I put my device on the ‘map screen’ ( the one that shows you the map!) and then I do the intervals or pace suggested. This works obviously well for an endurance ride (see if you can ride endurance by feel) but also if you know it takes you 10 minutes to do the local climb, well, go do the local climb and focus on doing it well!
Races are Tests
Sometimes thinking about races not as the ultimate determinant of your worth but rather like a chance to get feedback on how you can improve is helpful. Show up and do your best, which is not just pedaling hard but includes all the work that goes into the bike, showing up early, warming up and fueling (to name a few). Races are the most accurate tests and they are great workouts because they show us how we do given all the factors that contribute to success. We might find out we are very good technically but struggling on the start or the finish or that we don’t know how to hop logs or that we didn’t prepare our bike well, or that we didn’t do things to help with heat tolerance. Races (like tests) give us some ideas on what to do next in training.
Nerves often come from not preparing for the defining moments (the parts you are nervous about). This is often the start of the race, which is often not that big of deal at all for many disicplines but it might be early or a lot of people and there is a lot of nervous energy waiting for the first moves. Practice these moments with things like early group rides or less important races to address many of these nerves. The social element (people knowing how you do) is often at the heart of the nerves and this can be overcome by racing more (Even weekly races or hard group rides).
Watch Peter Explain Why You Should Do Cycling Tests
TESTING DAY SOURCES OF ERROR or ‘a watt is not always a watt’
This is sort of an aside but make sure you check your data and performance influences. This often makes ok training/testing/race days bad because mostly you are doing fine, if not great, but often there are irregularities or external factors that are influencing the data OR adding extra load to your body.
- Clean your bike and set your tire pressure for the conditions/goals of the day (ie. the same as you did for the last test)
- PSI/tire setup pressure is very important if using a rear wheel speed sensor on the trainer (or a wattage estimate based on tire speed on the trainer)
- Calibration, zero, offset for the trainer and/or power meter should be done regularly (daily if a lot of temperature changes, setup changes, or if your emotions are linked to what the meter says!)
- The temperature for indoors and outdoors – hotter will make it harder, very cold is also an influence, adding more clothing also will influence
- Altitude and whether you are on a hill or flat or trainer
- WARMUP – any interval, test, or race should be warmed up for. Get your HR up to around what you will average at least (generally >895%MHR)
- FUELING Pre/DURING -> adding a carb drink can be very good (the taste of carb is important) and a meal 1-3 hrs prior to make sure brain/body is not worried about fuel