We are in the final week of the tour and there is one major topic we haven’t touched on yet. How can you push yourself through those moments when your legs are on fire, your eyeballs feel like they are going to pop out, and you just might start crying as you think to yourself “how much longer can they keep up this pace!?” The final Mental Skills Minute for this year’s Tour de France is all about suffering.

There is a difference between pain from an injury and the pain that comes from putting out an intense effort during a race. In the former situation, the pain is a signal that your body sends so that you will stop what you’re doing so you won’t do further harm. In the latter situation, it’s pain that is a part of being a competitive athlete. When it comes to your ability to put out a big effort, what you are thinking is just as important as your training, hydration, fueling, and recovery. Physiological differences alone do not determine successful performance; your mental skills and mental toughness play an important role as well. Here are a few tips for getting to the end of your race knowing that you left everything you had out on the course.

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  1. Have a specific goal. What is your goal for this race or event? When you have a specific goal for your race, you are more likely to push yourself through those moments when it gets tough in order to keep sight of your goal. If you’re just along for the ride, you won’t push yourself as hard. A specific goal helps you control your focus and effort when the pace picks up.
  2. Know where your focus needs to be. At what times during the race are you likely to feel extreme discomfort due to the physical effort you are putting out? Your brain is like a big magnet. Once you start down a line of thinking, it starts attracting more thoughts along those same lines. Keep your mind occupied with cues relevant to your performance. Focus on your breathing, smooth pedal strokes, sticking to the wheel in front of you, etc. Know where you are likely to suffer and choose your focus ahead of time.
  3. Change your perception of the pain. Our full experience of pain is connected to our perception of the pain. If you decide the pain is awful and bordering on unbearable, your experience and tolerance will be different than if your perception of it is more positive. Associate the pain with something positive like getting stronger or getting to your goal. You can also help change your perception by telling yourself that EVERYONE is suffering and that there is a finite end to the effort. Try out these three tips for your next big climb or the next time you have to chase back on and see how it impacts your performance.