Racing in frigid conditions on a brutal course, Elle Anderson stormed to fourth place at the US Cyclocross Nationals Championships in Asheville, NC. Her ride earned her a slot to represent the United States at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium at the end of January. During this comeback season, Elle has overcome numerous challenges to rise to the top. Learn about the mental side of Elle’s racing program. 

As I head into the final stretch of the cyclocross season, it begins to dawn on me just how intense and significant the racing gets. National Championships, the final two World Cups and World Championships are all stacked in the month of January. The pressure can be a heavy weight to bear.

My legs have whatever fitness they’ve gained and maintained in the previous months, my routines are dialed. The one wild card left to upset my game is the mindset.

This time of year, the most important training I can do is mental.

The mental game of cyclocross can trap me like a sand pit. To start the sand full of momentum and confidence only to discover halfway across that I’ve jumped out of the rut into the soft stuff, which sucks down my wheels and grinds my speed to a stop.

How to keep from stress-waking in the morning, heart pounding from the bad dream where I flop, crash, make some sort of critical error on the final lap of the race? How to stay focused and calm and above all confident in on the start line?

Heading into last weekend’s National Championship event in North Carolina, here’s how I cultivated the right mindset to be ready to race at my best.

The power of choice

It’s easy to focus on the mishaps, the unfavorable circumstances, the factors I can’t control. Instead, I try to remember that achieving a good mindset begins with choosing to focus on what I can control. How you choose to react to the circumstances, either positively or negatively, will determine your perceived mindset. When arriving late to a race, forgetting something at the hotel, or when a crash breaks a shifter, it’s a deliberate choice to step back, take a deep breath and remain focused instead of getting frustrated.

BO2P2549-2 (1)

Visualize the process

Visualization allows you to anticipate and react positively to whatever challenges or surprises are thrown your way. As a key part of my preparation, visualizing multiple situations and outcomes builds a foundation that supports how I will react tactically in a race, how I will nail a technical section, or what it will feel like to cross the finish line. On race day and the days leading up to an event, I plan time to run through a visual of what I want to achieve and how, like filming a video of the future.

Elle Anderson moved to the front of the elite women's field on the first lap.

Tune out distractions

For the biggest races, there is usually a constant buzz of distractions in the form of social media, race predictions, or what the competition is doing to prepare. It takes a concerted effort to turn down the volume and ignore the background noise. Instead, I return to my own process and visualization, going over the steps I plan to take to be prepared on the start line. Focusing on the execution of my routine helps minimize the effects of external pressure and distractions.


Surrender to the big picture

The last but most crucial mental exercise in my preparation is maintaining context. In the present moment, any one race or single moment can feel like the most important thing. It’s like a fear of heights – the higher my expectations get for an event, the greater the buildup and increase of pressure, the further away I feel from safety and my own comfort zone. It’s a considerable risk to take the starting line, in front of the crowds, under the magnifying glass. These emotions are all very real and powerful so instead of trying to turn them off, I embrace them instead.

I smile, remember that racing is fun, and let the energy around me fuel my unabashed love for competition and drive for success. It’s why I love to race.

Photos by Wil Mathews