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Mental Mastery with Mark Allen Week 2: Conquering Doubt and Demons

This week’s key workout is a big, bad bike ride, broken up into physically manageable pieces, but with specific sections for mental training. Do this, and you’ll be ready for any demons of doubt that a long event could throw at you.

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As we go into the second week of our nine-week mental mastery program, the focus remains on endurance. Like that week, we’ll pair one of my favorite key training sessions with some very specific mental cues to practice at specific times during the workout. Treat the mental cues just like you would a pace or rest interval—be intentional and don’t just do the workout without the mental focus. Just like anything, you need to practice what you’ll want to do before race day, and mental prep is no different.

This week is going to utilize an endurance bike session to help build that aspect of your fitness as well as set the stage for you to continue to strengthen and develop your mental mastery.

To review, we will be working with three pillars of mental mastery during this session:

  1. Body Awareness – This is developing the ability to be aware of how your body is moving, especially when you are fatiguing or going at a very fast pace or high power output.
  2. Internal Dialogue – This is being aware of when chatter is getting in the way of performance and helping you develop the ability to “change the channel” quickly to a headspace that supports your physical efforts rather than weakening them.
  3. Mental Race Prep – This is practicing the art of remembering what all the day-to-day work is going toward and then using that vision to “embrace the ordinary” in pursuit of the extraordinary.

One of my big, hairy workouts I did while preparing for Hawaii Ironman was an overdistance ride of 150 miles. It was 75-miles due east from Boulder, Colorado, out through the mind-numbingly boring farmlands that eventually would lead to Kansas. Then at one specific small gas station at the 75-mile mark, do a U-turn and head back home on the same road.

I had a solid seven hours to question what I was doing out there. It was more than enough time to go through an endless string of reasons why I should cut the ride short. This ride was so key to my mental race prep though. For every reason I could create to shorten the workout, I would remind myself of what this ride was getting me ready to do.

This long, boring, never-ending ride was helping me be physically and mentally prepared to have 112-miles in Kona feel like a very manageable distance rather than a massive stretch in my ability to cover it. That mental mastery skill relaxed me. The long training day didn’t get any shorter, but it did get easier to manage because I knew it was key to being prepared to fulfill a dream of having a great race that would come in a few weeks’ time. You don’t need to do a 150-mile ride to hone this skill, just work the session below.

RELATED: Lessons from the Pros on Building Your Mental Game

Mark Allen Ironman Hawaii 1992
Mark Allen at the 1992 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. (Photo: Lois Schwartz)

Week 2: Key Endurance Bike Workout and Mental Mastery Drills

The goal of this endurance bike workout is to gradually build up fatigue via the length of the session, and as you fatigue also build up the intensity of the ride. This is an extremely important element to teaching your body to do what you want it to do in a race, ideally—get faster as you go. Typically athletes start a race fast, but then just hold on in the later part. This ride will help your body get used to getting faster as you go, even if you are getting tired.

The mental drill component helps support this progression. The first part uses that initial freshness to dial in efficient body movement by heightening your body awareness. The middle of the ride shifts the focus to making mental notes on how you’re doing during the part of the workout where often it feels like it’s never going to end. They key here is using that time to see how you do keep going and to stash that memory away in your bag of tricks; this is the race prep focus. And then finally when you have to kick things up another notch in the last third, you’ll work on your internal dialogue—which at that point can become very negative.You will walk away from this session not only more fit, but more mentally strong and balanced equipped with some very powerful tools to stay on track no matter where you are in a workout or race.

This Week’s Key Workout Session: Big, Bad Bike

Total time: 2h30m-6h30m


15min. easy spinning, cadence of 90-95rpm

10min. moderate, alternating between 80rpm for 2min. and 95rpm for 1min.

Main Set:

2hrs for Olympic-distance focus

4hrs for 70.3 focus

6hrs for iron-distance focus

First 25% of the ride, hold steady at the high end of heart rate Zone 2 at 85-90rpm

Next 50% of the ride, alternate 10min. heart rate Zone 3 at 80rpm, 5min. Z2 at 90rpm

Final 25% of the ride do:

10min. Z4 at 85rpm

5min. Z3 at 70rpm sitting up and not aero

10min. Z4 at 90rpm

5min. Z2 at 80rpm


5min. easy spinning

The Mental Mastery Focus Cues

First 25% of the ride: The effort is moderate enough to work on Body Awareness mastery. Stay aero keeping your upper body relaxed and down between the shoulder blades. Support your upper body with your elbows on the pads. Engage glutes as best as you can (as opposed to having all the force being generated with your quads). Set the stage for how you want to feel throughout the remainder of the ride through this focused body awareness: relaxed with precise movement. Strength without tension.

Next 50% of the ride: Since this is the biggest block of the ride, it can also be the most tedious mentally to stay focused. You may want it to be over quicker than is happening. This is the ideal time to work on Mental Race Prep Awareness. Remind yourself this work is going into your fitness bank account. Remind yourself that that account takes time to fill up and that this session is making a big deposit. Remind yourself that you are training your mind to stay steady even in the middle of something that in the moment might feel endless. This is a skill that will serve you well in your races.

The final 25% of the ride: Time to gain mental mastery over your Internal Dialogue. You will likely be getting tired, yet the effort is still ramping up. Negative thoughts can creep in. “I’m tired. This sucks! I don’t need to work on this stuff.” Negative internal dialogue causes tightness and resistance in your body. That’s the bad news. The good news is that your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Change the channel! Bring your attention to anywhere that you feel tightening. Shoulders? Back? Neck? Hands? Face? Pick one spot and relax it. Keep it relaxed. Focus on relaxing even in the midst of this final effort. With that focus the dialogue will stop. You are now an efficient moving object clipping away through time and space, and you should become quiet. Sensations can still be intense, but your internal space is quiet. You are efficient and proficient. You have gained mastery over your internal dialogue.

RELATED: Keep Positive Self-Talk in Your Mental Toolbox During Training and Races

More Mental Mastery Workouts from Mark Allen