Colby Pearce is currently the US Track Endurance Coach, an Olympian and America’s most successful World Cup Track Racer & 2002 Overall World Cup Champion, points race. Colby has held four national records and raced in almost every venue including Track, Road, TT and even cyclo-cross. He makes his home in Boulder, Colorado with his wife and daughter. Colby speaks about racing, the “fear factor” in The Madison, focus and “self-talk”. He offers us the insights of a champion, and we can all benefit. He’s been interviewed by Fixed Gear Fever, Velo News and has an interview posted on the US Olympic website.
Podium: You’ve explored all kinds of racing venues since you were a young punk racing in the Red Zinger Mini Classics for kids back in the late 80’s. How did you discover that the track was home?
Pearce: I think I eventually figured out that the track was the best fit for my abilities. Track races have high average speeds (52-55kph for international points and Madison races), which is good for a small, aerodynamic rider like myself. The races also require a lot of leg speed, which I was always better at than high torque applications (such as hilly road races). There is also a very tactical component to track events, which I find challenging and motivating. So overall, I seemed suited to track events more than other aspects of cycling, although I enjoy nearly all of the variations.
Podium: The Madison (a two man event) is one that a lot of folks stay away from. It’s pretty scary….the speeds, dueling teams, transitions, tags, pushes,sling shots – you name it, you’ve got it….How do you and your partner mentally train and prepare yourselves for this kind of event?
Pearce: There was initially a large “fear factor” in Madison racing for me, which is common for riders learning Madison I believe. My first World Cup was in 1999 in Italy, I think there were 22 teams. I probably soiled myself, but we survived the event. So the first requirement is to become familiar enough with the technical aspects of this race so that fear is no longer an inhibiting factor to learning and advancing.
A Madison race in particular requires a very focused, yet relaxed mental state for the event. There is so much going on during a Madison that the rider almost takes a “soft focus” to everything, in order to absorb as much information as possible. If you focus on one particular thing for too long, you will fall down or make a big mistake in the race. This psychological state must be practiced so that it is familiar and achievable by the athlete in competition settings, in spite of distractions.
Podium: In a recent interview for Fixed Gear Fever, you were asked why you’re still racing and haven’t made the complete transition to coaching. Your comment, “I am sort of nuts. So, I must keep riding, for me its cheap therapy. Cycling is how I battle my demons. Everybody’s got the demon.” Please explain.
Pearce: I am simply saying that I have always been very active, I don”t sit still long. After 17 years of channeling this energy into my bike, I would not stop doing it overnight.
Podium: What sort of mental conditioning skills did you have to develop racing on the track that weren’t as important in other venues?
Pearce: Track racers are required to concentrate very intensely for a short amount of time, as opposed to road racing, which requires attention over longer periods. Track races range from 10 seconds to one hour in length and demand total focus.
Podium: From the mental toughness point of view, talk about your best racing performance and why it stands out for you?
Pearce: Many races stick out in my mind as events in which I was having a miserable time and managed to finish or even do well, but one in particular stands out. The 1994 Tour of Venezuela was certainly one race which demanded mental toughness from me. It took place late in the fall, and I was given very short notice before the event that I would start it, so my conditioning was not really that great. I got hit by a truck 6 days before I left, so any last minute training was pretty shot. The race was very hot and humid, with pretty lousy food and housing, hour long climbs and incredibly bad pavement. I really struggled just to finish the 10 day event. I was only competitive in one stage, where I came to the line in a four man breakaway, and got smoked in the sprint to place 4th. At the finish of the final stage, I wept from the exhaustion of finishing. It sucked but I was tougher afterwards.
Podium: Racing, how do you…..
a) focus yourself when suffering….
b) deal with distractions…
c) recover from a performance setback….?
Pearce: When I am suffering, my focus is very internal. My first instinct is to relax and concentrate. I don’t shift on the saddle or change my hand position, I just settle in and feel the effort head on. I am not easily distracted during a hard effort, a skill which has taken me years to develop. I used to be distracted by my comfort level, convinced that if I were perfectly situated and my shoe straps were exactly the right tension, I would be able to devote myself more completely to the effort, but I have realized that these are merely ways to procrastinate the pain or in some cases desperate attempts to have an effortless ride.
Instead I try to be present in my body and saturate myself in the experience of the effort.
Less than ideal performances are a part of cycling, or any sport. The sooner the athlete accepts this fact and learns to move on quickly, the faster the rider will grow and make progress. No one gets any better from sitting around and feeling sorry for themselves, it’s not constructive. Learning from mistakes is one thing, but as soon as that is done, it’s time to concentrate on the next objective.
Podium: Describe your “self-talk” during a competition….pre-race, at the start, in response to the “gaminess in the competition” itself.
Pearce: Athletes need to realize that negative thought patterns are not constructive, and they don’t serve you. There is nothing wrong with you if you have them, they are just a bad habit like chewing with your mouth open. Riders must train themselves to think positively just like they must train themselves to ride fast, it comes down to doing the work and being disciplined.
At major competitions, my focus is primarily internal in the lead up to the event. I notice what other riders are doing in their warm ups and routines, as a note taking process, and so I can maintain some sense of being in touch with my surroundings and competition. However I stay on task and stick to my plan. If I see a rider doing something unusual or different than what I expected, it is unlikely to unsettle me. I prepare for what I need to do for my best race.
Podium: Now that you are coaching, has your perception of racing or racers changed at all?
Pearce: I think most riders would be better at what they do if they played coach for a year. It is an insightful perspective to see the athlete from the other side of the coin, it is easier to identify behaviors and actions which do not help someone achieve a better performance from the outside view. I am just beginning to understand the psychology of athletes and their idiosyncrasies. Hopefully as I have more insight in this arena, my coaching skills will continue to grow.