Written by pro-athlete Payson McElveen with Voler Apparel

Mental toughness, grit, “never-say-die.” I read a quote once from a famous cyclist that said: “The secret to winning bike races is to be the one that gives up last.” That might be an oversimplification, but after developing my mental strength with Mario Arroyave of Utmost Performance over the last few years, I’ve managed to pull off some results that were born primarily through this attitude. This sort of thing is hard for a bike racer to admit, but I may not have been the strongest rider at Marathon Nationals in 2017 or 2018. I might not have had the highest threshold power at the Mongolia Bike Challenge in 2016. I’m not sure I was the 3rd strongest rider at XC Nationals in 2017 or the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in 2016. But, in each of those races, I didn’t give a mental inch until the finish line passed below my wheels. We like to think that it’s the strongest rider that usually wins the bike race. I think that’s true, but it’s the strongest rider physically and mentally that wins the race. 

At the highest level where everyone is a physical specimen and psychological assassin at the same time, the margins are often pretty thin. However, many non-pros toe the line with a goal of conquering a certain course and terrain. I’m thinking of events like the Leadville 100 or Dirty Kanza 200. The same methods that elite athletes use to weather a storm of attacks on the final lap can be applied to any level of rider battling to make a cut-off time. The mental battle is the same and potential payoff equally as gratifying.

A great first step to becoming a psychological assassin is the development of mantras. I use to think of them as kind of gimmicky and silly. At face value, they’re just a few words that seem to hold little meaning and thus seem frivolous. The key though is that they’re cues for much larger meaning. When I started using them, it helped enormously. Here’s an example: My mindset coach, Mario, had me come up with a letter, and then pick three words of significance that started with that letter. My letter was F, and my three words were Fortunate, Fearless, and Fast.

Fortunate was to remind me how lucky I am to have my health, hard-earned ability, and support of sponsors, family and friends. My dad sometimes reminds me to “revel in my ability.” It helps a lot. Don’t waste the gift.

Fearless was to remind me to not be afraid of the competition, course, or failure. When you get to a place where you’re okay with failing as long as you gave it your all, it’s incredibly liberating. It’s best to have taken the shot and missed than not taken the shot at all. Follow the attack by that rider you’ve never beaten. Take that chance of not touching the brakes on the final corner. Start that race you’re not sure you can finish.

Fast was to remind me of the whole point of the moment. Sometimes the suffering takes over your world and you forget that it’s not a suffering competition, but a speed competition. Don’t do what will make you push deeper in to the pain cave, do what will increase your velocity. It sounds obvious, but often times our mind can descend into an emotional place that thinks we need to push our pain envelope further, rather than remembering the fundamentals of what propels the bike forward. 


About Payson: Payson McElveen is a Durango, Colorado-based professional mountain biker. He’s the current Mountain Bike Marathon National Champion, winner of the 2017 Chequamegon 40, Leadville Stage-Race, and 3rd at Leadville 100. He writes a weekly tips and tricks newsletter called The Tuesday Hand-Up, which you can subscribe to here: paysonmcelveen.com/blog.

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