1) Pain Tolerance: How much pain are we willing to endure and for how long? When we train, we can push ourselves to our very limits and are, hopefully, able to replicate race scenarios as close as possible. We can push our limits until we can't handle the muscle burn or fatigue any longer. If we can increase the time we train in this uncomfortable, and most times painful zone, then we are able to acclimate our bodies and mind to handle this for extended periods of time. This ability to increase our pain tolerance will translate into faster times on the course. We must teach our minds to allow our muscles to endure the pain we might be feeling.
2) Focus: While we race and train for endurance sports there are so many factors that we must consider - everything from how often should we be drinking or taking calories to pushing the pace to catch the person in front of us. We need to constantly reassess what is happening around us, to us, and what might potentially happen with every move we make. Racing endurance sports is like a chess match against yourself. You need to make decisions based on the information you are taking in from all your senses. The more focused and in tune we can be with our bodies the more efficient we will become. We also need to come up with ways to help remind ourselves to stay focused. The more times we can practice staying focused and reassessing, the more comfortable we will become for the late stages of the race or training session.
3) Adaptability: This is almost a combination of the two above. What are we going to do when a curve ball is thrown our way? We need to be able to be flexible and adjust our game plan according to what our body is telling us and what our mind is sensing. This is the part of the chess match where the opponent makes a move and now we need to react. If we are thirsty - do we take a drink and if so of what (water or electrolytes)? If we are sensing muscle fatigue - do we back off or keep pushing? What happens if I drop my chain - am I going to mentally crack or am I going to fix the problem and keep plugging away? These are just a sample of the questions we should be asking ourselves during our training sessions. The more questions we can answer during our training the more prepared we will make ourselves come race day.
In conclusion, a critical piece of the puzzle might be locked up in the mental side of racing. Once we can get a handle on that aspect of racing - get ready for the times to drop. Don't let this part of your racing go overlooked. There are many aspects to racing and this is one of the major ones. I am a firm believer that endurance racing is 80% mental - if you believe you can do something then you can - you just have to practice and work hard.
Stay Focused, Persevere, and Race Hard!!!