Cycling After Armstrong

With the airing of Lance Armstrong's long-term doping, we ask: what are the ways in which mindfulness can play a role in cycling?

Photo: impicard/

In January, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to doping on each of his seven Tour de France wins—months after he was officially stripped of his titles by the cycling’s governing body.

President of the International Cycling Union (UCI) Pat McQuaid has referred to the doping charges “the biggest crisis cycling has ever faced.”

The issue has prompted us to return to a topic of conversation here on and in the premier issue of Mindful magazine: the body-mind connection. In this article, cyclist Karolyn Hudson talks about how mindfulness and sports psychology go hand in hand.

Sports psychology is the practice of using your mind to enhance your sport, regardless of whether you’re a professional athlete, a weekend warrior, or an amateur cyclist. I’ve completed my third week working with Dr. Dana Blackmer of The Extra Gear and am surprised at how little control I have over my own thoughts. In my third session with Dana we discussed ways to harness the power of thought to improve my focus and concentration. The difficulty came when I applied this lesson.

Mindfulness Exercises: Every other day I spent five minutes practicing my mindfulness exercises in a quiet location. I continued to use the stream visualization because that one is working for me. Others, Dana suggested, include imagining your mind has only three boxes labeled “thoughts”, “sensations” and “emotions.” As you continue to focus on your breathing, you place whatever enters your head into one of the boxes, thus letting your mind focus on emptiness. In another visualization, you can see yourself outside with a bright, clear, blue sky overhead. Any thoughts are encouraged to drift away like clouds. The other days I practiced my mindfulness exercises while performing a physical activity. Dana’s advice was to apply any success I had with calming my mind in a quiet location to a more distracting location.

Focusing Acronym: Dana gave me an acronym to help me focus my attention during physical activities. The objective is to be more self aware as opposed to thinking of nothing.
B – Body: what is the body doing, how does the body feel physically, both good and bad
A – Arousal level: intensity level, how energized are you? Bored? Tranquil? Nervous?
S – Self-talk: what are you saying to yourself, Irrelevant to the activity? Focused on the activity? Self-defeating, negative?
I – Imagery: purposeful daydreams picturing yourself winning a race, or imaging yourself as a train pushing up that overwhelming hill (“I think I can, I think I can”)
C – Concentration: how directed are you? Do you have a narrow beam or a wide focus?

I used the BASIC acronym to help me concentrate during activities. On my first bike ride after this session, I tried to apply the acronym, but in all honesty, I couldn’t remember the entire thing. What does that mean?

Then, on a morning hike, I found it very helpful. I was aware of my body and of how the hike was a comparatively easy task. I was interested in my surroundings. However, I noticed my concentration continued to wander as I thought of other things I should have been doing.

Later, back on the bike, I found the BASIC acronym more helpful. I used the burning in my legs as motivation as I pumped my way up hill. I worked with the imagery, picturing myself doing well. I observed my thoughts and when they wandered I forced my concentration back to what was on the road directly in front of me, imagining a flashlight shining on the street.

I had greater success with the technique on a subsequent hike in the Manzano Mountains. I was able to apply the acronym in the beginning but then quickly lost myself in the activity. And that, I believe, is the point.