There is something that all great cyclist and runners have in common. You will see this if you watch professional sport on television, or if you have been fortunate enough to see a professional athlete train in real life. They all have incredible state control.
What is State Control?
State control in cycling or running is the ability of the athlete to stay relaxed under pressure and under an enormous amount of pain. Like I said, watching professional sport on television provides the perfect example of this. Have you ever noticed how no matter how hard the best cyclists in the world ride during the Tour de France, it almost always looks like they can go faster. If you can re-watch the second to last stage of the 2020 Tour de France, you will see Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogačar practice state control during the individual time trial. Both men were doing whatever they could to win the biggest cycling race in the world, yet their postures on the bike, did not budge.
The same could be said for Eliud Kipchoge during his sub 2 hour marathon. I have never seen an athlete run that hard and yet look so comfortable. He looked so at ease that it made you want to shout at the computer screen “RUN FASTER DAMNIT!” In reality you know he is doing the best he can. If he were to show off his pain in his running form, it may be more satisfying to watch from a spectators point of view, but it would not be doing his performance any favors.
Why “state control”?
A running coach once said to me after a race, “Paul, when you are tired then everybody knows you are tired. Your competitors know it, I know it and everyone in the stand knows it. We are going to have to work on that.” I moved across the country not long after that and my relationship with this coach ended, but the conversation sat with me ever since. We all want to wear our heart on our sleeves and show our pain for the world to see. As noble as this may sound, it is not an efficient way to run or ride. A relaxed athlete is a fast athlete.
Having a good state control is not easy. It is something you need to spend hours working on in training and then you need to take that training and execute it on race day, which is even harder to do. I find a good workout to practice state control is intervals. You can do intervals as a cyclist or a runner. A typical interval session for me will be hill repeats up a roughly 5 minute long climb. I do every hill repeat as hard as I possibly can. What this means is that my time up the climb will naturally get slower the more reps I do. I will also naturally get more tired and it is then that state control training begins. It is easier said than done. I can tell you that you need to stay relaxed, but once you enter the “hurt locker” or “pain zone” or whatever you want to call it, everything changes. You will feel the intense urge to grimace your face, stick your tongue out, tense your shoulder muscles, swing your body from side to side and to slouch forward. I am sure you are familiar with this temptation. What runner or cyclist has not experienced this before. It is part of training hard and pushing your body to the limit.
I have been involved in the online “health and fitness” niche for a while now and I have been asked numerous times if I do any meditation. Practicing state control while exercising is my meditation. I can not think of a more pure definition of the word. It is awareness without thought. I find sitting quietly in a room far too easy! My type of meditation is hard and requires extreme focus and dedication.
You do not need to do an interval session to test this out. Just find a climb that is at long as possible and ride or run up it has hard as you can. See how good you are at maintaining your running or cycling form. Focus on relaxing your body, especially your upper body. Also, breathing plays an important role in a good state control. The best athletes in the world practice belly breathing. The next time you are watching a cyclist ride as hard as he or she can on television, pay close attention to his or her stomach. You will notice it is inflating and deflating like a balloon! This is because of belly breathing. Belly breathing is a deep breathing technique that engages your diaphragm. It is a great tool for increasing oxygen intake and allowing the diaphragm to get more involved. Most athletes tend to breathe up high in their chests with a short, shallow breath. If you can practice belly breathing during training and execute it during a race when the going gets tough, it will certainly benefit your performance. Here is a good video I found online that explains belly breathing in more detail.
Let me know if you think it is important to work on your state control when you are running or cycling. Also, which professional athlete do you think is (or was) the best at this? Lance Armstrong was incredible at having a good state control. I remember he was always able to stay relaxed and focused on his goal no matter what. I know what you are thinking, “Yeah, but he…” You are right, but it still does not change the fact. I have to mention Eliud Kipchoge again. His state control is the best I have ever seen out of any runner or cyclist.