There’s a little climb here in Johannesburg that we affectionally call Cobbles. It’s a 250m stretch of road that used to be as close as we Africa-Is-A-Country Flat Landers could get to experiencing Paris–Roubaix. For many a year we would trek out to that segment and bleed as we hobbled up those faux-cobbles. That was until some local resident grew tired of wearing down the suspension on their Concrete Jungle 4×4 and arranged that our local authorities repave the road. It’s now a blissfully smooth set of adjoining bricks and grout that makes for a less challenging effort. Or does it?
The thing now about Cobbles is that many a rider claim it’s actually more difficult. Well, at least it feels that way, they say. But it shouldn’t be. It’s still the same climb. The same vertical ascent. You don’t have to work so hard at picking a line now. But here’s the thing: in the old days you would have to keep your eyes down and stay focused on choosing your line to stay upright. Now, you can look up to your hearts content at the looming crest. And that’s the problem!
We can now focus our attention on the crest of the climb and how f*****g far away it is. Before, you could’t worry about that – you just kept your head down and worked with what was directly in front of you. Now, the crest looms up ahead of you as an evil red-eyed demon that beats you with his fork.
The mental tip here is to pay attention to your eye line. By looking too far ahead on a climb you activate a whole bunch of sub-conscious pacing calculations that increase your rate of perceived effort. By focusing on a spot a few meters ahead, you take your attention away from the monster you’ve still got to conquer and refocus on manageable chunks of effort that you can pace yourself evenly on. The trick is to consciously adjust your eye line DOWN! This is an aspect to endurance performance we often don’t work on: choosing what to look at. Try it the next time you’re on a climb that’s about to make you its bitch. Choose an eye line and focus your attention on what’s in front of you. What you focus on grows. And climbs are narcissistic attention seekers – they love to have bleeding eyes cast upon them. That’s where their power comes from.