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Ask Bill Begg!

Skating's top coach answers your questions

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World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.

Find out more about Bill Begg and his column.

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March 10, 2010

How Do I Prepare Mentally to be a Breakaway Specialist?

QHi, Bill: Thank you for your tip about how to be a breakaway specialist. I now have a greater understanding about what it takes physically. But what about the psychological part? Do you have to do something special to psyche yourself up for this type of skating? Also, how do you decide when to do a breakaway? Is there a strategy? Thanks in advance. - Beverly from California

Hi, Beverly from sunny CA: The psychology of any sport is a can of worms. So I can't give you a simple answer. But I can tell you this: to be a breakaway specialist, you must be mentally tough and full of confidence.

You need the mental toughness to handle the extra pressure and stress that comes from skating on your own and pushing your body to the limit.

To develop this toughness, I deliberately put skaters in stressful situations at least once a week during training sessions. This is valuable not just for skating, but for life. After all, stress is a part of most of what we do: work, school, marriage, etc. So we need to know how to handle it.

The Minute-Minute drill that I outlined in last week's column is a great way to stress your body. It puts you in the Hurt Zone and teaches you to tolerate pain. Remember that no one ever died of pain ... in pain, yes, but not because of it.

I was a breakaway merchant in my racing days. During one 5-year stretch, I was undefeated in ultra endurance races from 50 kilometers to 24 hours.

One way I used to prepare for my races was to train in darkness on an auto race track. As I skated, I would imagine beating all the top skaters of my era. This prepared my mind for what to do on race day.

Another good visualization technique involves finding videos of your favorite breakaway specialists. Watch the videos repeatedly before going to bed. Then, when you turn out the lights, replay the videos in your mind, only replace the head and body in the videos with your own.

As far as the timing of breakaways, that varies from race to race.

Shane Dobbin, one of the world's top breakaway specialists, says you simply have to attack again and again until the competition finally gives up.

Of course, this requires lots of willpower and self-confidence, not to mention excellent physical conditioning and great technique.

Focus is another important element. I remember a cyclist I used to coach, Rod Evans of Australia. He set five world records in endurance track events, and mentally, he was one tough athlete.

But for three days before a race, you couldn't talk to the guy. He was so focused on preparing for his event that he could not tolerate anyone, except his wife.

My daughter Nicole is another skater who always looks for breakaway opportunities. Sometimes, they just fall in her lap.

In one World Cup race in Mainz, she was part of a breakaway with four other strong skaters: Lina Holguin (Colombia), Jana Gegner (Germany), Nadine Gloor (Switzerland) and Catherine Penan (Chile).

After they had amassed a 2-minute lead, Gegner suggested they ease up. Naturally, she was the best sprinter of the group.

That's all Nicole had to hear. She immediately attacked hard, dropping Gegner and Holguin.

With Gegner out of the pack, Nicole was confident she could win the field sprint ... and she did, for the win.

Cheers, Bill

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