Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

A Naturalistic Investigation of Former Olympic Cyclists' Cognitive Strategies for Coping with Exertion Pain during Performance

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

A Naturalistic Investigation of Former Olympic Cyclists' Cognitive Strategies for Coping with Exertion Pain during Performance

Article excerpt

In endurance sports, there is one element that all athletes who wish to excel must confront ... pain. There are three types of pain: emotional, injury related, and pain as the result of an intense prolonged energy-expending effort. The physical discomfort associated with injury-free performance in sport can be a limiting factor during competition. Injury-free pain associated with endurance sport can be the product of several factors: (a) an elevated heart rate, which has exceeded a comfortable level, (b) a buildup of lactate, an end product of glycolysis, (c) a depletion of muscle glycogen from the body's stores, (d) fatigue of the respiratory muscles, and (e) dehydration (Brooks, Fahey, & White, 1996). Athletes who have developed effective coping strategies for tolerating higher levels of injury-free pain are expected to perform better than those who have not (Azevedo & Samulski 2003, Egan, 1987; Masters, 1998, O'Conner, 1992). Bill Koch, silver medalist at the 1976 Olympics in the 30 km cross-country skiing race, felt that 90% of his success could be attributed to his ability to tolerate injury-free pain (Iso-Ahola & Hatfield, 1986).

The sport of bicycle racing is an endurance event 'in which the athlete must cope with great amounts of physical discomfort during competition. O'Conner (1992) cites the Tour de France bicycle race as one of the most grueling tests of human athletic endurance. Typical road races for Olympic level cyclists range between 50 and 250 kilometers and can take from one (50 kilometers) to six hours (250 kilometers) to complete. Weather conditions can vary from freezing snow to the hot, humid conditions experienced at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Riders must deal effectively with the uncomfortable effects of dehydration, cold, heat, exhaustion, increased levels of lactate, and depletion of muscle glycogen stores while at the same time executing appropriate race strategy if they are to be successful (Ryschon, 1994). Three times Tour de France winner Greg LeMond had this to say about cycling: " ... the best climbers are those who can stand the most pain ... in pro cycling everything hurts, but you just ride through it ... " (Avins, 1986, p.44). How are these athletes able to cope with this type of injury-free pain? Physiological testing of elite endurance athletes does not completely account for differences in performance (Bosquet 2002, Boulay, 1995, Coyle et. al., 1988, Coyle et al., 1991 ). Therefore, it has been suggested that psychological factors play an important role in the achievement of outstanding endurance performance (O'Conner, 1992). Currently, a void exists in the literature regarding the cognitive strategies employed by elite level cyclists to enhance performance (Cua, 1995).

Thus far, research regarding methods of pain control and the athlete has been limited. Pain tolerance research has focused on different types of athletes and non-athletes performing an isometric quadriceps task or exposure to a cold presser stimulus (Egan, 1987; Oral, 2003, Ryan & Kovacic, 1966; Scott & Gijsbers, 1981, Spink, 1988) and athletes suffering from an injury (Liston et. al., 2006, Masters & Lambert, 1989). With few exceptions, the empirical data produced on the psychology of endurance sports have focused on the cognitive strategies used by long distance runners (Cua, 1995; Pargman, 1993), although reference has been made to long distance swimmers and cyclists (Morgan & Pollock, 1977). Morgan (1978, 1980), Morgan, O'Conner, Sparling, and Pate (1987), Morgan and Pollock (1977), Schomer (1986, 1987), and Silva and Appelbaum (1989) have examined pain tolerance during injury-free marathon running, while others (Morgan et al., 1983; O'Connor, 1992; Russell & Weeks, 1994; Weinberg, Jackson, & Gould, 1984) have conducted research based on associative and dissociative styles of attention distraction using other activities. The only investigation these authors were able to find regarding cognitive strategies used by cyclists was that of Cua (1995). …

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