Keough Starts 2018-19 'Cross Season with Fresh Mindset
Kaitlin Keough opened this season ranked No. 3 in the world. It’s motivating she says, and along with that ranking comes the opportunity be in the front row for rider call-ups.
She’s also opened this year with a fresh mindset. She’s learned that the start of each season is a chance to hit reset, which is valuable even on the heels of the most successful season of her career.
Keough closed out the 2017-18 campaign in second place overall in the UCI World Cup standings. She notched four World Cup podium finishes, finished second at the Pan-American Championships, third at the USA Cycling National Championships and sixth at the UCI World Championships.
It’s easy to assume momentum can carry over from one season to the next. Yet, Keough is learning to separate the past from the season at hand and to be present in the current moment.
“I just had super consistent and high-level rides throughout all the World Cups last season, and that led me to second place overall. That’s a big deal for me,” Keough said. “It was the first time in my career that I had been able to be consistent at a higher level. It definitely gives me a lot of confidence because now I know what I’m capable of. It’s also hard. I’m trying my best to focus on the fact that this is a new season and I can’t compare. It’s a different year.”
Last year, when Keough launched into her fall cross schedule, she did so with “a new purpose.” She had a new intention in her racing, a new outlook to build inner strength and find joy. And, as seen through her results all season, the approach worked.
Getting to that point took changes to both her schedule and her mindset. The “new purpose” was driven in part by her decision to focus more fully on cyclocross. She also started meeting with a sports psychologist, and she completed her yoga teacher training.
Keough was previously racing full road and cyclocross seasons. When one season ended, another began, and her attention was pulled in multiple directions.
During that time, she was working with Kristin Armstrong, now USA Cycling endurance performance director, to hone her skills. Armstrong offered some perspective that made Keough reevaluate her schedule.
“When I was working with Kristin Armstrong, she made me aware that I had to dial the road racing back a bit if I really wanted to excel at cyclocross,” Keough said. “We played around with that, and last year I tried to adopt those lessons. I only raced about 13 days on the road, and this year I only raced seven. I definitely dialed it back a bit. It’s hard because you don’t come into the season super sharp. But, I also don’t really want to because my goals are in December and January. It’s a new approach that I’m trying to adopt more every year.”
For Keough, the decision to give cyclocross more attention was clear. She had always enjoyed the changing conditions on the courses, the running, and the people.
“I just love cyclocross the most,” she said. “I’m super passionate about it. I’ve always been drawn to the discipline over all the others. It’s just my first love. I have the most fun with it.”
As she was shifting her schedule, Keough also began working with a sports psychologist. She says that time has helped her “not get wrapped up in the result and to think more about the process and journey.”
Putting that philosophy into practice can be easier said than done. For Keough, learning to focus on the journey was helped along as she completed yoga teacher training.
She had long enjoyed going to yoga classes, and poses were part of her stretching program around rides and races. She soon realized she wanted to learn to teach.
“Last spring when I did yoga teacher training, I was coming off of a really bad season and kind of a low point in my career,” she said. “The training helped me reset, kind of take a step back and reevaluate why I race and why I love it.”
The yoga training helped her reset her outlook both on and off the bike, and to be more accepting of where she was at.
“The mindfulness piece of yoga was really kind of eye-opening for me,” she said. “It carried into my cycling season and I think that really showed with how I performed last year. My self-awareness was pretty high.
“I was feeling less threatened by my competitors and was really appreciating them. It’s a good thing to be racing against such strong, talented women. They push me to be better. I definitely matured throughout the whole process.”
When she’s home in Colorado Springs, Colo., Keough will sub as a teacher at a local yoga studio. She also uses her yoga practice to help with injury prevention and cross training.
While she hasn’t yet led a class for her teammates, one of her fellow Cannondale riders, Stephen Hyde, has added some of Keough’s stretches into his routine.
With the new season underway, Keough’s days of teaching will be limited over the coming months. She has a full schedule of racing ahead both in the U.S. and as the World Cup circuit continues in Europe.
She kicked off the 2018-19 campaign in the state where she grew up, Wisconsin. She now plans to build up to December’s USA Cycling National Championships. The race is a target on her schedule – she’s consistently been on the podium, but the Stars and Strips jersey has eluded her.
“It’s been a goal for a while. I’ve done well, but haven’t won yet,” Keough said of the National Championships. “This year, I think I’m going to try to have a different approach and a different mindset. Of course I want to win, but I need to kind of lighten up when it comes to that race. For some reason, I always change my mindset when it comes to that race and I get super nervous. I’ll just work on that. It’s definitely a goal.”
As she’s evolved as a rider, Keough has become more aware of these thoughts, more aware of the steps she needs to take to keep progressing toward her goals.
She’s knows there’s always room for improvement. Yet right now, she’s simply going to welcome the new season, and embrace that No. 3 ranking and the chance to be on the front row for the start of the race.
“Being third is super motivating to me. It makes me excited to know that my hard work has paid off,” Keough said. “It’s fun to be up there on the front row. It’s a motivator and I’m excited.”
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