Fear, The MTB Skill Killer! (why you are afraid of trail features you have the skill for)

I’ve written some informative articles on Fear and how to handle it, how to use it to your advantage and how it can hold you back. Those articles can be found here: http://betterride.net/blog/2016/fear-when-mountain-biking-is-good/  , http://betterride.net/blog/2016/fear-while-mountain-biking/ , http://betterride.net/blog/2015/three-issues-keeping-you-from-mountain-biking-at-your-best-part-2/ , http://betterride.net/blog/2014/overcoming-fear-when-mountain-biking/ , http://betterride.net/blog/2014/fear-and-mountain-biking-part-2/

I had an epiphany yesterday though that really helped me understand fear (often irrational fear for a rider of that skill) that affects riders of great skill. Yesterday on my sacred Tuesday ride with my favorite crew here in Moab a long time friend and former student was scared to do something she has done probably 100 times before and something not near as hard as one thing I saw her ride last year. On another Tuesday ride last year Cathy was the only one to ride the Notch on LPS. I haven’t ridden the Notch in 3-4 years as the risk/reward ratio isn’t there for me but Cathy did it with speed and grace last year! She is a very capable rider, especially when it comes to steep and technical. So why was she scared to ride the last roll in on the Snotch yesterday? She eventually rode like the stud she is but it got me thinking about fear and the skilled rider.

Now don’t get me wrong, for a less skilled rider and even a skilled rider fear can keep us from doing things we have no business doing and that is a good thing! This is something I think all of us can identify with, we roll up to some trail feature we have ridden a hundred times and we “chicken out”. This is usually super frustrating and why does it happen?

Well, I figured out why yesterday and I came up with a plan to help you avoid this happening to you! If you are a longtime reader hopefully you remember my blog post about how we learn physical skills, if not please read it here: http://betterride.net/blog/2015/mtb-skills-actually-learn-experts-often-make-poor-coaches/ It’s a worthy read on it’s own (and great review if you read a while ago) but it will greatly help you with overcoming fear too.

So, now that you have read my article on how we learn physical skills you have learned that our beautiful, smart, conscious thinking brain has NOTHING TO DO with doing physical skills! Zero, nothing, nada! Think about all the things you know to do on your bike put don’t do (because you haven’t drilled them into your procedural memory)! Like looking ahead! Every riders knows to do this put if you watch a remotely technical section of trail you will see that 90-99% of the riders are looking less than a few feet in front of their front wheel  (except the top 100 or so downhill racers in the world who are ALWAYS looking ahead).  Riding a bike (or playing an instrument or any sport) does not happen in the part of your brain that thinks consciously (the part of your brain reading this sentence and the part of your brain that solves problems). Turns out, that is the whole problem with fear of something you know you can do! Ever notice how when you just roll into a tough but doable section of trail you do it well but, when you stop and scout it for a few minutes you often get hesitant? (Not recommending just rolling into a challenging section that might have changed since you last rode it, if it has a blind spot always scope it out first!)

Let’s get back to Cathy. So, she stops and looks at a section she can do comfortably (it is challenging mentally because there are major penalty points if you mess up but skill wise she has done this many times and things much harder with bigger penalty points) and engages her smart, thinking brain. It has no idea how to ride a bike and it’s looking at a steep rock slab covered with a thick layer of dust, with a little notch you have to wiggle through that could catch your pedal or bottom bracket then some tree roots with a rock wall on one side and a small cliff on the other. Her conscious brain, which doesn’t understand how easy this is for her is thinking, “this is stupid, there are so many ways we could get hurt here!” Mean while, the second she dropped in her conscious thinking brain stopped thinking and her procedural memory kicked in and she nailed!

This same scenario happens to me more than I would like. It even happened in the same spot on my first LPS lap this year!

If YOU find this happening to you on the trail and want it to stop, focus on doing this: As you roll up to that feature/trail section or BRIEFLY stop to check it out, tell yourself “I have done this before, in control and in balance (don’t lie to yourself, if that isn’t the truth stop and do what your feel is safest!)  just look at my line, then look to victory (where you want to be after that section), relax and let my body do what it knows to do!”

It really is that simple once you have done something confidently, in control and in balance you can do it again! Now, if you have never done it confidently before and don’t feel confident now, DON’T do it. Work on the skills needed to do it and baby step your way to doing it.

Let me know in the comments if you have faced this problem before and/or if this tip helps!

 

Mountain Biking at Your Best in All Situations (when you’re scared or the pressure is on)

Ever “choke” while riding? Despite all the mtb skills you have developed sometimes, often when fear or nerves take over you can’t rely on those skills. It’s like you suddenly lost your mountain biking skills. My goal is to get you mountain biking at your best in all situations and this article will help you do that.

I received this email from a student:  “Hi Gene, I’ve really started to feel the effects of your camp and my technique has got a hell of a lot better, when I’m racing i feel so confident and fast in practice

But then when it gets to seeding and race runs this all goes out of the window and i just end up falling off, I’m not riding outside of my limits and i know that i can ride well enough to be threatening the top spot in my category but i just seem to not be able to manage the pressure and the mental side of things.

Any tips on race mentality etc??”

I also get similar questions from many students when it comes to something on the trail that they know they have the skill to ride but they are too scared to ride it.

This a tough thing for many racers and riders when they pushed to their limits. As I often mention in my camps, what good are all the skills if you can’t use them when needed?

To ride at your best you need to toughen up your mental game (and learn to get off your bike and walk when you can’t confidently ride that section of trail, riding something aren’t confident you can do can really set your mental game back and end in injury). Here are two articles I wrote for Dirt Rag a few years ago that will help you get mentally stronger:

http://wp.me/p49ApH-7G and
http://wp.me/p49ApH-7A

Here are a few books that can really help you step up your mental game. Your goal when learning isn’t to gain as much knowledge as possible, it is to be able to effectively use good knowledge that you have learned. Pick one of these books, do the work the book recommends and master the skills from that book before searching for “more”.

The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental, Emotional, and Physical
Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists
by James E. Leohr, Chris Evert, Dan Jansen,

Excellent book with work sheets to help you practice what it teaches.

The Mental Edge: Maximize Your Sports Potential with the Mind/Body Connection
by Ken Baum, Richard Trubo,

Excellent book with work sheets to help you practice what it teaches.

Body Mind Mastery: Creating Success in Sport and Life
by Dan Millman,

Really, really great book that goes a little deeper into why you
compete in sports and helps you integrate sport and life (helps you
see and create balance in your life so the sport does not take over
your life).

Most importantly have fun!  That’s what keeps Rachel and Minnaar on top.

Mountain Bike Pre-ride Routine to Help You Ride Your Best

Mountain Bike Pre-ride Routine to Help You Ride Your Best

Most of my crashes and injuries have occurred within five minutes of throwing a leg over my bike. Usually because I wasn’t mentally “on my bike”, I was still worried/thinking about something that happened before my ride (Did I leave the stove on? Who won last nights primary’s? Do these fat tires make my butt look big? 😉 , etc.) and have a silly crash on an easy trail. We need to be focused and in the moment to ride our best!

Being mentally somewhere else, not “in the moment” is the cause of so much pain (mentally and physically) as we stumble through the day (or ride) without a true focus. I use the following in my racing and riding and it really helps me ride my best.

To make themselves feel comfortable and confident, top competitors in all sports utilize a personalized pre-race (or pre-game) routine to help them perform at their best. Routines are not the same as rituals, a routine is a structured plan designed to help you reach your optimum performance while a ritual relies on superstition to control your performance (things like not washing your “lucky” socks or stepping on a crack). In other words a routine helps you take control of your performance while rituals assume fate (not you) will control your ride/race.

This was originally written for a downhill team I coached but works equally well for all riding and racing. A big goal is to eliminate thoughts that will distract you and instead, put yourself in the proper mind state to ride with confidence!

I have added a night before the ride/race routine to eliminate most causes of worry and allow you to get some sleep.

Your pre-race/ride routine should make you comfortable in strange/new surroundings, build your confidence, eliminate stress, and prepare you to do your best. I have listed many common practices to get you started but you must experiment and find out what works best for you. This is another aspect of riding and/or racing where keeping a journal can really help you find out what works..

Night Before Ride/Race (taking care of all these items really helps me sleep!)

1. Equipment

a. inspect and tune bike completely with checklist and put on number plate (how many riders have gotten to the trail head without shoes, helmet, shorts, etc and/or how many racers have arrived at a race and realized that their number plate is back in the hotel?!)

b. prepare race clothes, shoes, pads, helmet, goggles, gloves. use a check list.

c. prepare bag to take to the trail head/start with you: spare goggles and gloves, mp3 player with charged batteries, food, drink etc. use check list

d. add your own topics

2. Mental

a. “Riders” Know what you are getting into! By reading/asking people/watching videos about the trail. You need to be prepared for your ride, knowing: how long, how rough, how much climbing, etc the trail is/has will help you prepare and feel more confident that you are ready for the ride (helping you feel comfortable, relaxed and making it easier to fall asleep).

a. “Racers” Know the course by heart, no missing sections, have a confident plan on how you will ride from top to bottom (worrying about how to handle that “big jump” will keep you up all night).

b. Image race run (at least twice) from standing in line at the start to your feelings of elation after crossing the finish line with a perfect run

c. Remember, only concern yourself with what you control (which basically is your equipment and your riding) worrying about how your competition will ride is a big waste of time because you have no control over their riding

c. add your own preparation (meditation, stretching, yoga, etc.)

Morning of Ride/Race

1. Physical prep

a. When to wake up (how long before ride/race do want to wake up? So you have time to shower, eat, do dynamic stretching, take care of any lose ends?

b. What to eat and when to eat it, etc. Experiment with what you eat and how long before your ride/race you want to finish eating. We are different in this department and it may be different for a 40 mile ride with 8,000 feet of climbing than it is for a 10 mile hammer fest at full speed. This what a riding/training journal is for

c. add your own

2. Mental prep

a. Use Imaging, stretching, meditation, etc. to get you in the right mental state to ride your best.

b. find out what works for you

At Trailhead/Race Site

1. Physical

a. Dressing routine, always dressing (changing from street clothes to your riding clothes) in a certain order can be almost like a meditation, putting you in the right mental state to ride and making you feel at home even when miles away.

b. warm up, get your body ready for the ride!

c. practice run (if offered)

d. simple routine, before every ride I tap my chest on my stem a few times and go over my acronym below

e. find out what works for you

2. Mental

a. find out what your riding/racing fears are and how to put them to rest (weeks before race)! Many people worry about their competition’s performance , remember only concern yourself with what you control

b. “Riders” image riding smooth and in control

b. “Racers” Image race run at least three times (good use of chair lift time)

c. Put yourself in optimum mental state for racing/riding (again find out by experimenting while training) many people make a short list or mantra of why they will perform well, (i.e.. I have trained hard all winter for this, I know the course, I’m fast, I will ride my best etc.) also music is a big help to many riders/racers, make a play list of songs that make you feel good!

d. Create an acronym for the things that you need to remember to have a good ride and tape it to your stem or bars. Mine is BRAILUM which stands for Breath, Relax, Attitude, Intensity, Look Up, and Moto (Moto was my old expression for elbows up and out). Saying B Railum and then thinking about each component of it really helps me focus.

e. find out what works for you

Use this as a rough outline adding what works and getting rid of what doesn’t through experimentation. A well thought out routine will make you confident at the start while your competition worries about their run and wonders why you are so confident.

Dan Millman calls these “transition routines” and uses an example in his married life. Often he would have a stressful day at work, then a stressful commute home and when his loving wife opened the door and asked him how his day was he would unload that frustration on her! He quickly realized that though he wasn’t upset with his wife in the least, he was yelling at her and this probably wasn’t to good for his marriage.

He decided to create a transition routine when he got home. After he pulled into his driveway he would shut the car off but not leave the car until he had gone from frustrated coach and frustrated commuter to loving husband. He would take a few deep breathes and think something to the affect of, “wow! what a long and frustrating day! My boss can be such a jerk! and what is it with these impatient and rude drivers, I must have been cut off six times on my drive home. Geez, what a day! Now, I’m home and my loving wife is waiting for me. How fortunate am I to have such a sweet, caring. loving wife!”

Then after a few more deep breathes he would walk to the door. When his wife asked him how is day was he would, calmly, without raising his voice say, “it was rough honey, but first give me a hug, then I will tell you about it …”. He says that this routine saved his marriage.

Can you see how a similar routine will help you get much more out of every ride?!

mountain bike coaching

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are you Wasting Your Money?

Mountain Bike Coaching, Are You Wasting Your Money?

I have uber-students, they take every opportunity to learn more about riding. They take a three day camp from me, three day camps from other coaches, 2-4 hour clinics from other coaches, etc. They ask me all kinds of great questions, they go online and participate in forums on mountain bike skills, etc. These students are stoked on learning and I love their enthusiasm! Sadly, most of them haven’t improved nearly as much have they could have with the amount of time and money they have invested in their riding (from me, and/or all the other coaches).

Now, don’t get me wrong, they possess a ton of knowledge, often jumbled and contradictory knowledge but there is a lot of knowledge stored in their big brains, “look at the big brain on Brad!” (Pulp Fiction quote) So, why are they wasting their money on that coaching (including my coaching)? They are wasting their money because they keep looking for that next piece, the little piece about cornering that is going to make them finally corner like Aaron Gwin, or wheelie like Robbie Root! The thing thing is, there is no little piece they are missing.

What they are missing is mastery of the core skills. The core skills that I and any other coach that is an actual coach taught them! Dan Millman (World Champion Gymnast, coach and author of “The Inner athlete”, Body Mind Mastery” and The “Peaceful Warrior Series”) state’s, “Athletes’ problems with learning or improving their skills are tied to weak fundamentals. To raise athletes’ potential you need to rebuild their foundation for success”. Famous Alabama Football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant would tell you the same thing as would all US Team Coaches (US Skiing, Tennis, Soccer, etc).

I understand, we want more! More skills, more $1,000 rims that make the trail feel rougher (whoops, different blog topic 😉 ) more little “tips” that will finally get us where we want to go!

The problem is, they (the uber-students mentioned above) may understand the fundamentals, and probably do them a fair amount of the time but, they are not doing them all the time!

They haven’t mastered the basics from their first 3 day camp with me. What they are missing is mastery of the core, fundamental skills! Which means when the trail get challenging their lack of mastery shows as they make mistakes and/or revert to old, bad habits.

Watch Greg Minnaar and/or Aaron Gwin (or any other top 10 World Cup downhill racer) what “advanced skill/s” are they using? None! They are just executing the basics flawlessly. Watch them through a gnarly rock garden, their head isn’t moving, watch Aaron Gwin or Minnaar in a corner, they are simply executing the basics, flawlessly.

Mountain Bike Coaching

Greg in 2010 at Fort William, centered, balanced , fast and consistent nothing fancy here, just executing the basics!

Are they also doing a little “thing” or two that maybe aren’t basic, fundamentals? Yes, but they are little things! Do those little things help Aaron Gwin win? Yes, they do. (the top three pro men were separated by less than a second in the last World Cup in Cairns, AU)  Will those little nuances help someone who rides at 80% or less of Aaron Gwin’s ability, NO! Why? Did I mention Aaron Gwin executes the basics flawlessly?!

There is hierarchy to skills and the fundamentals are the most important, advanced “little things” don’t work on a flawed foundation!

“What about in bermed corner, what is the difference in technique in a berm corner vs a flat corner Gene?” I get some version of that question almost daily and the answer for most riders/racers is, “nothing, if you aren’t looking through that corner” and nothing if you are going faster than that berms ability to help you (all berms aren’t created equally). (for the actual differences in bermed vs flat corners check out my next blog article)

In all “mature” sports (sports that have had coaching for 30+ years and top athletes make a good living in) such as ski racing, football, golf, tennis, basketball, etc.. The top athletes spend 80-90% of their time deliberately practicing their sport (doing drills with a focus on quality, not quantity) and only 10-20% of their time actually doing their sport. Football great Jerry Rice spent 99% of his football related time practicing and only 1% playing (as referenced in the book “Outliers”).

In those more “mature” sports athletes spend years/decades practicing the basics five to six days a week. Once they have truly mastered the basics they start adding in the more advanced skills to their practice but, the bulk of their practice continues to be the BASICS, everyday, using drills that they “mastered” 5-15 years ago.

The majority of us need to focus on the basics (that will make us 20-100% better) and get them wired before we work on the little nuances that might make us 1% better.

Are you honestly looking ahead 100% of the time? Looking past the exit of every corner? Always cornering in perfect body position? Are you always returning to a centered, balanced, neutral position after every rock garden, jump, drop and obstacle? If your answer is a resounding yes, then it might be time to add the little 1% skills to your foundation training.

Until then, work on mastering your foundation, your time spent/reward ratio will be much higher than working on skills you lack the foundation to execute.

Dirt Magazine to 2009 Pro 4x and Jr. Cat 1 Downhill US National Champion Mitch Ropelato (now on Specialized Factory Team) in a interview in the Oct. 2009 issue: Dirt Magazine: “You seem to be able to turn amazingly, what do you put that down to? Got any special tires on there?

Mitch Ropelato: “Ya, Gene Hamilton is to thank for that, I took is clinic last December in Bootleg Canyon and he was able to show me the correct technique I needed to pull them off.”

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision and body position. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision (looking way past the exit of the corner) easy to talk about but takes a lot of quality practice to master). Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

That was after 1 or 2 “basic camps” with me. Mitch understood that he didn’t need to know more, but that we needed to know better. He did is drills, religiously! Mitch didn’t say, “now I know this, time to find something new”. He said, “now I know this, time to master this”.

Mitch went on to take a total of five basic camps, and then my downhill race camp and some private lessons (where I still focused on having him execute the basics). Can you corner like Mitch? If not, time to work on the basics!

Look, I could make a fortune if I offered basic, intermediate and advanced camps and sent students down the line through my series of three, three day camps but I’m in this to help people, not pump them up and lie to them. You don’t need an advanced camp, you need to master the basics.

Stop searching and wasting your money looking for “more” and focus on “BETTER”. I’m sure your favorite coach would love to continue to coach, critique and work with you on the basics instead of trying to coach you some little nuance that you lack the foundation for.

Master the fundamentals and you will reach your potential as a mountain biker! Keep trying to figure that “magic piece” that you are missing and you will never reach your potential.