Braking on your mountain bike

MTB, The Odds are Against You (which is good!)

MTB, The Odds are Against You (which is good!) this is my second piece this year on how fear is good.

When you were young were taught to seek a sensible, well paying career? Did you grow up hearing that thousands of hopeful actors go to Hollywood and never make it? Told that these actors end up waiting tables or heading home with their tail between their legs? This is the SADDEST advice! Everything worth doing in life the odds are against you! It’s called challenge and competition which will always occur when there are more people who want something than there is supply of that something.  That is actually a good thing as it forces us to learn, grow and bring our “A game” if we want to succeed. Our “A game” is when we are happiest and having the most fun! Just getting by stinks! Time seems to just crawl when you are doing just enough to survive but not doing your best. When you are forced to perform right at the edge of your ability level time flies and you feel a great sense of accomplishment when you achieve your goal.

failure

Riding King Kong scares the $&ap out of me every time I ride it! The feeling of being “in the moment” and the sense of accomplishment afterward are why I face that fear. I know I have developed the skills to ride Kong but anything less than my A game will spell disaster, forcing me into the “flow” state!

As a mountain biker you may be afraid of a certain trail feature or an entire riding area. A few years ago I met a couple in Winter Park who said they had been wanting to do one of my downhill camps but the only dh camps that fit their schedule were always at Bootleg Canyon and they had heard that Bootleg is gnarly so they kept chickening out on taking the camp. This fear held them back from two really important and fun things for three years! First, Bootleg does have some gnarly trails but it also has many fun trails that flow really well, so they were missing out on super fun trails for three years. Second, they were having less fun and feeling more fear than they should have on every ride for three years! Had they used that fear as a catalyst to learn and grow they could of called me and learned they I don’t teach on those gnarly trails and they would of gotten more enjoyment out of every ride for three years!

Use your fear to challenge yourself to learn, grow and become your best. I realize, if you could take a little magic bill that instantly gave you the skills of the best mountain bikers in the world you probably would, but what is the fun in that? All mountain bikers would be great riders and there would be no challenge left, after a few weeks or months of riding at the level of the best riders in the world you would probably take it for granted, start riding less and seek out a new challenge that gave you a sense of accomplishment.

Fear is good when it keeps us safe and when it challenges us to grow. Fear is bad when you let it hold you back from being the best you can be. Really, really want to make it as an actor? Take acting classes, practice deliberately and keep facing the fear of rejection at auditions until you make it. Will everyone that follows that recipe make it as an actor? Of course not, again simply too big a pool of talent and too few roles. You will however become the best actor you can be, learn a great deal about yourself, learn a lot about the business side of acting and possibly discover something similar (directing, coaching, producing, filming (maybe you are better behind the camera than in front of it) and most importantly you won’t die wondering (what if I had followed my heart and tried to make it as an actor?)!

I owe my fortunate life to fear! I was afraid to die wondering! I had quite a few role models who had given up their dreams to be “practical” and they seemed really unhappy to me. Not unhappy on a day to day basis, they smiled, laughed and enjoyed their lives, but deep down I could sense this feeling of disappointment that life had not turned out as they had hoped. That fear (of feeling disappointed on how my life turned out) scared me much more than the fear of failure scared me.

My life turned out a lot like an actor who didn’t quite make it but learned that he was good behind the camera and then learned he was even better at directing. Right after college I wanted to make it as a pro snowboarder, along the way I received some terrible coaching and thought, “I could do a better job of that”. While snowboarding competitively I started mountain biking in the summer as cross training and to have fun. After my “career” as a snowboarder ended I was offered my dream job, coaching the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Snowboard Team! In Steamboat I really learned and grew as a coach as they paid for me to go coaching schools and I was able to practice coaching five to seven days a week. My love for coaching and mountain biking grew as my love for snowboarding started to fade so I decided I was going to take what I had learned about structured, drilled based coaching to mountain biking. That was 1999 and the transition to mountain biking coaching was another big fear as no one was doing what I wanted to do at the time and I was openly laughed at for attempting it. It took years of hard work and living at the poverty level but now I have my dream job/business! All because I choose to dive into my fears instead of hide from them.

Face your fears! The odds are against you but your heart will thank you.

NOTE: I did not say that you should ride a trail that scares you nor attempt a trail feature that scares you. It likely scares you because you don’t have the skill to do it. Use your fear to inspire you to learn and become your best!

Fear While Mountain Biking is Good, Part 2

Fear While Mountain Biking is Good, Part 2, You Can’t Out Think Fear (Read part 1 here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-1dx )

Fear is a powerful and often misunderstood emotion that has some effect on every mountain bike ride we do. The fear we ALL experience while mountain biking varies greatly in intensity from rider to rider and from trail to trail. Most riders think of pro downhill racers as fearless but in my 17 years of coaching them and 20 years of being one I have found that even the fastest pro downhill racers experience fear, on beginner trails! So the idea of “No Fear” is comical at best, we all experience fear and it isn’t always a bad thing, fear can save us from injury and keep us from doing things we aren’t skilled enough to do. On the other hand, fear that is not in proportion to the risk we are taking can really mess us up! Too little fear and we do things over our head and get hurt! Too much fear and we question our ability and end up not riding or crashing on a section of trail we are capable of riding smoothly and in control. There are a ton of macho guys reading this right now saying, “Not me, I am fearless!”, please, anyone saying that needs to ride a world cup downhill track or the new Redbull Rampage site! Do some people experience less fear than others? Of course, that is why I and thousands of other mountain bikers have ended up in the emergency room! We either didn’t experience the appropriate amount of fear or charged in despite the fear. Fear that keeps you from riding Cam Zink’s line at the Redbull Rampage is good! Fear that keeps you from riding a section of trail you honestly have the skill to ride in control is bad. The worst two kinds of fear for a mountain biker are  minor fear, where you keep riding but are too concerned with your own safety to ride at your best and fear of failure so you don’t even try.

I’m well known for my intense curriculum featuring perfect practice using drills in a safe, controlled environment (often a paved parking lot) and then applying those skills on trail. I have noticed a pattern that happens in all of our camps regardless of our students’ age/experience/perceived skill level, even at our downhill camps at Bootleg Canyon with pros like Cody Kelly and Luca Cometti, students do our cornering drills really well on pavement then not so well on dirt (at first, which is why drills are so important)! At Bootleg Canyon we use Girl Scout for our on trail cornering practice, the easiest trail on the mountain. Watching our students practicing deliberately on pavement (photos) I am always impressed by how quickly they catch on to correct cornering technique. Then we head over to Girl Scout and they aren’t doing what they were just doing in the parking lot, they look totally different. Why do they go from executing the skills well on pavement to not so well on dirt? Fear! No, pro downhill racers aren’t scared of Girl Scout Trail, but they are more concerned about their safety than they were in the parking lot. Even on a beginner trail there is not as much traction as the parking lot, there are rocks to avoid, bushes on the side of the trail, penalties for mistakes. This concern for your safety (fear) distracts you and hinders your performance.

Fear While mountain biking

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills! Look at that outside elbow, up and out where it should be.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Almost there just needs to lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Here is Rick on trail after learning and doing drills on pavement. Not a “scary” trail but he isn’t as sharp as in the parking lot. He needs to look a little further ahead and lead with that outside elbow like he did on the pavement.

Fear is stored in your “Lizard Brian” or “Reptilian Brian”, part of your brain stem where instincts and action occurs WITHOUT thought. Have you ever noticed that sometimes, despite knowing that you are supposed to do something (like look ahead) you don’t do it on trail? Have you ever driven home and upon getting home said to yourself, “how the heck did I get home?” That is because knowledge and your “thinking brain” don’t help you do, doing comes from the same Lizard brain where fear is stored, and doing is similar to being on autopilot, your body just does what the autopilot makes it do. This creates a problem as your conscious, thinking brain wants one thing (to float over that rock) while your Lizard brain wants something else, usually to protect you (get off your bike and walk over the rock). As you probably already know, when it comes to riding your mountain bike the lizard brain always wins! (On side note this often why you might know exactly how to do something yet still can’t do it.)

How do we get our Lizard Brain/autopilot and conscious thinking brain to work together? Drills! The whole goal of drills is to ingrain a habit or movement pattern. By ingrain, I mean make that habit so dominant that no matter how tough that trail is your body does the correct technique without any thought (hence the auto pilot analogy). There is an old saying that is so true, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong!” Once we understand the correct technique and do drills to ingrain that technique we need to upgrade our self-image as a mountain biker. Let’s say there is tough rock section that has troubled you for years, you have never made it (and probably think something like, “darn, he comes that rock that always messes me up” as you approach it. Then you take a BetterRide camp and learn the correct combination of skills to get over that rock and wham, you do it! This is when you need to stop, get off your bike, look at that rock and update your self-image. “Wow, that rock used to mess me up every ride, now it is easy, I simply look to victory, manual, shift my weight and off I go! That rock is so easy now, watch, I’ll do it again.” Then do it again and really cement the idea that that rock is now easy and you have the skill to do it consistently.

If you are honestly really skilled but you feel your fear level is not in proportion to your skill work on updating your self-image. If you aren’t really skilled work on improving your skills, then updating yourself image as your skills improve. Remember, fear is there for a reason and it often helps keep us safe but if it is holding you back work on getting your fear into proportion with your skill.

Fear is also where men and women differ greatly! In my next article on Fear and Mountain Biking I will explain what I have learned about how men and women respond to fear and how this difference affects your ride and often your relationship.

Fear is Good

Fear When Mountain Biking is Good!

Fear when mountain biking is good. Probably never thought of it that way but often fear can save you from injury and it can create a great feeling of accomplishment when you overcome it (through practice and baby steps) and fear can make you step up your game!

Fear can hold us back or it can be a big motivator to learn, improve and evolve. Facing/overcoming fear when done smartly is very rewarding and empowering. Think back to the many fears who have had in life and how good you felt you conquered each fear! Fear often means it is time to step up our game and grow, become stronger, smarter, more confident! Fear can be like a teammate that brings out your best performance, because anything less than your best could end up hurting you. Always listen to your fear and decide where it is coming from as some fears are good at saving you from harm while other fears keep you from reaching your potential.

Mountain biking can be anything from a really fun experience to outright terrifying depending on the rider’s skills, experiences and perspective. Of course skill is the number one factor in overcoming fear, imagine our students who race World Cup downhills like National Champions Luca Cometti, Mitch Ropelato and Jackie Harmony riding your local trails. I doubt they would be scared of that section that scares you on your local trail (as World Cup Tracks are gnarly!). They have worked hard on ingraining the correct riding techniques so they are riding in balance and in control consistently so while they may have less “nerve” than you they have great skill.  I’m not trying to sell my coaching though, here are some ways to overcome fear with the skill you currently possess.

Fear when mountain biking is good!

Fear has me gripped when riding trails like King Kong! So much that I get a little out of position (too far back) but I quickly get centered again do to years of deliberate practice. Fear forces me to focus and bring my A game!

1.  Go at your own pace and take “baby steps” when progressing. Taking a big leap over your comfort zone is not a good way to improve. This is a case of fear being good! A big leap over comfort zone likely means you don’t possess the skills to do it! Have you ever been goaded into doing something that you felt was way above your skill level? Even if you make it you often don’t feel like you have gotten better, you feel like you got lucky. Feeling, “Holy cow, I nearly died, that was sketchy!” does not improve your confidence! If you don’t make it,  the crash will often set you back, decreasing your confidence and raising your level of fear. So be gentle with yourself and progress at a pace that is comfortable to you.

3. Focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. This sounds simple but pays off big. Our brains don’t understand “not” and “don’t” very well. If you are focusing on not falling your brain has to focus on the concept of falling and then quickly try to refocus on “not” doing what you are thinking about. It is much easier to focus on “getting to that tree” or “ride this section smooth and light” than telling yourself “don’t fall”.

4. Live to ride another day! If you are more focused on “not falling” than you are on getting to where you are going, get off your bike and walk that section. Who knows you might go right through it the next time when you are more warmed up and/or focused.

After/while walking that section figure out what about that section is scaring you then “baby step” your way up to doing it.

Example: If a four-foot drop on an exposed trail is scaring you find a one foot drop with no exposure, get really good a hitting that, work your way up to a four-foot drop with no exposure, then an exposed trail with a one foot drop working all the way to a four-foot drop on an exposed trail. This builds on a series of successes, increasing your confidence!

5. Breathe, relax, breathe and smile it is just a bike ride. Breathing and smiling releases tension which improves our balance, coordination and confidence. I mean deep, belly breathes from your diaphragm which are very calming. Smiling releases endorphins which relax you. The simple act of lifting the corners of your mouth, even if it is a grimace it will release those endorphins and relax you!

6. As you improve make sure you update your self concept to match. Remember that the past doesn’t equal the future. You may have wrecked or not made a section last week/month but if your skills have improved since then the section may be easier for you now. (more on this in the next article on fear as this is very important!)

7. Wear knee pads and elbow pads when practicing a tough section are learning a new skill. I have found that having padding on really increases your confidence when learning or trying to push your limits. As a matter of fact I never ride without knee pads anymore, knees are too valuable and easily damaged!

8. Debunk your fear/s. Is your fear realistic? Often fear is not based in reality and when we realize this the fear goes away.

9. Learn from your mistakes. If you mess up or wreck do your best to figure out why it happened and correct that mistake or improve your technique so it will not happen again.

Stay tuned for part two which will cover why/how/when we feel fear and how this affects us and a few of these techniques in more detail.

drops and jumps on your mountain bike

Mountain Biking, Winning, Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Mountain Biking, Winning, Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

At BetterRide we define winning while mountain biking as doing your personal best. Not just showing up to ride but doing the best you can on any given day. I learned this when I coached for the Steamboat Spring Winter Sports Club. Despite coaching more Olympians that any other city in America the SSWSC defined winning as, “Doing your personal best”. The wise coaches who shaped the SSWSC understood that 99% of their athletes were never going to make a living at the sport and there were bigger things to be taught than just coming in 1st place. This is a great lesson for life too. If you do your best at what ever you are doing (working, playing, learning, etc.) you will be satisfied and happy. If you slack off you will be disappointed, it really is that simple.

Mountain Biking, Stop Comparing Yourself to Others (How We Define Winning)

Our Mountain Biking Students Doing Their Best

Mountain biking can be very competitive, even those who have never raced and probably never will. Many mountain bikers compete to have the best bike, many group rides turn into the Wednesday Night World Championships, strava is all about competing and then of course there is actual mountain bike racing. The thing is, we can’t control other riders, they might be more skilled, more fit, more determined, etc. but we can control our own performance. If you give it your honest best shot, you should be happy with your performance, no matter how you did. An example from my life comes from snowboard racing. Back in 1991 my behavior confused a few of my friends/competitors, one weekend I won the race and was visibly disappointed and the next weekend I got second place and was elated. A few friends said, “Gene, I don’t understand it. You won last weekend and looked frustrated and this weekend you got beat but look really happy!” I had to explain to them I don’t race to win, I race to push myself, learn and improve. The first weekend I won but I didn’t ride my best. In other words, I got lucky, my competitors didn’t ride their best either. The following weekend, even though I took second place I had the best run of my life! It was amazing, to this day it was my best athletic performance of my life. “But you got beat my Del”, one of my friends said. I remember my reply, “Del, is god! I had the best run of my life and Del smoked me! Did you see my run?! It was amazing! I booted every gate (meaning I went so straight that the only thing going around the gate was my board, my boots hit every gate)! That was the best run of my life!”

What I can’t understand is people who are okay with not doing their best. They spend 4, 6, 10 thousand dollars on a bike yet are okay riding way below what they are capable of. A restaurant manager years ago told me, “Gene, whether you are a janitor or president of the US, if you do your job to the best of your ability you will go home satisfied”. To this day that might of been the best advice I have ever received.

Stop comparing yourself to other and just focus on being the best you can be. You don’t need a carbon bike or a carbon wheelset (and neither of those will make you happy) what you need to do is focus on being the best you can be, that will always lead to happiness. When I turned pro at 29 I actually thought I could make a living at it. I quickly realized most of my competitors were younger, fitter (I have asthma) and more experienced I wasn’t likely going to make it to the top of the sport. That didn’t dampen my enthusiasm though, I loved pushing myself to see how close I could come to the best in the world. Be realistic and set performance goals not outcome goals as you can’t control how others perform but you can control how well you perform! Be your best and nothing else matters. Doing your best while mountain biking, winning!