What Gives National Champ Jackie Harmony an Edge

I could not be more happy for 2012 U.S. National Downhill Champion and BetterRide athlete Jackie Harmony! Jackie has conquered downhill mountain biking on the National level and is not stopping there. Read on to hear what has given her such an edge this season.

Aaron Gwin and Jackie Harmony

The Mental State

By Jackie Harmony

My downhill mountain bike racing career started with the idea of riding my bike all over the place and meeting all the cool people along the way. However, throughout the past 10 years of racing, I’ve begun to understand in great detail the entirety of what I have chosen to do and what it takes to compete at the highest level of the game.  From what I gather, there are three major roles in becoming the ultimate athlete and they are your physical state, emotional state and mental state. I first learned of these major roles through Gene Hamilton and his BetterRide Camps.  His many years of racing and research are passed on through his coaching and I took it all in.  I have read the books he has recommended and continuously take part in all that he has to offer.

The mental state is what I have been working on for the last couple of years now and have become a pro at controlling my mental state.  This past weekend during National Champs is the best example of how I have complete control of my mental state.  Some things that I have found to help me be mentally prepared and fully present are:

  • My diet –  I pay full attention to how I feel with what I put into my body.  I know what type of fuel my brain and body needs to feel strong and powerful.
  • Meditation –  I have found that breathing correctly allows my brain to calm down, close off all thoughts and clear my mind.
  • Imagery –  Seeing myself ride the entire course, including knowing my shift points, brake points and body movements.
  • Let it be – Some things are out of my control and I need to accept them for what they are. If the track conditions are changing then I will have to adapt and not be upset with rain, mud, dust, wind, etc.

By controlling my mental state, I have found my true self and in doing so I was able to be completely present at all times.  I can now shut the door on the little voice who likes to give me so many options and negative thoughts that really tears me down.  I know for a fact that I am an excellent rider and I know now that I am an excellent racer, because I have created the best run every time, every practice run and every time I ride my bike.

Is Your Bike Loud?

Is your mountain bike loud?

A year and a half ago I was sitting on top of Bootleg Canyon watching the start of the pro downhill race (before my start). The fourth or fifth rider to start was a kid I am fortunate enough to coach named Mitch Ropelato. After Mitch disappeared from sight the racer next to me exclaimed, “wow, I wish my bike was that quiet!”. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his bike is that quiet, it is the rider that is making it loud. While all bikes (especially downhill bikes on tracks as rough as Bootleg Canyon) make some noise (a little chain slap, the tires hitting rocks, rocks thrown from the tires hitting the frame, etc) when they are ridden well that noise should be at a minimum.

How to use bike noise to improve your mountain bike riding:

Something we really stress in our skills progression is being smooth. We stress this because, the smoother you are the more in control, efficient and faster you are! Your bike provides you with great feedback on being smooth. If your bike is making a lot of noise (loud chain slap, loud pings and noises coming from your frame, suspension and/or tires) as you ride you aren’t being as smooth as you could be. Use this feedback to remind yourself to relax, breathe and flow with the trail instead of fighting it! Don’t just rely on your suspension, use your arms, legs and especially your ankles to smooth out the trail.

 

Greg Minnaar looking smooth!

If you get a chance to watch (and listen) to a great mountain bike rider like Mitch or Greg Minnaar pay attention to how smooth and quiet they are on their bikes. They are excellent examples of economy as they smoothly flow down the trail, often taking rougher/faster lines, but taking those lines cleanly. Often, they are so smooth they look slow as they aren’t getting thrown around by the trail.

This ties in with the article on Mountain Bike Rides That Feel Fast but Are Actually Slow!

http://betterride.net/?p=2827

 

 

 

 

Mountain Bike Rides that Feel Fast but are Actually Slow!

If it looks fast or feels fast it is probably slow! How to go faster while riding safer and more efficiently.

Ever have that descent on your mountain bike where you felt like you were flat hauling?! At the bottom you were thinking (or telling a riding buddy), “wow, I nearly hit two trees, a big rock and that huge stump! I was flying!”. Believe it or not, despite feeling like you were right on the edge of your skill limits that was probably not near as fast as you could ride that descent (with your current skill).

I first stumbled upon this phenomenon as a snowboard racer. I had a super fast training run and asked my coach, “Nick did you see that run? What was my time, that was my fastest run yet!” Nick replied, “that was 30.2, your fastest run so far was a 29.1!” I was shocked and thought Nick was lying and trying make me mad to motivate me to go faster. A few runs later I had what felt like a technically perfect run but it felt kind of slow. “Nick, did you see that run? My hips, knees, and shoulders were perfect! I know it was slow but did you see my form?!” Nick’s reply, “slow?! That was a 28.3, you fastest run yet!”. I was really confused and didn’t really understand why the run that felt fast was slow and the run that felt slow was fast. It wasn’t until about 10 years later as mountain bike racer that I figured it out. It all had to do with vision and technique.

With good technique and looking as far ahead as you should riding will feel slow as you stay in you comfort zone and have plenty of time to pro-act to the trail. With poor technique and not looking far enough ahead you have to quickly react to the trail. This does a couple of things to you. First, it feels fast as heck as you are making one neck saving move after another (and probably pin-balling all over the trail, not exactly taking the most efficient line) all these reactions cause the body to go into the fight or flight mode which jacks up your adrenaline and tenses you up. This combined with not looking far enough ahead makes it feel like you are flying when in reality you are not going as fast you could be and not taking good lines down the trail. Ever look down at the dashed white lines when you are doing 75 miles an hour in your car? It feels like you are going 200! Then look up at a mountain a few miles away, it feels like you are crawling. Well the same thing happens on the trail! If you look at rock four feet in front on you, you are going to be there (at the rock) in a fraction of a second, if you see the rock when it is twenty-forty feet in front of you you have plenty of time to go around the rock and you stay calm and relaxed.

So, learn to look much further ahead down that trail! This will make riding much more fun, faster and safer!

This video reminded me of that. Notice how tense you get when the helmet cam is pointed down (you don’t know what the trail is going to do next) and how you almost breathe a sigh of relief when the rider looks further down the trail (and you know what the trail is going to throw at him).

 

 

Is Mountain Biking Wrecking Your Health?

Is Mountain Biking Wrecking Your Health?

As you probably know, I love mountain biking but mountain biking can be bad for you. I am not talking about crashing (which is definitely bad for you) but simply riding mountain bikes. Mountain biking, like many sports can be PART of a very healthy lifestyle. I stress the word “part” because mountain biking should not be your only form of exercise.

The idea for this article came when I saw two very fit looking road cyclists get off their bike and then hobble to the door. They could barely walk! They were hunched over, stiff and very wobbly! Luckily, because we stand, absorb shock and are more dynamic than road cyclists (who often stay in the same hunched over position for hours) mountain biking isn’t as bad a road cycling but it still can lead to imbalances in our body. Few sports work all muscles, ligaments and tendons equally which is one of the reasons “cross training” is popular in most sports.

If you like to mountain bike as much as I do don’t forget to mix things up every week! The best thing I have discovered to help me stay fit, healthy and balanced is yoga. Yoga helps my posture, my breathing, my mobility and helps calm me. A structured weight training program with mobility exercises can also be a great compliment to mountain biking. Weight training and yoga are also great mental breaks from mountain biking (which do the concentration needed to ride single track is very mentally stressful).

I find the more yoga I do the better I ride (because I breathe better and have more effective strength and flexibility) and the more I enjoy and look forward to riding (my back doesn’t hurt, the day off from riding made me miss riding). The same goes for strength training. With warm weather here and great trails beckoning you to ride sometimes it is hard to take a break and do something else, but if you force yourself to be more balanced in how you exercise and recover you will have more fun in the long run.

In short, balance your riding with other athletic pursuits to be healthier, happier, faster and have more fun!

Yoga and weight training are my two favorite forms of exercise to balance with my riding, what others forms of exercise do you do to compliment your riding? What do you like about it and how does help you?

If you are as obsessed with mountain biking as I was for 15 years please read/re-read this article:

http://betterride.net/blog/2011/stop-riding-your-bike-so-much-mountain-road-bmx-dirt-jump/