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.

Mountain Bike Pedals, Flat or Clipped In?

Mountain Bike pedals, Flat or clipped in?  This is an update to a 2010 article I wrote as I continue to get a version of the following question at least once a month and as I have continued to ride and learn my feelings on this subject have evolved.

“I do have a question, I’ve only been riding for 3 months, at what point do you think I should get clips? I’m not sure I am ready for them but I notice the people I ride with are all clipped in and they are so much faster than me. Is that a big factor in speed?

Thanks,
Ada”

This is a great question.  First you never have to get clipless pedals.  Clipless pedals (the ones you clip into) are simply a different way of doing things, barely better in some ways, not as good in other ways.  I have heard from students who say that their local shop told them they need clipless pedals and nothing could be further from the truth.  A good set of flat pedals and sticky soled shoes is a better system for many riders. A good set of 5.10 shoes and thin flat pedals with grip like Canfield Brothers Crampon Pedals.

Mountain Bike Pedals

Thin Flat pedals like the Canfield Brothers Crampon with 5.10 shoes is a great combination!

Yes, I usually ride clipped in but it took me a lot of time and crashing to get used to clipping in and out and a lot of time to get used to riding clipped in.  The more I ride, coach and learn the more I see the advantages of flat pedals.  I have been riding both pedal types for years, now I mostly ride flat pedals for cross country/enduro type riding and I clip in for downhill! I know that might seem backward but this article will explain why.

Pros of running flat pedals

1. More Confidence! You can take your feet off quickly and easily making trying technical sections and learning important skills like track standing easier. I have a lot of friends who always ride flat pedals (for cross country riding) and like being able to put a foot down at will.  They say this enables them to try more technical moves and sections (especially going uphill) that they would be to scared to try clipped in.

2. Less fear for many riders, which allows the rider to stay in their comfort zone and relax! We ride much, much better when confident and relaxed.  Fear and learning do not mix, you can not learn when scared.  Muscle Tension (which fear produces) and riding do not mix well either.

3. Flat pedals provide more feedback, giving you an idea of how you are riding. Because you are not attached to the pedals if you are riding stiff and relying on your suspension to soak up the bumps (instead of using your body) you will notice that your feet bounce all over the pedals. This is a sign that you should be more relaxed and supple on the trail.

4. Flat pedals don’t allow you to cheat when doing lifting maneuvers such as rear wheel lifts, bunny hops and bump jumps. This can be valuable when learning proper technique. As a matter of fact, I never realized how much I cheated (pulled up with my cleats instead of using the bump to gain lift (pulling with cleats requires more energy and tends to stiffen you up and through you slightly off balance) when doing bump jumps until I switched to flats one day and my feet flew off the pedals doing a bump jump! After just three or four attempts with flats I had the motion down better than ever and was able to jump higher or further (depending on my goal) using less energy than I had been using clipped in.

5. My back! Flat pedals don’t allow you to pull up with your hamstring so you have to piston (pedal only by pushing down) which encourages standing and pedaling. If you’ve read all my articles on pedaling efficiency and/or taken a camp with me you know I that I believe seated climbing is better for steep climbs with loose conditions or changing conditions (loose, then hardpack, then loose then rock, etc) because it is much easier to adjust you weight for and aft (maintaining rear wheel traction and keeping front wheel on the ground) than it is standing. It takes a lot of concentration and core effort to not get too far forward and spin the rear tire while standing and climbing on a steep, loose climb. However, if you (like me) have a habit of curling your lower back to lower your chest when climbing (instead of hinging with a flat back) seated climbing can really tweak your lower back. I have found that standing and climbing allows me to keep a straighter back and flat pedals encourage me to stand when climbing, saving my back (but sometimes making loose climbs a little more challenging).

Pros of being clipped in:
1. I like clips for the “attached” to my bike feel. On flat pedals sometimes your boot will bounce off the pedal and when it lands with the heel on the pedal (instead of the ball of your foot) you lose the use of your ankle (which is a big part of your shock absorption) and you start plowing into the trail instead of floating smoothly.  So being attached to your pedal keeps you on the ball of your foot allowing you to be smoother sometimes. This is why most top World Cup downhill racers clip in (Greg Minnaar, Aaron Gwin, Rat Boy, Steve Peat, Gee Atherton, etc.)

2. Being clipped in does not make pedaling more efficient but it does allow you to produce a little more power when needed (by pulling up with your hamstrings). Pulling up with your hamstrings does make you less efficient but when you are about to stall on a steep hill you aren’t worried about efficiency, you are worried about producing enough power to get over the hill!

3. Being clipped in encourages you to corner with correct technique and body position and keep your feet on the pedals (usually when you take a foot off your pedals you end up in an out of balance position often causing a slide out). World Champion Greg Minnaar always uses clips when racing in the mud for this reason. He said in one of my camps, “with flat pedals you take your foot out instinctively, often when you don’t need to. This tends to put you in an out of balance position (weight below your bike instead of above your bike)”.

Which pedal type should you use?  Experiment!, find which pedal system you feel most comfortable on and confident riding on.

Look for my post on foot placement and which shoe/pedal combination (what kind of clipless pedal, what kind of flat pedal, hard soled shoe or softer shoe) will work best for you.

 

Stop being one with your bike!

Mountain Bike Your Best, Every Ride, Mental & Physical Warm Up Plan

Ever struggle at the beginning of ride? Wish you could mountain bike your best, every ride? I received the following question from a student and it lead to a this article on warming up.

“I have a question about getting into the groove. It happens to me a lot that when I start out on a trail it takes a while for me to get into riding smoothly and comfortably. Even on trails I know very well. Sometimes it takes 20-30 minutes of riding before I feel comfortable. Darn good thing I’m an endurance racer and not a downhill racer, but it is frustrating. Can you give me some help as to how to overcome this? Is it common?
Karen”

This is quite common for many riders and I (and many of my students) have the same problem. I always like to warm up for at least 20 minutes before I hit the trail. For a trail ride or before my first downhill run of the day I usually warm up by doing my cornering and skills drills in a parking lot and riding a mellow trail or road. Recently I have added a dynamic warm up (jumping jacks, dynamic stretching) before I ride and this has really helped my focus (by lengthening my warm up a bit) and my body (by opening up my body, especially my back).  As I often state in my coaching sessions most of my crashes happen within 5 minutes of getting on my bike when I don’t warm up (because I am not focused).

 

Mountain bike your best

BetterRide camper Rick practicing his cornering skills! Great way to warm up!

Dan Millman (author of Way of The Peaceful Warrior and Body, Mind Mastery) recommends transition periods when going from one aspect/role of life to another (mother to bike rider, business person to bike rider, stressed out business person to patient, loving father, etc.) and this can really help you get rid of distractions and focus on the present. A pre-ride routine (see article below) is a detailed example of this. I have a short one that I do when I get to the trailhead. As I am changing from street clothes to riding gear I take a few breaths and think about: 1. The day I have had so far and then putting it behind me 2. How fortunate I am to be going on a peaceful mountain bike ride when there is so much turmoil going on in the world. 3. How beautiful the woods/mountain is that I am about to play in. 4. How much fun it is to ride my bike! 5. What I am going to focus on (vision, counter pressure, body position, etc.) to help me enjoy the ride even more. 6. Something Missy Giove told me, she makes peace with the mountain before riding. I believe she learned this from a native American tradition. She really looks around at the beauty of her surroundings and tells the mountain, thank you letting me play on you, you are beautiful, I am not here to harm you but enjoy your beauty and trails (probably slightly mis-quoted this conversation was about 20 years ago). It may sound a little new age but I have found it to be really calming and help clear my mind.

In conclusion, I stress to all of my students the importance of a warm up. It helps clear your mind and get you focused, helps loosen up your muscles and relax you and helps you get the most out of your ride. Remember that you want to do dynamic stretching before you ride, not static stretching (where you hold the stretch). Static stretching takes away up to 20% of the elasticity in your muscles for up to three hours, it should be done after exercise.

Creating a Pre-ride or Pre-race Routine

To make themselves feel comfortable and confident, top competitors in many different 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 race.

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

Your pre-race 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 racing where keeping a journal can really help you find out what works..

Night Before 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 racers have arrived at a race and realized that their # 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 start with you, spare goggles and gloves, walkman with charged batteries, food, drink etc. use check list

d. add your own topics

2. Mental

a. 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 Race

1. Physical

a. shower, stretching, what to eat and when to eat it, etc.

b. add your own

2. Mental

a. Imaging, stretching, meditation, etc.

b. find out what works for you

At Race Site

1. Physical

a. dressing routine (always dressing in a certain order can be almost like a meditation and make you feel at home even when miles away)

b. warm up

c. practice run (if offered)

d. find out what works for you

2. Mental

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

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

c. Put yourself in optimum mental state for racing (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 racers

d. Create an abbreviation for the things that you need to remember to have a good run and tape it to your stem or bars. Mine is RAILUM which stands for Relax, Attitude, Intensity, Look Up, and Moto. Saying 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.

What do you do for a warm up? I would love to hear your routines.

mountain biking too much

Mountain Biking Too Much?

For most of my thirties and forties I was mountain biking too much! How can that be you ask? Well, let me explain.

From the time I did my first race until very recently I was completely obsessed with mountain biking, it was my life. I moved into my van and took my summers off from work to race and train full time. Then I spent my winters coaching snowboarding during the day and DJing nightclubs at night to pay off all the debt I racked up in the summers chasing my pro racing dreams. I didn’t have time for things I used to love. Couldn’t go skateboarding (might get hurt and not be able to ride), no time for playing in rivers and creeks (all my time was spent training or recovering), not much time for a social life (have to go to bed early to recover and feel rested) basically, little to no time that wasn’t mountain bike focused. Eventually I quit snowboarding and moved to Boulder, CO to ride year round. Another way of thinking about this was I was completely focused on the future (except when riding) and often didn’t fundamentally enjoy my day to day existence. Don’t get the impression I was depressed or sad doing this, at the time I loved it, but, it was all I knew. Life can be better! I didn’t do intervals because I enjoyed the feeling of getting stronger and faster, I did them so I could hopefully win a race six to 12 months in the future. Oh, and you know what I did EVERYDAY? I rode my bike! For most of us, mountain biking is an escape, for me it was an everyday routine, that surprisingly I didn’t burnout on until years of doing this.

To some of you this might sound like a dream life and at the time, for me, it was a dream life. Looking back though, I missed out on a lot and became very unbalanced. Compare this to some of my former teammates like Ryan Sutton and Kain Leonard who were not only much faster than me, they had more balanced lives than I had. They spent the winters skiing and snowboarding, they made time for a social life. In the summers they still played off their bikes, playing in rivers, riding dirt bikes and they maintained a social life, sometimes, gasp, they missed a big race to stay home with their girlfriends. I remember thinking, “you’re missing your big chance! You could make it as a sponsored athlete!”. Kain is now married to that girlfriend and they have two kids, probably worth missing a race or two for that!

Would you miss family reunions for a bike race? I did, many of them and a few dear friends’ and close relatives’ weddings too. All so I could race my over priced kids toys! Are my three World Masters Championship medals worth all I sacrificed to get them? No way! Standing on those podiums was glorious, but, really, who cares? I honestly don’t even know where those medals are right now. Racing mountain bikes is great if you have the life balance that my teammates did or the balance of Steve Peat (who has found the time to get married, have a child and from his videos do silly and fun things off his bike too).

 

mountain biking too much

In Third Place at the 1999 UCI World Masters Championships, a moment of glory not worth what I sacrificed to get there.

I remember feeling guilty when I didn’t ride, sometimes I still do, “you’re a mountain bike coach, you should be out riding!”. Where, I know this might sound blasphemous but there is a lot more to life than riding bikes. Don’t be like me, focus on a healthy, balanced life and keep mountain biking as a healthy part of that life. Make time for friends, play in rivers, go surfing, travel without your bike, attend friends’ weddings and keep mountain biking special, not something you must do everyday. I realize that mountain biking can be addicting, for me and for most “lifestyle” riders it is our meditation (the only time time our busy minds go quiet and we are actually living in the moment) and that it keeps us sane and happy but, relax, learn to actually meditate and make time for friends, family and other pursuits.