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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.

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton Mushroom rock

Overcoming Fear When Mountain Biking

Overcoming Fear When Mountain Biking

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 our coaching though, here are some ways to overcome fear with the skill you currently possess.

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 learn. 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 grimis 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.

Update On BetterRide Mountain Bike Students and Coaches

It has been an amazing year so far and I am feeling more fortunate than ever to have such great coaches working for BetterRide and to meet and help so many riders improve and reach their goals. Here is a quick update on life at BetterRide.

Coaches:

Checkout this thread: http://www.bikemojo.com/speak/showthread.php?92241-Betterride-net

I love what they are saying about our head coach Andy Winoradsky and Certified Coach Chris Skolnick!

A few highlights:

“I’ll write a more detailed review when I’m not exhausted, BUT, I will say that:

1) I am already a better rider after the clinic.

2) I expect with some practice of the skills I learned I will be MUCH better by mid-summer.

3) i only thought I knew how to ride a bike. Halfway through day 3 something clicked and everything felt new and better and totally awesome.”

Laura

“I attended the Better Ride clinic at Walnut last year and absolutely loved it. Some of the best $600 I’ve ever spent. I agree with the others – it totally opened my mind to a new and more effective / efficient way of riding (especially the cornering). It did more for my riding than any bike or component upgrade ever has!”

Jake

Coach Jacqueline Harmony just won the Pan American Championships for the second year in a row!

BetterRide Athlete and Coach Jackie Harmony Wins Pan Am Championships!

more here:

Students:

Student finds mountain biking nirvana:

“I wanted to let you know about my recent brush with mountain biking nirvana but first I need to ask you….
We’re home but not before a few days of riding in Tucson. I, like you, spent the last three weeks or so of March sick with a sinus and chest infection so my riding was limited. I felt pretty good when we hit Tucson so off we went to fantasy Island with the hope that my strength had returned. Turns out I was hitting on all cylinders and ripped it up. My main purpose was to look down the trail to where I was going not where I was. I took all the descents out of the saddle and at full throttle with a level of confidence I had yet to experience. My climbs were stong and done with spirit fingers, my cornering was best it’s ever been. I came close to that same place, that nirvana, I reach on those days surfing when the waves are big and glassy with great form and I’m on it. It was truly a brush with mountain biking nirvana and I am convinced that the only way to reach mtb nirvana is to look ahead and the rest will follow. It’s the same in surfing. Idon’t look at my feet or the water at the end of my board, I look at where I want to go and the rest, the balance the weight shifts the balance everything just follows.
Of course I have lots of work to do but to touch mtb nirvana for while was truly amazing. It is why I have surfed all my life and it’s what I want out of mtbing. I have never competed surfing, I am more of a soul surfer and I may not ever compete mtbing I am probably more of a soul biker.
I did a beautiful coaster wheelie over an 18″ drop at a local trail yesterday. It just keeps getting better.
Anyway, just wanted you to know how it’s going and thanks again for the clinic and I hope this wasn’t too new age for you.

All the best,
-Tom

More students reaching/exceeding their goals:

If you follow our facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/BetterRide) you know I recently did a Core Skills 2 camp with a select group of our students, two pro racers, Graeme Pitts and Trevor Trinkino, and three 16 year old juniors, Luca Cometti, Dylan Unger and Mckay Vezina. Well the three juniors raced the next weekend at the Fontana National and took 2nd, 3d and 5th in Jr. Ex! At the same race Betteriders swept the women’s pro podium with Jackie Harmony winning, Gabriela Williams second and Margaret Gregory earning the bronze medal!

Then Graeme Pitts won the Keysville Classic for the second year in a row! The only other student the Core Skills 2 Camp, Trevor Trinkino has yet to race this season as he is finishing up is second semester as CU Boulder. I expect to see similar results out of Trevor as he is one determined and focused young man.

On the XC side Erica Tingey won the Cactus Hugger and Jen Hanks earned a third place finish! Congratulations to both of you on a great start to the season!

Erica on her way to victory!