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Mary Pat executing proper technique over a log pile in our Durango camp last summer.

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 2

Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 2.

Fear, the killer! Fear is a topic we deal with a lot in our skills camps. Even with new and/or greatly improved skills from our camp fear can still hold you back. With this in mind I will share some ways we help our students manage their fear while mountain biking. Fear does have a purpose and it isn’t always a bad thing, appropriate fear (fear that keeps you from doing something you lack the skill to do safely) can keep you safe and save you from injury! We are going to focus on inappropriate fear (fear that is either based in fantasy or fear that doesn’t equal the risk at hand).

 

Mountain Bike at Your Best

You can see from body position I was a little scared here (my weight is a hair too far back instead of being centered) and on King Kong trail a little fear keeps you safe! A lot of fear would of probably caused me to crash.

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 make you feel confident! 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.

2. 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”.

2.5 Ride that trail with confidence! Focusing on not falling does not put you in a confident state and studies have shown that we become less coordinated as our confidence drops. As I have stated in previous blog posts mountain biking is an offensive sport! This means we should always ride on the offense or get off and walk! Mountain biking defensively will get you hurt as you are focusing on what you don’t want to do and you are less coordinated.

3. 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!

4. 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 will release those endorphins and relax you!

7. 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.

Example: We used used to race down the Porcupine Rim climb in Moab (from Lazy Man’s to the stock tanks) and there was a section most of us referred to as “the Gnarly Section”. It was a two foot rock drop into a field of “baby head” rocks and ledges. When I first raced it in 1994 on a hardtail with a 1.5″ travel Mag 20 fork it was kind of gnarly! By 1998 my bike had gone from hardtail to 6″ of travel front and rear and I had ridden that track over 50 times and raced it 10 times (we got two race runs back then!). On my first race run in 1998, I railed the corner before that section and said to myself, “here comes the gnarly section”, what do think saying that made me do? If you guessed, “tense up and slow down a little bit” you are correct! After that run it occurred to me that I had ridden that section at least 61 times and never crashed in it. If you can ride something cleanly 61 times out of 61 attempts is it really gnarly? I realized my bike had gotten way better and I had become way more confident a rider so why did I fear this section and call it “the gnarly section”? I decided to change the name of the section to, “that fun rocky section”, which, on my 6″ travel Yeti Lawwill it was! On my second run, as I railed that corner and said, “here comes the fun rocky section” do you think I slowed down and tensed up? No, I smiled, relaxed and probably snuck in a few pedal strokes!

So, don’t do what I did for five years, failing to update my self-image as a rider. As you improve make a conscious effort to raise your self-image as a rider!

drops and jumps on your mountain bike

BetterRide Coach and National Champion Jackie Harmony experiences fear too, she just as more confidence than most riders so it takes a tougher trail for fear to affect her.

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.

Example: I was working with a pro downhill racer on calming his pre-race nerves and I kept asking him, “why are you nervous?”, finally after four of five answers that couldn’t be the main cause of his nerves he said, “I don’t want to let my wife and kids down.” I then asked, “so you doing well in a bike race is really important to your wife and kids? If you do poorly they will lose respect for you and love you less?” He laughed and said something like, “no, my wife and kids see how hard I train and want me to do well but I’m pretty sure they don’t base their love for me on how well I race my bike.”  When we got him to bring this fear into the light he realized it was completely made up and he was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on himself. After this he still got nervous before a race but the appropriate amount, enough to give him energy but not hurt his performance.

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.

 

Mountain biking

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 1

Three Issues Keeping You From Mountain Biking at Your Best, Part 1

Issue #1:

Whether you are self-taught and relatively new to riding or a veteran with skills coaching experience and years on your mountain bike you might be letting this issue hold you back. All the skills coaching, personal training and fitness coaching in the world will not allow us to reach our goals until we overcome this issue.

The number one issue holding you back from reaching your potential is your mind!  Specifically self-limiting beliefs.  We all have self-limiting beliefs, just some of us in areas that greatly affect achieving our most important goals and some of us are fortunate enough to have them in areas that only effect minor goals.  I hear some of our students say these self-limiting beliefs out loud: “I stink at climbing!”, “I suck at descending but I’m good at …”, “I’m just not a natural”  but often we are not even aware of these beliefs, they are in our subconscious.  The interesting thing is that many times these self-limiting beliefs are completely unfounded!  That’s right, quite often the thing holding you back has no basis in reality.

Any belief that holds you back is a self-limiting belief.  When your subconscious says, “I am not good enough” that is a self-limiting belief.  Sometimes they actually start out positive “I can do that well but I never will be as good as ….” but in the end they set a limit to your achievement/performance.

They are often caused by failing at something (as you may or may not know I believe that, “failure is a nature and necessary part of the learning process” quote from Dan Millman).  For instance, a former self-limiting belief I had was that I could not do a trackstand.  One day a friend and I each tried to trackstand and I ended up falling over. For years after this when asked if I could trackstand I would reply, “no, I can not trackstand” and for years I couldn’t trackstand.  Was this limitation real? Of course not, looking back on that day I fell over trying to trackstand I realized I did a trackstand for five, possibly ten seconds before I feel over but I guess my goal was an hour are so, so in my mind I failed. One day I decided I would try using baby steps (working my way from 1 second trackstands to 20-30 second trackstands) and in less than an hour I was doing ten second trackstands consistently.

Mountain Bike at Your Best

Don’t let self-limiting beliefs keep you from riding at your best! I don’t, even at 49!

From discussing self-limiting beliefs with our students it seems like society is often to blame. A parent, a teacher, an older sibling, a teammate, anyone whose opinion you respected may have had set something that is holding you back. In my case, when I was seven or eight I came home crying because I didn’t make the baseball team and my mom, trying to comfort me said, “honey, you’re just not a natural athlete but you are so much smarter than those boys. You’re IQ is ….”. Not exactly what a seven-year old wants to hear! At the US Snowboarding Championships in 1992 I remember looking over at my competitor in the dual slalom quarter finals and thinking, “holy cow, look at the size of his legs! He is a natural athlete, what am I doing here, I am not a natural like him.” Not exactly the best thing to be thinking right before a race! I actually ended up beating him, barely but, I got eliminated in the next round. Can you imagine how much better I would have raced if I had thought, “wow, look at the over developed legs on that guy, to bad he doesn’t have my skill, I am going to smoke him!” With that much more positive self-belief I just might have one the competition!

How to do you stop this often subconscious self-defeating cycle?  Step one is to identify the belief, “I am a good rider but will never be great” or the most misguided one I heard the other day, “I only weigh 140 so I don’t have the muscle mass to climb like the bigger guys” (this is misguided because in general the lighter you are the better climber you are, most great climbers are short and stick thin).  Once you have identified the belief check to find the source of the belief and see if it is real. Where did the belief come from? Does it make sense? Is there proof that the belief is true? Once you have these questions answered you can create a strategy to rid yourself of the belief.  If the belief was caused by a past failure tell yourself, the past doesn’t equal the future and correctly practice doing the skill/section of trail that you felt you couldn’t do.  If it has no basis in reality (your friend said, “wow you suck at descending” 10 years ago) tell yourself, “that was ten years ago, I now understand body position and vision better, my bike is way better and I have the skill to descend much better now”.  Often you will find that once you identify a self-limiting belief you laugh, realize that it is preposterous and you move past it.

Don’t let fiction, fantasy, someone else’s opinion or conjecture hold you back.  Attack these self-limiting beliefs and achieve your best.

Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3 for the other two issues that keep you from riding at your best.

Mountain Bike Crash

Mountain Bike Crash, Coming Back From An Injury

Coming back from an injury, mountain bike crash or setback

I have gotten a lot of emails about this tough mental process and so far this year we have had six student cancellations because they injured themselves less than a week before their camp!  I think this is an area where many people struggle, certainly for me I have had a mountain bike crash or two (okay more like 10!) that effected my performance for months. (Most of the following was written in 2008, I have updated and edited it)

In the middle of writing this I wrecked, hurt myself pretty good and three weeks later (last weekend at the Colorado State Championships) I came back from it. This ordeal reminded me of a big point I almost left out. Those of you that have taken a camp from me know that I stress focusing on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. Well, my first run back (my first ride after three weeks off the bike was downhill practice at a race) I was a little worried that I might not be completely healed and didn’t want to re-injure myself. With this mindset I was thinking and focusing on not falling! After two sketchy runs I realized what I was doing and knew that my focus on not falling was hurting my confidence and making me focus on falling (the brain has to think about falling to “not fall”). I switched my focus to “ride my best and have fun” (which has nothing to do with falling) and my next three runs were better and better each time. This is a crucial step in coming back. It may be hard but you must focus on what you want to do, which is ride your best. Focusing on what you don’t want to do continues your focus on the negative which continues to depress your confidence. This is a vicious circle which is hard to break out of but it is very important if you want to overcome a setback.

“I have failed a lot more times than I have succeeded” that piece of wisdom comes from Michael Jordan. I will certainly agree with that, in my thirteen years as a pro racer I have won only two races. At the NORBA Nationals in the 1990′s only the top 70 pros qualified for the final, I finished 71 in the qualifiers four times and 72nd twice, ouch! In 2003 I had a frame snap in half while doing about 40 miles an hour at Angel Fire, that really hurt, four broken ribs and the wind knocked out of me. Events like these can quell your desire to ride or fire you up to learn from the event and try harder. How you deal with adversity is up to you and since you have sought out instruction I will give you some ways to overcome frustrating experiences and use them to become stronger.

Crashes, setbacks and mistakes are part of the learning process and can actually be a big step towards improving. The first thing to do is find the cause of the set back and determine if you were at fault or not. In the frame breaking incident I was definitely not at fault but in the qualifying 71st races I was at fault. As friend and fellow competitor Alex Morgan said, “Gene, for guys like us the qualifier is the race”. He said this because he saw me coast the last straight into the finish (to save energy for the final run) and two or three pedal strokes was all I needed to have finished in the top 70 and gotten a final run. Easy fix, next race treat the qualifier as a race and do my best.

If the mistake/crash was your fault fix the problem and then tell yourself, “well I fixed that problem, that will never happen again” and go back to having fun. If you crashed because you were over-trained, get some rest and prepare with more recovery for your next ride or race. If your mistake happened because you lost focus (the most common cause of wrecks), mediate and/or use imagery to improve your focus. Find reference points to keep your focus in that section of the course.

Sometimes the problematic event wasn’t your fault (like when my frame broke). In situations like this fix the problem (in my case I got a new, stronger frame) and again consciously put the problem behind you “well I fixed that problem, that will never happen again”.

Both of the comebacks strategies above require reprogramming both the conscious and subconscious brain. You have to literally replace fear with confidence using repeated logical reasoning to overwhelm your negative thought pattern.

Sometimes it is a series of mistakes that shakes your confidence or it just seems like dumb luck, such as when you you crest a hill and a big rock has rolled into your line. You see the rock but it is to late to change your line so you hit it and flip over. I hurt my leg pretty badly when this happened to me in Big Bear a few years ago. To over come this fall I used a combination of therapies, I used a “past history search” and imagery to rebuild my confidence. A “past history search” is simply remembering the times you rode successfully and confidently. I did this while imagining the drop where I flipped over at Big Bear. In all my previous runs I had nailed that section so I “rewound” my imagery and played the wreck over in my head. The first couple of times I visualized cresting the hill, seeing the rock and flipping over but then tucking and rolling without getting hurt. This made me feel a little better and more relaxed. Then I imaged seeing the rock, steering around it and making the section and could feel my body relax and my confidence start to return.

A past history search is a great confidence booster anytime you are feeling down, no matter what the cause. Sit back in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and relive your best moments. This will restore your confidence and really make you feel good about yourself.

 

How do you get your confidence back quickly, in the middle of a ride or race? A state change, forcing a smile, puffing your chest out and standing tall are simple ways that help regain confidence quickly. As is a little positive self talk, “that wasn’t like me, I am a really skilled rider, I have been riding really well, I am going to get back on my bike and ride like I own the trail!” These two methods combined can be very powerful.

Anchoring a performance cue is pro-active and powerful way to control your confidence a

Mountain bike crash

BetterRide student Jen Hanks knows about coming back from a setback, she came back from cancer!

nd help you quickly overcome setbacks. A performance cue is a short phrase and/or physical action (such as touching your thumb and middle finger together) that is associated (anchored) with a physiological state, feeling or emotion.

To anchor a personal cue you use a past history as mentioned above and add a few steps. Sit back in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and relive your three most confident events/moments of your life. When you won the spelling bee, conquered “widow maker hill for the first time”, finished your first race, won for the first time, etc. As you are reliving these moments really feel the emotions you were experiencing at the time, feel your back straighten as you proudly look out into the crowd. Feel your face flush as you can’t hold back a happy, satisfied grin, truly relive those moments. When you are feeling the positive, confident emotions created by reliving these moments “anchor” those emotions by doing the physical action you have chosen and/or repeating the short phrase you picked. With repetition you will anchor the feeling so strongly that by simply saying and or doing your performance cue you immediately enter the state that you have anchored.

Lastly, if you aren’t injured, remember to laugh, you are human, you make mistakes, big deal. Marla Streb put it best when I was trying to console her after a poor performance. She said, “Gene, its only a bike race, it not like we are saving lives”. That is good perspective.

“A champion isn’t someone who wins all the time. A Champion is someone who can suffer great adversity and come back to win again”

Yes, no matter which of the above methods you use it will take work but all things worth having (like peace of mind) require work. Knowledge is worthless without action!

mountain biking in Sedona

Mountain Bike Skills, How to Ride Your Best Under Pressure

This is an updated version of a mountain bike skills article I wrote in 2010. It starts off about racing but my answers will help in any “pressure situation” on trail (an unexpected gnarly rock garden, a challenging and/or exposed section of trail, etc).  I had 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??”

My updated answer for anytime you are mountain biking, not just racing:

This a tough thing for many racers and as I mentioned a few times in our camp, what good are all the mountain bike skills if you can’t use them when needed?

Before we get to your mental game, have you mastered the skills from the camp? As you know, one of my favorite sayings is, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, pros practice until they can’t get it wrong”. WHAT THIS MEANS IS,  just because you can do a skill doesn’t mean it is now hardwired as your “go to” skill. Your old habits are likely still dominant so the second you feel pressure your body reverts to what it knows best, you old, self taught “survival” skills. As you know, change takes work! The longer you have gone without learning the correct skills the more ingrained your bad habits are and the more likely they will fire under pressure instead of the correct skills. Double up your drill time and practice like Jerry Rice (who spent 99% of his football related time practicing) and you will overpower your old habits and create new, correct habits.

mountain bike skills

Mary Pat executing proper mountain bike skills over a log pile in our Durango camp last summer.

You can also toughen up your mental game. First, remember there is no difference between a race and a practice run, same track, same racer, same bike, same goal. The only difference between your race run and a practice run is the pressure YOU but on the run. Treat your race run as another practice run (especially if you are doing timed practice runs using a stopwatch) then, read these two blog posts and practice the mental skills in them: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/are-you-tough-part-1/ and http://betterride.net/blog/2010/are-you-tough-part-2/ and most importantly read, study, practice, master one of these books from your homework assignment:

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).

mountain bike skills

Jon Widen staying centered while descending one of the steepest lines at Whistler!

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