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Learn From Aaron Gwin's Amazing Run

Mountain Bike Riders, Learn From Aaron Gwin’s Amazing Run

All mountain bikers can learn a lot from Aaron Gwin’s winning run at Mont Sainte Anne this year. You don’t have to be into downhill mountain biking or even enjoy it to learn from this amazing run.

If you don’t know much about this incredible feat I will give you the backstory. (if you know the story or just want to cut to the chase skip down to below the video) In World Cup downhill racing to build drama, in the final run, the race order goes from slowest qualifier to the fastest qualifier (they have a qualifying “race” the day before the actual race and the 80 fastest racers “qualify” to race in the finals).  This year in Mount Saint Anne Aaron Gwin needed to qualify and race well to stay in the overall points chase. He did just that, but it gets better!

After the first 60 racers (those who qualified 80th to 21st) race there is a 20 minute break to make sure the camera crews, live feed and live timing are working for the final 20 fastest qualifiers. Well, those first 60 racers at great track conditions, beautiful, sunny weather! During the break, it started raining and the rain kept getting harder. By the time the 20th qualifier started the track was a muddy mess. The first 10 or so racers after the break really struggled to get down safely, much less quickly.

Everyone thought the real race was pretty much over, the top qualifiers were not going to even finish in the top 10! Then, 9th place qualifier Jack Moir put down a pretty fast run despite the rain and mud giving us a little hope but it still seemed like a long shot. 3rd place qualifier and current World Cup points leader had a miserable run!

Loic Bruni, second place qualifier had a great run but was still two seconds behind the leader Dean Lucas who had raced in dry conditions. Aaron Gwin was the last man on the hill and it wasn’t looking good for him but, he didn’t seem to care. He stormed out of the start gate and attacked that track like it was dry! He took inside lines, looked smooth and relaxed and had one of the all-time great runs in the history of downhill mountain bike racing!

Lesson 1.  Intention! Aaron decided to ride his best and give it is all! He was obviously focused the entire time and didn’t change his riding due to the weather, he rode the track as if it were dry!

Intention is everything! If you ride to not fall, like Greg Minnaar did your whole focus is on falling (“darn, remember the last time I fell, that hurt …”) and you are lacking confidence. (more on Greg’s big mistake and how you can learn from it here: http://betterride.net/blog/2017/greg-minnaars-big-mistake-last-world-cup-learn/ ) Turns out when you lack confidence your coordination drops considerably too! So always focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to! If all you can think about is not falling, that is a good time to get off your bike and walk that section! As you walk it try and figure what is scaring you and then “baby-step” your way up to doing it (find a similar but easier/safer feature or trail section become confident and work your way up)!

Always ride with a positive focus, “I want to get to the bottom of this trail as smoothly as possible”, “my goal is to keep my chin up and look ahead”, “I’m a billy goat!”, etc. I’m going to crush this steep, rocky climb!” Never ride with a negative focus, “I hope I make it”, “just don’t crash”. etc.

Lesson 2. Learn the ADVANCED mountain bike skills like looking ahead, good descending body position (staying in balance, hinged at the hips, weight on his pedals, in balance cornering technique and using his body as suspension). Wait! Those are all basic skills! Seriously, please watch the video and note when he does an advanced skill and comment below (“Gene, at 1:42 (or whatever time he does the “advanced skill”) into is run he does …., that is an advanced skill …). Other than a short “manual” over a ditch (which is still a basic skill) where are those advanced skills?

Aaron Gwin has mastered the basics! That is what all sports are about! Mastering the basics is the absolute key to reaching your potential as a mountain biker. I know Aaron can scrub jumps and probably do a few other advanced skills but he uses none of those in this race!

Now, I’m not saying you could beat Aaron Gwin if you mastered the basics, Aaron Gwin is also SUPER fit and has an incredible mental game too, both of which also contributed to this amazing run. However, imagine how well you could ride if you mastered the basics!

So, focus on DOING the basics, not simply knowing them! We all know to look ahead, but are you doing 100% of the time? Even on a trail as gnarly as that World Cup track?

Heres to creating your best year yet in 2018!

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Exceed Your Mountain Biking Goals By Not Focusing On Them?!

We have probably all read that we should set goals in life (and sport) and then work towards them. What if I told you there is a much better way to achieve your mountain biking goals and a much more enjoyable way too?

This is the time of year where we typically analyze what we have done this year (or over the last 2-70 years) and set goals for next year.  Whether you want to finally clean that root filled climb, ride with more confidence or win a big race this article will help you lay the groundwork to do just that.

Wow, as a mountain bike coach I never thought I would tell you to stop setting goals! A few years ago I read an article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow you to grow in the direction you want to. Before that, in his book Body Mind, Mastery Dan Millman taught me something similar, to set my goals, write them down and then set them aside and simply focus on being the best I can be every day.

Focusing on being the best you can be, helps keep you in the moment (instead of focusing on the goal which could be months or even years away) and if you honestly do this you are likely to exceed your goals. Also, by being the best you can be each day you will enjoy each day more, not feeling like you are sacrificing today for tomorrow. With this approach, if your goals change because your life changes, a new job, a new relationship or an injury,  you won’t be thinking, “Darn! I wasted all that time” because you will have enjoyed every moment. This is similar to the processes idea but you still set a goal.

Here is a quick personal example of focusing on a goal, in 1999 (before reading Body Mind Mastery) my goal was to win the UCI World Masters Championship (WMC for short) and that was my complete focus for a year, from the fall of 1998 to the competition on September 4, 1999. By total focus I mean I quit my dream job, moved to so I could train more on bike in the winter, lived off my saving and eventually my credit card (hard to work all day and train hard enough to win a World Championship), went to bed early every night so I could recover from my training (so I had no social life) and every time I did intervals I thought, “this sucks, intervals are so painful, but I have to do these if I want to win the WMC!”.

Lucky for me, I managed to earn a bronze medal and honestly, it was the best day of my life until that point! However, I woke the next day and realized I was approximately $8,800 in debt to my credit card, I had no job, no place to live (all my stuff was in storage and I had lived in my van most of that summer) and no girlfriend to return to and I was in Quebec with two smelly friends in my old VW van, with a nasty exhaust leak, that none of us were confident would get us home! Victory is rather fleeting! And, after all, it was just a bike race, not helping others or saving lives!

mountain biking goals

In Third Place at the 1999 UCI World Masters Championships

In 2001 I decided to try and win the WMC again! This time I had read Body Mind Mastery and after setting that goal I put the goal aside and focused on the processes (intervals, skills practice, working out, yoga, mental training) and being the best I could at those processes each day. If it was interval day I did the best intervals I could, not to win the world masters but to simply enjoy pushing my body as hard as I could. I led a balanced life, I had a great job, sweet girlfriend and cool house to return to after the race.

My qualifying run went great, 2nd place and I didn’t push it at all, I could easily drop 8-10 seconds off my time on race day! I know I can win this! On race day, I charge out of the gate and my chain popped out of my chain guide in the first turn! Nooo! I hop off my bike, throw the chain back on but it pops off 30-40 feet later. I angrily pump my way to the finish and hang my head in despair. Probably the worst day of my life. However, the next day it was easy to smile as I was in the best shape of my life, was riding better than ever and had a great life to return to back in Colorado. My life was still pretty darn good! Can you imagine if my chain had come off in 1999? That would have crushed me, all that work and sacrifice for nothing!

Long story short, setting your goals and then focusing on simply being the best you can be every day is a great way to reach or exceed your goals. However, the article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow you to grow in the direction you want to is quite similar to Dan Millman’s idea except they eliminate the goal altogether (which I am still not 100% sold on). You can find the article here:  http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230333#   I feel it is a great read. Please let me know what you think about it.

I am sold on the idea of creating processes, which is what I do every year, I have physical processes (bike training programs, workout routines, yoga, foam rolling and stretching) mental processes (imagery, questioning self-talk and mental toughness exercises)  and mountain bike skills processes (drills to keep my skills at their best, on trail application and feedback from our coaches) that I do to reach my goals. Which, now, in my 50’s is to stay physically and mentally healthy enough to ride for another 50 years! Here is a great hierarchy of riding skills processes to work on: http://betterride.net/blog/2017/mtb-skills-practice-make-best-use-time-hierarchy-mtb-skills/

Here’s to creating your best year yet!

Have you used the methods above or something similar? How did go for you? Let us know and add to the conversation in the comments.

Mountain Bike Your Best in 2017! Free Planner For Achieving Your Riding Goals

As the 2016 MTB season is winding down (for many of us) it is time to prepare for next season. If you are serious about becoming the best mountain bike rider or racer you can be now is the time to act. All the knowledge in the world is worthless without action. Below is an abbreviated version of the questionnaire I use with our full-time athletes to evaluate their season and design their training program for the next racing season.  Use this to evaluate your riding “performance” in 2016 and plan to mountain bike your best in 2017!


At some point this fall take a break from riding (if you haven’t already). Two weeks off the bike can do wonders for you! Hike, travel, surf, relax, read, do anything but ride your bike. Your body needs a break from riding and so does your mind. Don’t worry, two weeks off the bike won’t hurt your fitness much and for most of us it will make us stronger as we give ourselves enough time to recover from so much time spent on our bikes (a lot of time on the bike is not always the best thing, it becomes really easy to create in-balances and over use injuries). During your break set your goals for 2017. They are your goals so I won’t tell you what they should be as we all want different things out of riding and life.

I will tell you to set measurable goals that you feel are within your reach if you work enough (too high a goal makes it is easy to give up and too easy a goal doesn’t motivate you). Examples of great goals our students have set are: “Clean Widow Maker Hill!”, “Improve my max squat by 15% by April 1st.”, “Shave 10% off my fastest time on the long loop at McDowell by May 10.”

If you are a racer be careful to set performance goals as well as outcome goals, as it is impossible to control how your competition performs! For example, I really wanted to win the World Masters Championships in 2006, but I had no idea who would show up or how hard they had been training (two things I can not control) so just setting the goal of winning might have set me up for failure despite possibly having my best performance ever. Although one of my main goals is to win the race my other goals were; shave 7% off my race times from 2005 (where the tracks are the same in 2006), increase my max squat by 50% (to where it was when I was 35) by April 15th, to decrease my 40 meter sprint times (on my downhill bike) by 20% by July 15th.

For each of these goals I set sub goals (example: increase max squat by 25% by Jan. 1) and process goals (example: work up from one five minute imagery session a week to six 10 minute imagery sessions a week by 7/15/06). If I achieve or surpass all of my sub goals and process goals I will know I have done everything in my power to perform at my best on race day. Which I did and I ended up third, I was simply out ridden by two competitors but I prepared and raced my best! After I got over the disappointment of not winning I was pretty proud of my effort!

Do you keep a riding/training diary? A diary is a big help in the following exercise and through out the season for finding factors that lead to changes in performance. If you haven’t kept a training diary in the past, start now. A training diary helps you learn what parts of your training are working and what parts are not. Reviewing it can explain “peak” performances and poor performances and is a great confidence booster by tracking all the hours of training you have put in.

Your training diary should contain all information that affects your performance, morning HR (heart rate), recovery HR, weight, hours slept, hours training, time in HR or power zones, time using imagery, mood, what you eat, etc. Once you have established your diary it will be easy to find out “why” and test eating, sleeping and training concepts. Why did I feel so strong today? Why did I feel so sluggish last week? Simply look for patterns, examples: “wow, every time I eat pizza for dinner I feel sluggish two days later.” When I eat a big breakfast and do a morning ride I feel weak (need to eat earlier or lighter)”, “surprisingly I climb strongest the day after doing my favorite workout including squats and ab work”. If you really want to ride at your best start a diary today. Goggle docs/drive is the perfect tool, just set up a spread sheet and once you get it rolling it will only take five minutes a day to keep up on.

Here is the abbreviated version of the questionnaire we use with our full-time students to help you analyse your 2013 season and help you set your goals for 2017.

Step One: Assess your racing season and your riding ability. Honestly and objectively answer the following questions about your 2016 season.

Did your skills improve over the course of the season?

What are your strongest skills? (cornering, jumping, steeps, etc.)

What skills need the most improvement?

How did the season go physically?

Did you start strong and get stronger as the season went on?

Did you fade in late July and August? Why?

Did you have the optimum combination of sprinting speed and endurance?

Did you pick 3 to 5 big races/rides to peak for? Were you able to peak for those races?

How was your mental game?

Were you confident and riding to your potential or did you find yourself riding below the level that you know you are capable of?

Why?

What factors helped your confidence this season?

What factors hurt your confidence this season?

Did you a have comprehensive (mental, physical and skill) training program? What part of your program worked? What parts didn’t work?

Did your riding/racing improve as the season went on?

Did you create and write down concrete goals?

Did you reach your goals?

Step Two: Use the answers to these questions as an evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses setting the foundation your 2017 season training program.

Set career, three years from now and this season’s racing goals (top three over all in my state series, etc.), physical training goals (decrease my 50 yard sprint time by 15%, increase my maximum squat by 20%, etc.), skills goals (improve balance, improve cornering, etc.) and mental training goals (improve visualization, learn relaxation techniques, etc.) for your 2017 season.

Racing Goals:

1. Career goal

2. Three year goal

3. This season’s goal

Physical Training Goals, to allow me to reach my racing goals:

1.

2.

3.

Skills Training Goals, to allow me to reach my racing goals:

1.

2.

3.

Mental training Goals, to allow me to reach my racing goals:

1.

2.

3.

Read this article on creating a step by step to ride at your best, http://wp.me/p49ApH-191

Work with your coach or consult a book such as The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible, by Joe Friel; James Wilson’s MTB strength training programs; or Lynda Wallenfels coaching  to create a training plan to reach all of the above goals. Why a coach? A coach can provide you with a structured training program designed to reach your goals, keep an objective eye on your skills and physical training, motivate you and share his/her wisdom, all of which will speed up your improvement.

Step Three: Act on your training program! Ride! Workout! Visualize! Constantly update your goals and training program based on improvement or lack of improvement.

Remember, unwritten goals are just dreams, goals you write down you will commit to and strive to reach. Good luck next season and feel free to call or e-mail with any questions.

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.