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Flow, the Key to Happiness While Mountain Biking?!

Interesting talk by Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on the state of flow and how this is the state when we are most happy. It is a little dry though, if you start to lose interest skip ahead. In the last three minutes he talks about and uses a great chart that shows you that flow starts when our challenge and skill set are both pushed above average.

This means when we have great skill and are not challenged at all we will often be bored. When we face a challenge and our skills are weak we feel worried.

Then when challenged a little (but still beneath our skill set) we will be relaxed, challenged just below our best skills we will feel in control and challenged to the point of using all our skill we will reach flow (and happiness). When challenged just more than our skills can handle it will create worry, then pushed further the worry becomes anxiety.

This is why as you skills increase the trails you once enjoyed become less interesting or you have to go faster and/or take harder lines to keep that trail as fun as it was with less skill.

He doesn’t mention it but I believe the same thing happens as your fitness increases. As you fitness increases you need to challenge it by going faster and/or further to reach the same level of enjoyment.

Conversely to continue to reach a high level of enjoyment and “flow” or “Zone” state experiences we need to increase our skill set.

Winter Program Tips: What to Do When You Can’t Mountain Bike.

Winter Program Tips: What to Do When You Can’t Mountain Bike.  by BetterRide Head Coach Andy Winohradsky

So its winter-time. And one bummer about winter is that, as mountain bikers, access to our sport, and more specificity, our trails, will be limited – sometimes altogether eliminated! But even if we are forced to spend extended time off the bike (I plan on covering some winter-riding topics in the future), there are still plenty of things we can do to maintain our riding skill-set.

As a betterride coach, I’m not necessarily concerned with riders simply riding their mountain bikes, but I’m concerned with riders riding well. The following will address some off-bike activities, and how and why they can help maintain – and possibly even improve – a rider’s technical skill-set over the winter.

Since MTB’ing is typically a summertime activity, and also understanding that the idea of actually practicing technical skills (as in drilling and methodically applying techniques), versus simply going out and riding the bike, is foreign to most riders, its no surprise that the idea of purposely and consciously maintaining our technical skill-set over the winter isn’t a widely discussed topic. Most riders that I know jump into the typical winter-time cyclist’s regime of riding the road bike, the stationary trainer, and hitting the gym, accepting the fact that during those first real mountain bike rides of spring, they’ll be rusty, scared, and possibly crash they’re brains out. While the above work-out activities definitely can provide certain benefits, they really won’t do squat for a MTB’ers technical prowess on the bike.

As anyone who has received Betterride instruction will know, being technically sound on the bicycle (using correct body position, proper use of vision, subtle weight shifts, accurate timing, among others) will get a rider a lot further and keep the rider a lot more safe then simply being physically fit. So assuming that we are maintaining a decent level of fitness, wouldn’t it make sense to tend to our technical riding skills over doing-the-hamster at spin class?

So how do we improve our skills on the bike without actually riding it? There are many activities we can do – some work better then others – that will help to keep us sharp until riding season heats up.

O.k., first, I do understand that winter-time is the off-season for us mountain bikers, and if you take your riding fairly seriously – which you probably do if you’ve read this far – then spending a little time off the bike will actually be good for you, both mentally and physically. This doesn’t mean you can lay on the couch for six months, watching football and hockey, stuffing your face with chips and cheap beer (although this author does highly recommend a couple days of this!). We need to stay active.

As I stated above, the typical cyclist’s winter regime can have its benefits, however, even though there are some great work-out programs out there and some very adept athletic trainers, I have yet to see a program that is nearly as multi-dimensional and all encompassing – both mentally and physically – as MTB’ing on technical terrain. When choosing an off-bike winter activity, its important that we chose something that provides us with the “mental work-out” that is similar to the on-bike experience.

Mountain biking is an incredibly mentally taxing activity. We are constantly making adjustments and corrections, we are often fighting fatigue, we often need to deal with emotions such as frustration or even anger. Even though, on the surface, many sports or activities may look night and day different from that of mountain biking, many of the mental challenges and mind-body awareness and connections can be quite similar. These are the type of activities we need to get involved with – activities that will engage us in a manner similar to that of riding the mountin bike. Example: I’ll take a day of hard snowboarding over a day at the gym, in regards to improving my technical bike riding, anytime (again, assuming that I am also doing something to maintain a decent level of fitness). The hidden benefits of snowboarding and its similarities to MTB’ing are countless: issues of balance, dealing with fear, fighting to maintain technique as fatigue sets in – simply being outside and exposed to the elements all day, eating the proper foods, drinking enough water, etc.

I consistently see a difference in riders, beginners or other-wise, in their abilities to learn and/or adapt on the bicycle in relation to their athletic participation outside of bike riding. Those that participate, or have participated, in activities where they compete (even with themselves) and regularly deal with challenges and “athletic problems” where they are engaged both physically and mentally in the activity, are already a step up on those that may put long ours into training, but often they involve sitting on a stationary bike and watching t.v (winter), or pumping out reps (even with fairly dynamic work-outs) at the gym. (if you’re able to have an imaginary conversation with yourself for 40 mi of that 50 mi road ride, how mentally engaged where you in that work-out? Did you make any mental gains?

A few good ones: as many of you are already aware, skiing and snowboarding are great for this. Not only do they require a mind-body awareness in a challenging environment, but they also give us a sense of speed and force us to use our vision (possibly the most important aspect of riding a MTB) in a similar way that we do on a bicycle. Sports such as racquetball, basketball, or martial arts (to name a few) are also excellent for our riding because, again, they will force us to be “athletic problem solvers” and engage our mind-body awareness. To me, these sports have more in common with riding a mountain bike on difficult technical terrain then going for a road bike ride for the shear mental discipline and mind-body awareness that they require. These sports require that you complete incredibly difficult technical tasks while fully exerting yourself physically – just as you do while piloting your MTB over difficult terrain.

If you are already active in an off-season activity such as the above mentioned, good job. Keep it up. If you’re not, and perhaps you never really have been, right now – winter – in an excellent time to start! I guarantee that you will come across many “happy accidents” and discoveries that will carry over into your bike riding.

A bit more:

I am constantly amazed at the amount of high-level cyclists (and other athletes) that I come across that bring lessons that they’ve learned or tools that they’ve acquired from different athletic disciplines into they’re riding (ex: Last winter I learned in yoga that if you … and this is the same as that …” or “Last winter I took kick-boxing and learned … and this is the same …”). I know that I regularly take “lessons” that I learned from high school and college athletics and apply them to my riding today (and that high school and college stuff happened around 100 yrs ago).

A former colleague of mine and a competitive World Cup racer, and I had a conversation last summer about the benefits of having a well rounded athletic background. We both agreed that many of the lessons – and failures – that we had experienced in athletic competition previous to racing bicycles at a high level was crucial to all the successes we’d had in racing (he’d obviously had more of those then I had) and how many of todays young racers don’t have those type of backgrounds and therefore have difficulty overcoming some of the challenges they are faced with in taking their racing to a high level.

In conclusion: it is winter-time, enjoy a little time away from your bicycle, but stay active, and be intelligent in your choice of activities. Go out and compete with yourself (and/or others) and learn something about yourself as an athlete (in success and failure!). Keep that competitive mind and your mind-body connection sharp even if you aren’t putting in an extensive amount of time on the bike. If done correctly, these gains will carry over into your riding season.

How to keep motivated this winter for summer mountain biking!

How to keep motivated this winter! (this is part two of a series on staying motivated and goal setting, if you missed part one you can find it here http://betterride.net/?p=873 )

Goal Setting

“Any time some one asks me, “teach me something new”, I know they are not into mastery. If you want to master anything you have to do it over and over again”. Anthony Robbins

  1. With goals we create the future in advance.

  2. ’53 Class of Yale, 3% had specific, written goals. 20 years later in 1973 when interviewed those 3% were happier, enjoyed their life more (which I know are subjective measuring) what isn’t subjective though is that those 3% were wealthier than the other 97% of their class combined!

  3. A goal not written down is just a dream!

Whether you are a weekend mountain bike rider who just rides to get out in nature for some fresh air or a determined mountain bike racer it is tough to stay motivated to stay in shape during the off-season.

Like most mountain bikers I am not always super motivated to workout or train on cold winter days. The riding and/or mountain bike racing season seems so far away it is tough to stay motivated in the winter. The winter is a great time to assess your riding season and your goals and set new goals. Follow my season wrap up and goal setting worksheet, then do something I learned from Dan Milliman in his book Body Mind Mastery, he says, “Set your goals then put them aside and focus on being the best you can be on any given day”.   He goes on to explain that by focusing on goals that are often 6 month to 5 years away it takes us out of the moment and we don’t enjoy our day to day life.  He tells us that victory is fleeting and if we don’t enjoy the journey on the way to achieving our goals what is the point.

An example of this in my own life is doing intervals (85-100% efforts for intervals 30 seconds to 6 minutes). I would often say to myself, “Gosh, I hate intervals, feeling like you are going to puke for 5 minutes, resting and repeating is miserable, but if I want to win (the World Masters/Angel Fire or what ever my goal was that season) I have to do them”. As you can imagine I didn’t do them as much as I should have and every time I did do them I did not enjoy them. When I won a bronze medal at the UCI Mountain Bike World Masters Championships in 1999 it was the happiest moment of my life, until the next morning. I woke up, was proud of my medal, then thought about the last 9 months and my current situation. I was in Montreal in a beat up ’84 VW van with 197,000 miles on it, an exhaust leak, and three smelly mountain bikers, not sure if it would get us home, I was broke (actually a couple grand in debt to my credit cards), had no job, no place to live, all my “stuff” was in storage and had no girlfriend to come home to (and I had not had a girl friend or a date for a long time). For the 9 months leading up to the World Masters I was really focused on my goal. In those months I did my intervals, I hit the gym hard, I ate really well, went to bed early and was probably not the most fun person to be around. Going to bed early meant no dating, I was sacrificing my social life. Intervals are tiring and I looked at them as being painful, not fun, I was punishing myself. To train so hard and race the national schedule I quit my job in April (not enough time to train, recover, travel to races and work). As I assessed these months and my current situation the thrill of victory quickly faded.

Not only is the thrill of victory short lived, what happens when you come up short or don’t even get the chance to go for your goal (you get injured, lose funding, change careers or set a different goal, etc.)? Now you did all that sacrificing for nothing! All those intervals and I am not even racing, what a waste. Well, if you did the best you could each day and enjoyed the journey their was no sacrifice.

A year later I went back to the World Masters set on winning and finished second in the qualifying round! Unfortunately in the final race run my chain came out of my chain retention device in the first turn and my race was over (I stopped, put the chain back on pedaled furious into the next section and the chain came off again, I coasted in to 8th or 9th place). This was one of the most disappointing moments of my life. I had the Silver Medal in the bag and with a solid run I could have easily won the Gold. When I woke up the next day I was still a little disappointed but I took stock of my life and realized it was no big deal, just a bike race. I was in the best shape of my life (which at 34 felt great!), I had a great girlfriend, a good job and a cool apartment to return to. What a difference from the year before!

Now I set my goals then focus on being the best I can be at each given task on the way there. When that task is intervals I am not doing them to win a race, I am doing them because I enjoy the challenge of pushing my body that hard and the good, exhausted, but satisfied feeling I get afterward. Knowing that I am 44, in great shape and getting stronger with every workout is a great feeling.

Dan Millman goes on to explain that if we do our best everyday we will not only enjoy our lives more we will likely exceed our goals. So look out next year, I am training hard and enjoying my life more than ever! Who thought I could still beat half the pro field at 45?!

Think of training as something that will make you a better, happier, more successful person, not as a sacrifice. The real sacrifice is spending all that time and money traveling to fun riding spots like Fruita or Moab and wishing that you had more energy and could ride more. There is nothing worse than finishing poorly in a race and thinking, “If I had just…. practiced a little more… trained a little harder…. etc. Saying “what if” is a sad way to go through life (and I have done it too many times in my life). “He just beat me because he practices/gets to ride more than I do”. Yep, that probably is why he beat me. That and he wanted it more than me which is why he practiced more than me.

At 44 and even when I was younger I have never raced to win. I race to do my best and there is no bigger disappointment than letting yourself down. So whether you are training for a long mountain bike ride in Moab next spring or the biggest race or your life, train hard and have fun!

Third Place 1999 World Masters Championships