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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 Lesson

Mountain Bike Lesson That Ended With a Broken Collarbone

Would you be upset if you paid for a mountain bike lesson that ended a broken collarbone? All because the instructor wasn’t trained well enough to keep you safe?

Two weeks ago a friend called an invited me to ride Winter Park resort with him. He said his wife and her friend would be taking lessons while we were riding. I was excited as I didn’t think any resorts in Colorado were still operating during the week so this would be my final lift served riding of the year! The day started out great, no lift lines, cool weather, a perfect day, Hans and I were having a blast! Then, after lunch Hans’s phone rang, it was his wife, her friend had broken her collarbone and punctured a lung. We raced down to the onsite emergency room and checked in, she was in a lot of pain!

A mountain bike lesson should NEVER end with a broken collarbone! She was no where close to having the core skills mastered enough to be hitting jumps on Rainmaker (Winter Park’s expert “jump trail”). Why did her “instructor” take her there? No good can from trying to short cut the learning process! In this case a lot of bad happened, a student was injured and her confidence was set back a few notches.

mountain bike coaching

Suzy, doing her first few wheelies! Confidently, and not getting injured!

I never want my students feeling “lucky” that made some feature on the trail. I want them to approach a feature with confidence, knowing that they can make it (not hoping they can make it). You do this by slowly, using baby steps as you progress. I love getting emails from students who just made a rock garden or loose corner that they had never made before and they mention that coolest thing wasn’t just making it, the coolest thing was knowing how and why they made it and being able to confidently do it again.  Just because you made a jump/rock garden/switchback/etc without crashing does not mean you have the skill to it consistently. Riders get away with mistakes all the time but, when those mistakes happen in a tougher situation (such as big jump vs. a little jump) the consequences can me disastrous.

How do riders learn enough to hit big jumps with confidence? First they master the two foundation skills that all mtb skills are based on, body position and vision. Notice, I did not say they understand vision and body position, I said they “master” those skills. Mastering means that they do both of those skills correctly 100% of the time no matter how challenging the conditions are. Once they have mastered those two skills jumping is actually fairly easy, especially if you start small, master small jumps, then baby step your way up to bigger jumps.

I feel sorry for both the student who broke her collarbone and her well meaning instructor. The student is still in pain two weeks later and her confidence is at rock bottom and her fitness getting worse by the day. The instructor probably feels really guilty (as he should) but it isn’t 100% his fault. His training and education as an instructor are at fault. He should have been taught that many, many students want to do things they are not ready for and part of your job as coach is to protect your student from doing what she isn’t ready for yet. Instead, he did the opposite (as I might have done too at his age, he looked to be in his mid to late 20’s).

As someone who has been coaching and studying how to coach since 1989 I am really disappointed in what is happening to well meaning mountain bike “coaches” and students. The coaches, as well meaning as they are simply aren’t coaches yet. I respect their desire to help others and 99% of them really, truly want to help other riders, they simply don’t know how to do it yet. It took me ten years of being coached, taking coaching and teaching classes, studying books on the subject and coaching five to seven days a week to become a good coach. It took another ten years to become a much better coach than I was then (17 years ago) and I’m still learning after 27 years of coaching.

Coaching isn’t just about sharing knowledge, coaching is about getting the student to consistently do what you are teaching, not getting them to simply understand how to do it. Did you ever receive an A in class that was really hard? Did you feel that you could effectively teach that class after you got that A, I doubt it. Well, imagine taking a two day class in a subject and then becoming a teacher!

In short, coaches need a much better educational than are getting. An education based on how people learn physical skills, how to teach those skills and with the skills being taught backed up by physics and by the top riders in the world ! I hope I never see another well meaning but under educated coach teaching students to ride off balance and not in complete control or a coach coaching all students as if they were the same person, ignoring physical and mental differences in their students.

My goal as always been to help others reach their life goals. Since my camps usually sell out and I don’t want the stress of running a business with 13 contractors anymore I have decided to offer a certification program in 2017. This certification will cover my holistic approach to coaching (learning physical skills is not just physical, there is huge mental component too) and  require at least ten days (in three day sessions plus one day of testing) with me, and at least 100 hours of study time (with tests). More on that in my next blog post.

Mountain bike cornering foot placement

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners

MTB, Bermed Corners vs. Flat Corners:  Another question I get all the time is some version of, “how is my technique different in a bermed (banked) corner than in a flat corner?”

As I explain in my camps a bermed corner (banked) is still a corner. That means everything depends on traction, speed and your goal. If I feel I’m going slower than the max speed that berm will allow and I want to gain speed, I’m going to keep my feet level and pump that berm to gain speed.

Depending on the steepness and traction I might even lean with my bike! But, those berms are rare, especially at your favorite local trail or in a downhill race, usually a berm in a downhill race is there to “save” you. You are hauling tail into the corner and just hoping to eek out enough traction that you make the corner without sliding your tires (sliding scrubs your speed). In a berm like this (where you simply want to make it) you are going to use proper, outside foot down and weighted, “flat” cornering technique. More on that here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15o , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-15P , here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-159 and here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-18L

Many riders want to think that ALL berms are magically different than a flat corner but in reality, some berms are massively different than a flat corner (steeply banked, perfectly placed and either tacky or hard-packed, grippy surface) and some are the same as a flat corner (barely banked or really loose).

Many berms are simply “push piles” of dirt that won’t hold your tires and some good looking berms are no where near the optimal line for that corner. I remember a race in the late 90’s at Big Bear where they built these massive, beautiful berms but they taped the inside of the corner about 8-10 feet inside of the berm. Most of the amateur racers were target fixated on those berms and enjoying them while all the pros were cutting way inside of the berms shaving 30-50 feet off the distance around those berms saving time. Those berms were fun but useless if you wanted to do your best in the race.

Recently I have found some outright dangerous berms.  Last summer we were riding some fast trails with a few newly built berms in Oakridge, Oregon . Unfortunately, many of the berms ended about 60-75% of the way through the corner, right as you really needed the added traction of the berm it either disappeared or flatted out too much to hold you. If you aren’t looking through the corner (looking well past the exit at the start of the corner) you might get caught by surprise as the bank decreased in size and steepness while you were relying on it for traction. In short, 60-75% of the way through the corner your traction got cut in half and if you were relying on the berm for traction (leaning into the turn a bit) when you hit the end of the berm you will slide out. If the berm was solid for the length of the corner you would already be standing the bike up straight when the berm stopped.

On a really steep berm with great traction (some of the ones on A-line at Whistler for example) I might even initiate my turn by dropping my shoulder and “throwing myself” into the berm. If I overestimate the traction in the berm this can put me on the ground, if there is enough traction I will rocket through and gain speed.

A great example of this is Greg Minnaar in one of my Bootleg Camps. We use the little BMX/pump track there to work on pumping and pumping corners. When Greg was flying into the first berm at top speed he ALWAYS dropped is outside foot and did what I would call a “perfect” in balance in control corner.

Mountain Bike Cornering Foot Position

Greg Minnaar hauling tail in our camp! With his outside leg straight and down with most of his weight on it!

When we were demonstrating pumping corners and Greg hit the same berm going quite a bit slower he kept his feet level so both knees would be bent so he could pump with both legs and gain speed. We (Greg and I) never taught the dip your shoulder technique because berms that allow you to do that are extremely rare and there are zero berms at Bootleg with enough traction to use this technique

LASTLY and more importantly, most riders (including many sub world cup level pro racers) fail to look through the berm which is Much, Much more important than all of what I just wrote! So there is a hierarchy of skills and most of us need to focus on the more important parts of corner (looking through #1, finishing cutting speed before the corner is #2). This is the problem with all the “tips” out there, they fill your head with “knowledge” but don’t get you doing that “knowledge” on trail because you haven’t trained your body to execute that skill tip.

First, learn, practice and master proper cornering technique. Then use that technique in every corner, especially the first time you hit that corner. If, after riding that corner and/or stopping to scope it out, you decide that the berm will add more traction than necessary at the speed you are going you can try out “bermed cornering techniques” that briefly put you out of balance but when executed correctly will increase your exit speed.

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.