Technically, I don’t freakin’ like technical mountain bike riding. Technically. I’ve kinda spent the two and a half years since I picked up mtbing avoiding having to do the techy stuff. Why? Well, because I’m not a naturally talented mtber, and those things do not come easy to me. In fact, they come by way of ugly scars, broken things, bone bruises and a cacophony of other injuries that generally I don’t mind avoiding. Plus, what I love about being on a bike is the speed… pushing yourself to those physical limits, feeling the fatigue, telling it to go **** itself, and pushing harder. I love that feeling. I love that pain.
I suppose the elated feeling you get when you finally have mastered some technical section of a trail or some trick on the bike is similarly enjoyable, but I wouldn’t have known it because I spent all of my bike time avoiding having to learn. I have to say, I think I made it pretty far for having basically zero technical ability and practicing not at all, ever. <Insert self-congratulatory smug grin here> Unfortunately, pushing it off and avoiding it did me no favors and here I find myself, racing against the region’s best with an embarrassing lack of skill. Not so gangsta after all.
“But Slavin, weren’t you always riding at Jungle Habitat the first couple years you biked? How can you say you weren’t practicing technical terrain? That place is pretty technical!”
I get that question a lot from people who know me and the area. Uh, yes, Jungle Habitat. But, no. I found the easiest trail at Jungle Habitat and proceeded to learn every single line of it perfectly to prevent myself from ****ing it up and then, in typical Slavin form, just started riding it over and over again as fast as I could. Yeah, a great exercise if you want to improve your athleticism but not if you want to improve your technical skill set. I never even touched the rest of the park until this past fall. I’m serious, I went up there to recon the race course as a cat 1 and I was horrified. It’s effed up on the top of that mountain. So I survived the race and then basically stopped going to the park altogether.
When I started going back these past couple of months, I realized how woefully behind I am with the technical training. I love riding bikes but this is new territory for me. I’m not patient. I want to barrel through. I want speed. If I don’t get something once, I don’t want to stop and do it again. I want to mentally compensate for the fact that I can’t do one thing by going twice as fast over something less tricky. This is not how you become a better mountain biker.
So I went out and forced myself to get my weight up. Off-season like a boss. Part of that is preparatory for next race season, and one of my biggest weaknesses as it stands is technical riding. Getting in a lead group and crashing on the first technical feature of the course? This has to stop. I put together a bunch of things that I’ve done in the last three months that I feel have helped me become a better mountain biker, to share with the rest of the world, should anyone else ever find themselves with my unfortunate self-imposed deficit of mtb skill. And hurr they are, just for ya’ll:
- I got out of my comfort zone. I ventured off the easy trail at Jungle and started doing real work on trickier elements. I forced myself to go on the most technical of trails, even though I knew they were out of my league. In many cases, I surprised myself with what I could do once I actually tried, and in other cases, I at least gained an understanding of what I needed to work on.
- I took those newly discovered weakness and addressed them directly. I am addressing them directly. I know where I need to do the work and I’ve specifically set aside time to practice it. Some things have come easier than others, but at least I have a plan. Someone told me that it takes around 10,000 attempts to master a skill. So I’m putting attempts in, one at a time, until the day comes.
- I don’t let myself get too used to one place. If I’ve been riding Jungle a bunch, I’ll take a break and go ride technical terrain somewhere else. As someone wiser told me, it’s not about mastering the park, it’s about mastering the skill. I realized what a disservice I had done myself by spending all of my time when I first started mtbing in the same park, doing the same trail over and over. That doesn’t help you when you need to be on a different race course every week. Widening the pool of terrain has helped me to better adapt to all types of trails on the fly and hone skills rather than specific trails
- I sectioned the **** out of things until I got them. When I used to attempt to ride something without success, I’d get irritated and ride away without trying it again. For obvious reasons, that’s totally stupid. If you can’t ride something, the dumbest thing you can do, (if you ever want to actually ride it), is get frustrated and give up on it. This was a pretty big challenge for me, because like I mentioned, I’m not patient. I do not like stopping. It took a lot of discipline, but I discovered that by specifically setting aside rides as “skills rides” and committing myself to sectioning anything that I didn’t get, my patience for sectioning increased. Not only did I commit myself to sectioning the things, but I forced myself to section them until I actually got through them without unclipping… which was, LOL, rough… to say the least. I have the scars to testify. Rocks hurt. The general outline is as follows: I’d ride a technical trail that I knew had sections that would give me issues. If I messed up a spot, I’d try to ride it again. If I messed it up again, I’d set the bike down, walk the section, and try and trace the line I’d need to take to get through it. I would literally talk to myself, out loud, and coach myself through the section if need be (crazy person wandering around in the woods talking to herself). Then, I’d go back to my bike, take a second to visualize myself doing what I had just told myself to do, and then try again. Usually that was enough for me to get it, but there were plenty of sections that required 5+ tries for me to be able to ride them. Instead of getting frustrated because I just wanted to ride, I changed my mind set to “this is skills practice, I’m not here to ride, I’m here to learn.” It worked out pretty well!
- I rode with people who are much better than me and I actually paid attention to what they were doing. I actually let them give me advice and tell me what I should be doing. I don’t usually do that, I’m semi-ashamed to admit. I’m kinda headstrong. Again, totally stupid if you ever want to get better at something. You have to listen to people who know better than you. Even if you can’t do what they’re saying, it’s important to absorb it and let it sink into your brain. At some point down the road, what they’re saying will make sense and will be super helpful. Watching is also important. I watch the people I ride with and try and study their movements. I also spend a ton of time watching mountain bike videos to study the movements of professionals. Then, when I ride, I have a visual in my mind for how I should be moving my body. If you fill your mind with visuals of the correct way to ride a bike, you’ll naturally start to mimic it.
- When I see something I’m not sure I can do, I just go for it. Within reason. Not trying to break an arm and ruin next season altogether, but if I see a rock or something a little tricky that I feel is in the fastest line, I just go for it. I’ve noticed that the more I do this, not only am I seeing faster, more efficient lines, but I’m improving my ability to actually take them. Doing this has also helped me learn to take my XC bike off of jumps, and through much more technical terrain than I thought it could handle, increasing my confidence in both myself and the bike.
- I practice raw skills in my front yard. Wheelies, hops, etc. I go out in the yard and play on the bike… like a little kid… which is not a far stretch for my maturity level to get to. My comfort level on the bike increases and so does my ability to do these little tricks. Albeit, not much yet. But again: 10,000 attempts. I’m just putting numbers into the basket until I eventually reach that point when the numbers culminate in an ability to do something I couldn’t before, consistently, on demand. End game. Plus, my inner child rejoices at getting to eff around like a super nerd in the front yard for hours while the neighbors wonder what the heck I’m doing. I like confusing them. Everyone wins!!
The road ahead is still pretty long as far as taking my tech skills to where they need to be, but I at least have drawn the outline for how to do it. Coming into December, the time for upping skills is winding down, but with the plan intact I can still incorporate practice into my regular training plan with efficiency.
I am amped AF to see what all this will translate into for this next year’s race season. Hopefully something. LOL.
Heck yes, 2016.
Oh yah, and I did my first Super D ever at Glen Park during this upping of tech skillz 3 month bikefest. I lost by 3 seconds but it was some of the best fun I’ve ever had. Definitely will be doing more of this kind of race in 2016 (they play right into my love for speed). Check it out: