The leaves are popping here. They’re literally exploding with color. One day things were starting to bud and turn green, and then over night someone snuck into nature, attached an electric current to everything, and the next morning flipped it on.
Picture this: I’m riding my bike in this explosion of green. I’ve learned a little about coming off drops, thrusting my weight backwards and landing even. I’m not proficient, but I feel confident speeding things up and trying steeper drops. Its evening, the sun is starting to head to bed, and I’m zipping down a steep trail in the dusk, where the left over sunlight is filtering through hazy trees.
I break a little too hard and fall off to the side of my bike, landing smack on a root with my tailbone. There’s a lot of pain, the most pain I’ve experienced mountain biking yet in fact. I sit dazed for a minute; this is my first real crash. I struggle to my feet, walk the rest of the steep section, and then head home to nurse my tailbone.
The next time I went mountain biking I realized I was approaching the down hills much slower, and walking around a lot of the steeper looking drops. This trend continued, and I registered the sudden change in my head game.
Monitoring my head game is nothing new. I’m a kayaker, and I’ve had friends who’ve died kayaking. I know how crazy your head can get. I’ve had scary situations, blowing desperately on my whistle hoping my friend in front of me hears me in time to pull me into the last eddy before a rapid with a cave at the bottom (then, once I grabbed the back of his boat, in the split second before he started paddling like a bat from hell, I said calmly, “Justin, I really need you right now”).
I’ve done a lot of work on my head game in the last few years. There was the one-year my head game was so out of control I didn’t even kayak. And once I started kayaking again, I did some furious work on my head. I learned a few strategies and ways to calm my head down to allow myself to paddle calmly and totally focused.
I started by telling myself I didn’t have to run anything I didn’t want to run. I still do this. When I get on the Green, I remind myself that every rapid is a choice. And I don’t have to make that choice until I’m at that rapid. And if I decide I don’t want to run a rapid, then it’s totally fine and I’ll walk. Knowing that I have so much time and so many options keeps my mind calm and lets me enjoy the day, making decisions one rapid at time.
I have mantras I repeat. One I’m fond of is, “I don’t know if I can do this, but I have to”, or “I know I have the skills, I just have to focus”. Repeating these leave little room for doubts and panic to set in, and allow me to feel the water and hit my line.
I let myself build up to rapids slowly. Should I still be walking Zwicks as much as I do? No. I have the skills, I have the ability, I have the reflexes. But that rapid, or rather what it happens to be right above, intimidates the hell out of me. So I let myself walk it while I get comfortable, truly comfortable on everything else out there. Once I am comfortable on everything else, I’ll start running Zwicks again. But for now, I’m letting myself choose every time.
I also practice a lot of yoga. Practicing yoga helps me learn how to calm myself, focus on my breath and the move I’m making in that moment. When I’m in a rapid that is challenging to me or messing with my head, I can return to my breath and focus only on the stroke I’m making at that moment. Yoga also helps keep me strong but limber, so that’s a win-win in my book!
These are just a few strategies I use to improve my head game. With mountain biking, I’ll start focusing on practicing the skills I need to be more stabile on the downhill. I’ll focus on pulling my hips back and keeping them low, I’ll focus on my breath, and when I’m on a downhill I’ll repeat the mantras. And when I’m on the Green, I’ll look at Zwicks and one day (soon), I’ll hop in my boat and come soaring through, all the while breathing in and out and in and out.