It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, but there has been plenty of cycling going on in the meantime (and a bit of running. And a tiny bit of swimming. Bad triathlete!).
I’ve been doing a fair bit of mountain biking. I went on a Dirtschool skills course at Glentress, which was fabulous – I went in with quite a bit of trepidation that I wasn’t good enough and that I’d get scared, and ended up having a go at everything we learnt that day, having a great time, and coming away with plenty of things to practice.
I have even signed up to do my Mountain Bike Leader award, on the grounds that I am organising club rides and hoping to start a club at school. Again, I have been a little bit worried that I’m trying to run before I can walk. And that brings me to the point of this post: confidence.
Of all the times I’ve tried something and failed while mountain biking, only once or twice has it been due to trying something beyond my skills (the most memorable was probably the time I tried to roll off a massive jump and cut my calves to ribbons on my spiky pedals. It was that or plough into the trail face-first). Most of the time, what happens is this: I ride up to a feature on the trail, decide it looks scary, and slam on the brakes. Often, this is then followed by a comedy slow-motion stumble over the handlebars.
Then I get frustrated. Particularly if I am with other people who can ride it with ease. Especially if those people have been mountain biking for a shorter length of time than me. (Competitive? Me? Never!). I then get into a vicious circle for the rest of the ride, during which time I am convinced I am rubbish and won’t even attempt to ride even the simplest obstacles.
I am determined to get over this lack of confidence. I have the skills to ride almost everything I’m likely to encounter (as long as I don’t go hurling myself off Black routes). It is, as I have been told more than once, all in my head.
So here are a few things I’ve tried that have helped my confidence to ride scary-looking features.
- Riding with other people. Especially if they are good riders and I have confidence in their ability to pick out a line – I’ll happily follow a trusted rider’s wheel in situations where I might think twice on my own.
- No negative self-talk. Seriously. Last week, while we were on holiday in the Lake District, we visited the trail centre at Whinlatter. I noticed that every time I caught myself thinking “I can’t ride that,” I would bottle it. Even small, entirely non-hazardous features like tiny rock steps – afterwards, I would then beat myself up about not having a go. Which brings me to:
- Wilful positive thinking. Bigging up my mountain bike skills doesn’t feel natural – I constantly catch myself saying things like, “I’m a rubbish mountain biker.” Well, it’s not true and I’m going to stop doing it. I DO have the skills. I’m making a point of reminding myself how much I’ve improved.
- Sessioning it. When I bottled the aforementioned tiny rock step on a climb at Whinlatter, I was a good distance ahead of the people behind me so I knew I wouldn’t be in their way. I went back down the trail a bit and did it again. And this time I got up it. Likewise, when I stopped at a scary-looking rocky, twisty descent on one of the Red trails, I got annoyed with my instinctive reaction of “eek! I can’t ride that!” and, with the encouragement of my companions, rode it about 3 times, each time getting a bit further down it before putting my foot down.
- Strava! No, seriously. More than once I’ve come back from a solo ride feeling despondent about my riding, only to find that I’ve got a bunch of PRs.
- Protective gear. I’ve just invested in some knee pads, and did find that reminding myself I was wearing them gave me a bit of confidence!
- Trail centres. I’m generally happier to fling myself off stuff on a man-made trail because I know it’s designed to be rideable, whereas on natural trails you never know what’s round the corner. If I need a confidence boost a visit to a nice, fast, swooshy trail centre normally does the trick.
- Finally, just getting on with it. Sometimes, even if something looks scary or unpleasant, you just have to make a leap of faith!