I’ve never been a massive fan of roots, but mountain biking here in Scotland they are just something you have to contend with.
I like to think that I know the basics: try to hit them square on, do NOT break on them, unweight the bike slightly, do NOT break on them, consider tire pressure, do NOT break on them……. (You get the idea) and practice, practice, practice. But what happens when it does all go wrong and you have to retrain your brain to deal with these slippery little suckers all over again?
I was recently reading an article by Lauren Jenkins for Total Women’s Cycling in which Rachel Atherton shares her top tips for ‘conquering your fears’. The article is a great read, but a few things really stood out for me. Rachel states: “Crashing makes you realise that you are not made of glass and it’s ok to take a spill. It’s rarely as bad as you think it will be.” I love her philosophy and I know I’m not made of glass, but I did crash, on a root, and I did break!!! I broke my leg in 3 places and needed a fair bit of metal to fix me. (To be fair though, that’s something Rachel is no stranger to either.)
So where to start? Well, I can be pretty determined when I put my mind to it and I don’t like to feel beaten by anything, so the 2nd trail I rode once getting back on my Mtb, was the one I crashed on. I rode ‘the’ root fine and carried on to ride the rest of the trail; taking it easy but getting a feel for the roots again and felt ok. This experience however, would not be the shape of things to come; when it comes to roots, it seems that my head has gone!! With the benefit of hindsight I probably pushed myself too far, too fast. I wanted to get out of the trail centre and get back to what I was riding just before my crash…. steep, rooty, natural forest trails. Trails that are relatively new to me and trails that I don’t yet know like the back of my hand. I wanted to keep up with the girls; mates who hadn’t just had 12 weeks off the bike, mates who were getting fitter, faster & more skilled. They were always fantastic and were up for riding anywhere with me, but patience is not one of my strong points and I had to push myself; prove to myself that I hadn’t been affected by what had happened.
The result……. well I can only describe my riding of those trails as like that of a donkey, a 3 legged donkey at that!!!! I’m scared!!!! It turns out that I’m bloody scared of roots! I’m not scared of crashing, I’m not scared of the root I crashed on. I’m not scared of roots I’m familiar with, but I’m scared of random, great big, wet roots that appear, usually in a corner, and I break on them!!!!!! Aaaaaargh. I discovered this through a series of “spills”……. great! 2 slips/bumps and 1 over the bars, all in the space of a month. As I approached the root involved in the OTB incident I’d just cleared a steep rocky section, I’d eyed the root, I’d chosen my line for hitting the root and for exiting the corner, I was looking ahead and repeating to myself “Don’t break on the root. Don’t break on the root!” I must have had just enough time to glance down as I was about to fly through the air as it appeared that my right hand was in a vice-like death grip around my break and my bike was no longer moving. F#@k ?!?!?!?
I’m really not one to be beaten so I brushed myself down, pushed back up the trail and rode it again. It wasn’t particularly hard or steep and didn’t give me any problem the second time, so what went wrong? (Other than the vice-like, death grip on my front break that is.) Was my head still on the steep bit I’d just tackled? Was it because it was an unfamiliar obstacle on an unfamiliar trail and I couldn’t process it due to my new fear? Was it my negatively phrased mantra on approaching the obstacle? I’ll probably never know, it was maybe all 3, but more importantly I need to move on.
I’ll ride that trail again and again and again and I’ll probably never come off on that root again. But why was my brain still on the root when I hit it and not a few meters ahead on the trail? And what can I do about that? My plan when I started writing this blog, was that I’d share my difficulties, get out on my bike a few times, then share how I overcame them. That’s not going to be the case. This is going to be an issue for me for a while. Time on my bike will be key. Once again, Rachel Atherton’s words are ringing in my ears: “Time on a bike counts for so much. The more time you spend on your bike, the more variety of situations you will find yourself in, and it will become normal.” More and more these days I’m finding myself pressed for time, so I tend to go out and ride as much and as fast as I can. I honestly can’t remember the last time I sessioned a trail. Now that I’m riding more technical stuff and have this issue with certain roots, I really should be sessioning trail features more frequently, not less!
Even the dogs aren’t sure which line to take!
So my next steps: I’m going to build in regular time or specific rides for sessioning various rooty sections, new or technical trails. I’m going to find more positive mantras: Head up, look ahead, low and loose, elbows bent etc. etc. etc. I’m going to try so hard to glance at a root then look ahead, on to the next section/obstacle and keep going!!!!! (Pha, so easy to say) And I’m going to invest in a bit of coaching………. ……….. TBC.