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Friday, August 30, 2013

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Ego: 1, Jamie: 0.

Yesterday was the last Short Track race at Jackson Park, and it couldn't have been a more perfect setting.  Close to seventy people gathered on a hillside on a gorgeous evening to watch children and categories 1-3 get rugged and dirty around a challenging trail in the back woods.  For the last week or two, I had it in mind that I would buck up and do the last race of the season.  I recognized my fears diminishing when going out on the trails more and more, and having fully recovered from last week's triathlon, I was ready for another adrenaline-soaked event.  

So the day before I did a few run-throughs of the loop around the park. I've gotten significantly better at coasting, keeping only two fingers on the front brake instead of four.  Everything was fine until I got to THE hill. I had fallen on that hill before when going down it, but had no idea the challenge it would present going up. As soon as I rounded the sharp bend leading directly into the climb, I'd be able to push my wheels just four feet up before the power was extinguished by the rocky dunes. I turned my bike around to start the hill over again, beginning further back so I had room to switch gears. Got up two feet further before my back wheel slipped into a deep rut causing all momentum to stop.  Five more tries at this.  Yet every time my momentum tanked and I had to run the bike up. The ego deflation after falling once and failing to clear that giant hill for the sixth time in a row was so profound, my mind made itself up to not participate in the race the next day.
(Is that a pedal imprint?)
Gnot gnarly enough!!
I attended the race the next day as spectator and videographer instead of contender in the Cat 3 group. (My partner, Paul Songy, came out to film as well. You can watch our finished product here!)
My reasons for not going through with it were that I wasn't technically ready yet since I had to stop and walk my bike up the hill every time. My thought was, why would they include such a grueling hill as part of the race if it wasn't exclusive to people who call themselves "MTB fanatics"? So imagine the velocity my stomach and pride dropped when I went to that hill to film the cat-3 racers and saw almost everyone walking/running their bikes up the hill. I totally could have raced. 

People, listen to me: Your ego. Will. Destroy you. Not massive, rocky, steep hills. Your pride is the number one reason you will not improve. And this goes for all skill sets. 

A'ight, we're moving past this -- let's stare fear in the face and learn how the hell one can master mountains like a Woodruff or a Cogburn!!

it's power, baby.

Last time I talked about wheel sizes and how, mechanically, a 29 is better for rolling over those larger obstacles than a 26.  One of the trickiest parts to maintaining a steady cadence up a rock-strewn climb is having enough power to propel you over each of those jagged bumps and still having the strength to carry yourself and the bike upward.  A low gear will only leave you spinning in place, so shift up to a harder gear. It gives you that extra wattage to groove over the bumps.  What you don't want to do, though, is shift in mid-climb. Be aware of what's coming. 

Won't matter what gear you're in, though, if you don't know how to use those leg muscles.  There's a thoroughbred in each of us waiting to be unleashed, and certain positioning allows you to milk those legs for all they're worth.  Look ahead: are you going to be going up a hill for some time? It may be in your best interest to stay seated to avoid knee pain. Hunker your body down to lower your center of gravity, keep those elbows bent to maintain traction on the front wheel, and lift your quads as though you were trying to bring your knees to the handlebars.  

Sometimes you need that extra boost, though, especially if you're trying to pull ahead to catch the rider in front of you. Personally I wouldn't recommend trying to stand on an uphill technical climb if you're just beginning, since the back wheel won't have enough weight to secure it from sliding all over the place.  But standing with your tailbone hovering just over the saddle's nose can really give you that extra somethin-somethin when you're ready to improve your speed.

Here's a short video with some more tips. This guy gets it. "Momentum is key" but traction is the name of the game.

as with anything else worth doing...

...practice makes perfect.  If you're just beginning to realize how exhilarating it is to ride, then understand too how much more thrilling it will be once you are able to clear those stop-you-in-your-tracks hills. Round up a group of cyclists who are better than you and watch what they do.  Almost every mtb rider I've come in contact with will practically trip over themselves to share their life lessons with you.  So don't be afraid to ask! 

Or if you're riding solo most of the time, just remember to work on the technique of shifting your body weight forward and maintaining a steady rpm. And always, always, always LOOK AHEAD to be ready to make a gear shift in time. Work on building those leg muscles up, on and off the saddle. Here are some helpful workouts for when you're training indoors.  And if you want to get more tips on how to become a better climber in general, look no further than Active's Guide to Climbing Hills.  It also is really helpful to understand the mechanics of your particular bike before you hop on the trails, instead of relying solely on trial-by-error.  Bike Radar wrote up a tidy guide to mountain bike gears if you need a refresher.

That's all the humility I have for today.  Take lesson for the week: If it wasn't challenging, it wouldn't be fun.  Keep facing those fears and you'll be gangbusters.  Check back next week for more trial and error adventures!

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