Taking My Own Advice


Here’s the thing I love and hate about being a coach in one part of my life and an athlete in the other: I feel like I need to take my own advice. And lately I’ve been talking a lot about positive thinking and how it works.

Meanwhile, in the athlete part of my life, I’m working on taking up a new sport. It’s called mountain biking. And before you say that it’s basically the same as road biking, let me assure you, it’s NOT even remotely close to road biking. Yes I’m on a two-wheeled contraption powered by the circular motion of my feet and legs but that’s about where the similarities end.

For example, in road biking, when turning right, I just weight the left pedal and lean into the turn and drive the bike through the corner. Simple! Fast! Fun!

In mountain biking, when turning right, nothing happens. Well, something happens deep in the recesses of my brain (perhaps a line of code is missing a semi-colon?) and I end up standing at the entry of the turn, one foot clipped in, realizing I’m befuddled and in no position to ride thru the turn. Dismount. Walk. Sigh.

In mountain biking there is also the problem of mud and these sicky-uppy things in the trail called rocks. Some are even slippery rocks, depending on their proximity to mud. Just ride around, right? That’s what my road bike brain says to do. But….. this single-track is 8-inches wide and, um, that’s a thousand foot slide down the mountains. [Mom, this may be slight hyperbole.]

Out there on the rocky, uphill single track that started my ride today, I nearly quit when I was caught in an avalanche of negative thinking. “I can’t clip in, I can’t get going, I can’t ride on rocks, I’m scared of the bumps and the wet leaves and the ruts.” My road bike mental code doesn’t know what to do with all these new inputs.

In the years since being hit by a car and then knocked silly in a crash at the velodrome, I’ve learned that when my brain doesn’t have a ready, efficient bit of code to run, panic takes over.

The panic program was kicking into high gear ten minutes into our adventure today. I could barely breathe, I was about to cry, and I yelled at my husband, “this is not ‘basically a fire road!'” Sadly, I am a jerk sometimes.

Luckily, I am also Irish. (Read: stubborn.) Frustrated – “I just want to be able to RIDE!!” – I RAN with my bike up through a set of rocky, twisty switchbacks until I found a relatively wide, flat bit of trail, threw a leg over the top tube. “Clip in stupid pedals,” I yelled as I slammed my foot down.

It worked. Okay, I was going! Then the trail narrowed again, and there were rocks. My road bike brain was still running the panic sequence: shallow breathing, locking up muscles, inner monologue yelling “I’m scared! Rocks! Cliff! Slow down! Stop!!”

The thing was, I knew if I stopped pedaling I WOULD crash so I just started talking to myself. Out loud. Like, really out loud, because I had to drown out the inner monologue.

“You got this! Yeah, rocks. Doing awesome. Hey, mud. You can do this. Oooooh, you’re okay. Pedal pedal pedal. Uh-huh. Keep going. Big rock. Hi bump. Go Kelly.”

Sounds nutty, but it totally worked. When I caught up to my husband, he was standing in a clearing, grinning at me when I came around the corner.

“What? Heh, could you hear me talking to myself?”

He laughed, “Uh, yeah!”

“I don’t care. I rode that whole thing!”

Turns out, when you have ACTUAL sound to process, you can’t “hear” the negative stuff thats getting in the way of your doing what you want to do.

I rode a bunch of miles on narrow rocky single track today. Talking to myself the entire way. Hey, whatever works.

And for the record, shortly after my frustrated outburst/running sprint, the trail widened out into basically a fire road, and rolled along at the top of the coastal range on a picturesque California spring day. Thanks J, awesome ride.

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