5 Advanced Mountain Bike Racing Tips

1) Give your brain the information it needs to guide you through the race

Your brain knows everything that you do. It may seem like a silly statement but many people will ignore what they spontaneously think in favor of something they consciously think. Don’t look at rocks and think “there is a rock”, scan along the trail ignoring what you see. Come back to the rocks only if your eyes come back to them, but it is most likely that your brain will determine a better line and look at something other than the rocks. To do prime your brain with sensory input, deliberately move your eye fixations back and forth along the upcoming trail allowing the sensory input to flood into your brain. Doing this will give your brain the best chance of creating an accurate mental image of the trail that it will then work with to determine the best line and effort level.

Doing this requires a lot of focus and it is pretty draining. The good news is that you’ll only need it when you are going very quickly or riding on pretty technical terrain.

2) Do not pay attention to things that you cannot impact

When you are riding fairly quickly, there is little point in looking at what you are about to ride over because there is very little you can do about it – if you cannot react to what you see, you are not looking far enough ahead and you shouldn’t be aware of it.The same applies to other riders. Do not count on them to make a mistake or call you round because that takes the out come of the race out of your control. Your goal is to get to the finish line injury free and as fast as you possibly can. Anything that takes away from that goal should be eliminated from your race behavior. Flawless riding will get you to your goal and that will only come to be if you focus on the riding.

3) Start your nutritional recovery as soon as you cross the finish line

You should consider consuming dextrose / maltodextrin during the ride. This will allow you to take advantage of the window of opportunity for increased cellular transport.If you have no idea what dextrose and maltodextrin are you should read my post on Post Workout Nutrition. It represents the most up to date science available for body building nutrition and deals with getting the most amount of recovery sugar and protein to the muscles to promote the fastest recovery. Studies have shown that there is a finite absorption rate for each macro nutrient and my recommendations are based on these values – bring in ONLY what your body can use per unit of time. If you bring in more than your body can use you are increasing the likelihood of fat storage. While still unlikely after intense racing, it is possible when you are dealing with high GI carbs like dextrose.

4) Follow an adequate training tapper before your races

If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, just make sure you are well enough rested on race day to perform will as much intensity as you need. Athletes and their coaches tend to come up with complete ways of describing their simple behavior and for they’ve come up with the term tapper to mean a reduction in training before a competition to ensure complete recovery.

Depending upon the event you are participating in, you will need to vary the amount of rest you get. Cross country racers will need to about 2-4 days of dramatically reduced work load before a race because this event does not rely heavily on coordinated muscular strength or power; you are basically holding your top maintainable pace for the duration of the ride. Downhill racers may need to reduce work volume in the week leading up to the event to make sure the nervous system is completely recovered allowing for improved muscle coordination and synchronous firing that can be needed for aggressive down hill racing.At the very least an athlete should not ride with full intensity in the 3 days leading up to an event and they should focus on nutritional recovery after any training or pre-lap rides they take.

You are going to need to experiment with the volume and duration of your tapper for find the perfect balance between rest, recovery and performance. When you find that sweet spot, I’ve found that most of the nervousness about racing goes away because you know you are as well prepared as you can be.

5) Train all year round

This will have more impact on your racing results than anything else you can do. While less important for younger riders, the over 27 crowd doesn’t have a choice in the matter. If you are close to your 30’s, you are going to lose cardiovascular functioning during the off season UNLESS you train with high intensity for 30 minutes 3 times a week. Note, this is just the maintenance level. Improvements are very unlikely with 90 minutes of training per week – think about the gains you make during the season, they are based on riding almost every day. The rule of thumb is the more you train the more you will improve, both in skill and in your body’s ability to adapt to the work.The training needs to be varied and you will benefit from cycling through different phases – strength building, cardio building, maintenance phases, and race tappers.

During the race season you should continue to perform some resistance training to maintain muscle and connective tissue strength. This will help you stay strong throughout the season and avoid injury. It has the added benefit of helping to burn up any extra calories that you may consume after your rides. 4 or 6 sets per body part per week should be sufficient to allow you to hold on to your strength and size.

Priming Your Brain With Sensory Input

Sometimes when I’m trail riding a tough rocky section I notice nothing at all. I see but I do not narrate, my mp3 player is wailing but I hear silence, there’s a shaking in my body but I feel nothing. It doesn’t last very long. In fact, it only lasts as long as my fear, so until the tough part is over. I’ve noticed the same thing with snow boarding, at some speed it stops being snow boarding and it starts being a state of pure awareness. Csikszentmihalyi referred to this as the flow state and outlined the benefits of functioning in this state.

What I like the most about this state is that there seems to be no separation between what I see and how I interact with it. I can’t use the word react to it because the actions have a mindful quality in that they do not cause a fight or flight reaction that one would expect from sustained fear. My brain is processing the sensory information and directing my body to perform the correct action, or at least one that doesn’t see me falling. The key part is that my consciousness does not have to control the seeking of information part, looking at the trail, and it doesn’t need to be involved in the processing and syntheses of a solution, assessing the obstacles and determining the best available path. My brain will do this automatically whenever it has to.

Over time I’ve experimented with this state and have tried to deliberately engage my conscious mind with very poor results. It dramatically disrupts the flow of the experience. On the bike I hit things, my peddles will crash off of rocks, my back tire will find grooves and I clip out or fall when the front tire runs into something that I should have avoided. The bike awareness I have seems to disappear almost completely. It seems that I am aware of ONLY what I am deliberately looking at and commenting on. The creation of the mental map that my brain uses to determine the best route is severely impaired. My involvement in this process is definitely not needed. I’m better off if I let my unconscious brain solve these types of problems.

So, how do I increase the likelihood that my brain will come to the right conclusion and direct my body to perform that correct action? Step one is practice so you teach your body how to move on the bike / snow board / your legs. This step takes a long time depending upon the complexity of the task. Once you are well versed in the movements needed to perform that task effectively you move on to the next phase. Step two deals with providing your brain with the sensory information it needs to create an accurate mental map of the environment on which to base solutions. Think about it this way, if you know 10% about something, what are the chances that you will be able to answer a question on that topic? About 10%. As you increase your knowledge, you increase the chances that you know the answer to the question. This is pretty much the same thing, with one big difference, this information only needs to exist as information in your brain for a very short time therefore a verbal representation is not need because you do not need to repeat it in to memory. That means you simply need to bring the information in and your brain will filter for relevance and encode meaning.

To ensure that you give your brain enough information to come up with the best solution you need to deliberately scan the environment in a mindless fashion. Normally we look at the world in terms of patterns or things we recognize as meaningful somethings. For example, you don’t need to know that the car that is approach is a Ford to know that if you get hit by it you will get injured, you just need to know that something big that is moving can be dangerous so you take appropriate action to avoid the collision. With flow sensory priming you just need to keep scanning the approaching area of the trail or somewhere were you MAY end up going. Very often your brain will find a tight line that is fairly straight, but occasionally you’ll find yourself darting to the other side of the trail and following a better line. You won’t know that you have seen it until you start to change direction and then as you begin to ride the better line you’ll notice it. The key is to continually scan the terrain bringing in as much information as you possible can.

Initially it is very draining to do this but once you find yourself in the flow state it becomes effortless because it is what you do when you are in that state.

It is worth directing you to Steve Pavlina article 7 Rules for Maximizing Your Creative Output because it’s an effective way to help you achieve a creative state of flow. Sports participants take notice that by virtue of the fact that you are participating in a sports activity (e.g. snow boarding or mountain biking) you have already taken the 7 steps. With a little bit of increased intensity (speed) and deliberate sensory priming you should be well on your way to finding that state of being one with the bike, hill, board.

The Discipline High – Part One

Every now and then someone will say something that makes me laugh out loud, ask them if they actually said it, and then laugh at how profoundly important yet completely obvious the comment is.

“Discipline high” was one of those comments.

I had been talking to a friend and discussing the merits of the body building bulk that I was on. It was late winter and he was getting ready to start back to the gym to shed the extra winter weight he had gained. He does this almost every year and has become pretty good at it.

When the topic of diet came up, he mentioned that one year he ate nothing but organic food. He enjoyed the taste of the food a lot more and felt that meats were more dense. He said that he figured dollar for dollar it worked out to be close to the same price, maybe a little more for the organically grown food. But he said that during this particular year, he got more of a discipline high from eating good quality food.

I laughed, asked him if he said discipline high and then laughed again. It had never crossed my mind that someone could get a high feeling from NOT doing something. This is, of course, how it works with me. Whenever I exercise I am rewarded with a chemical high (the release of neuro transmitters and endorphins) that promote the feelings of well being along with a cerebral high that is accompanied by feelings of accomplishment. Whenever I’m eating better, there is a rapid elimination of the negative physical feelings associated with a poor diet and a similar cerebral high that comes from making better food choices. The discipline high comes from this cerebral feeling and it reflects the sense of accomplishment that following through on your desire to make a positive change in your life creates. Given my tendency to seek pleasure or avoid pain, I must be getting something out of the strict diet if I’m to follow it. I believe that the discipline high is the pleasure that allows me to continue the pain (not eating whatever I like).

I have thought a lot about the discipline high since we spoke about it and when I read JoLynn’s daily Motivation: Creating Healthy Eating Habits post it hit on me that not everyone will experience it from following a strict diet. Maybe it is a learned behavior and the lucky one’s learned how to experience it when they were younger.

It isn’t clear to me if I am gaining more than I am giving up when I will myself to eat appropriately. What is clear is that I get enough out of it to keep doing it and the longer I do it, the easier it is to find that reward in the experience.

“Where Are You Really From?”

When I started reading Where are you really from? Asian Americans and the perpetual foreigner syndrome by Frank H. Wu I was shocked because I hadn’t realized that it was offensive to ask someone about their heritage.

“Where are you from?” is a question I like answering.

“Where are you really from?” is a question I really hate answering.

“Where are you from?” is a question we all routinely ask one another upon meeting a new person.

“Where are you really from?” is a question some of us tend to ask others of us very selectively.

For Asian Americans, the questions frequently come paired like that. Among ourselves, we can even joke nervously about how they just about define the Asian American experience. More than anything else that unifies us, everyone with an Asian face who lives in America is afflicted by the perpetual foreigners syndrome. We are figuratively and even literally returned to Asia and ejected from America.

Often the inquisitor reacts as if I am being silly if I reply, “I was born in Cleveland, and I grew up in Detroit,” or bored by a detailed chronology of my many moves around the country: “Years ago, I went to college in Baltimore; I used to practice law in San Francisco; and now I live in Washington, DC.”

Sometimes she reacts as if I am obstreperous if I return the question, “And where are you really from?”

But as I read on, it dawned on me that it isn’t offensive to ask that. What is offensive is to assume that just because someone doesn’t look like you they do not share the same citizenship as you or that they aren’t more Canadian or American (or British, or whatever) than you are; by more I mean having actually been born in the country. There are a lot of Canadians of Asian decent who have lived in Canada longer than I have.

Fake It Till You Make It

I was getting caught up with Suzanne last week and one of the topics that came up with the whole “fake it till you make it” approach to life – just do the things that someone who is what you want to be does and eventually you’ll find yourself being one of those people.

From a practical point of view, I like this approach because I tend to just jump right into things once I decide to do them. I won’t spend much time learning the back ground and theory until I can see the value of knowing them because knowing these things before I start doing something has rarely helped me in the past. I need to be immersed in the experience and work hands on prime my brain for working with experience. This is the only way to decide it you like something enough to try it again. Often it will turn out that we didn’t really want to be something we thought we did.

When you’re doing something, even just pretending to be something you may not be, you will most likely be surrounded by other people who are doing the same thing. This is a great opportunity for you to learn how to be more like something. Take bike racing as an example. Good racers do a bunch of things differently than most riders because they’ve learned how to get more out of their bodies on race day. Surrounding yourself with these people is going to teach you a lot of what you have to do to be successful “bike racer”.

Faking it does actually allow you to tap into your intention. If you really want to be something, why not just be it? It is the doing that makes the difference. Knowing a lot about a bike is very different from racing a bike. If you want to be a bike mechanic, learn about bikes. If you want to be a bike racer, race bikes. When you get right down to it, the only thing you need to do to be a bike racer is to race a bike. This approach answers the philosophical question “what does it mean to be something?”

The catchall is that even if you don’t become one of them you get to do the things you wanted to do and that isn’t so bad.

Get Off The Hedonic Treadmill – See Your Friends Regularly

The post A Mercedes Benz or a best friend? Hmmm…. by Colin Beavan has very little to do with Colin’s blog, I grabbed onto it because of his question “who doesn’t feel a tension between the time it takes to sustain their personal relationships and the time it takes to “get ahead”?” as he relates it to the hedonic treadmill theory.

When I was driven by a lust for money I figured that I was putting my relationships on hold temporarily and would, as a result of getting ahead, have enough money to free up the time to work on them later. It is equal parts brilliant and ridiculous. Brilliant for the few people that are able to make this approach work for them and retire young and ridiculous for the rest of us who work out our lives in vain sacrifice. But we do it because we have learned that this is how it works.

At some point my mind became aware of what I was doing and I started to consider my role in the whole thing. I made some changes after I considered what I want out of life and am now actively doing the things that I need to do.

I think that is a part of what Colin is getting at. Having become aware of the experience of not seeing his best friend, he’s seen the relationship between working hard as measured by sacrificing personal relationships and getting ahead as measured by job, creative and academic successes. One has the immediate known reward of seeing the people you like while the other has a delayed unknown reward of whatever achieving these successes will bring you. This reminded me of shortcut one from Happiness Is A Choice – make happiness a priority.

With regards to finally getting to hang out with his best friend, Colin says

Yesterday, at last, Tanner and I debriefed about our marriages, our work, people we know in common, hot chicks we saw on the street, the first coffee I was having in three weeks (social exception from the local food rule), movie stars, our therapists, computers, and politics. I felt, after all that time without each other, like a dry sponge soaking up water.

Sounds like they had fun and, for an afternoon at least, they both got off the treadmill.

Do You Know Art When You See It? Bouncy Balls: The Sony Bravia Commercial

About a month ago Des had some people over to play guitar. As is the case with most of these evenings everyone sits around chatting and getting caught-up before we play a lick. And we usually have a few drinks.

The TV was on in the back ground and something like Media Television was doing a special on recent commercials that were worth watching. When the segment featuring the Sony Bravia commercial with the superballs bunching down a couple of San Francisco Streets everyone in the room stopped talking. The commercial features José González’s song Heartbeats, a moving acoustic guitar gem, and 250000 brightly colored superballs. The show played the extended version of the commercial which is about 2:02 long and only referenced the product during the last 10 seconds.

Like I said, we were speechless. It is a beautiful way to spend 2 minutes of your life and a couple of things stood out about the experience.

Watching it, everyone knew there was something different or important about it. Visually, we had never seen anything like it before in my life. The balls looked like they were swarming and had a collective consciousness that directed their movement. The shadows that the balls threw to the ground added to the overwhelling visual stimulation. This was a brand new visual experience and I think everyone gained a huge insite into some of the untaped power that our eyes hold.

Listening to it I realized that Heartbeats was one of the songs that I had on my mp3 player during my trip to the east coast last summer and I had listen to it a lot. But I had never heard it in the context of passive stimulation before, always when I was riding my bike. When it was paired with what was happening on the screen, I appreciated the lyrics for their beauty and for the feelings they are attempting to capture.

It was such a collectively moving experience that I concluded that it must have been art. I’m not sure if you’ll agree, but I’m pretty certain that you’ll enjoy the commercial.

For more information about the commercial and how it was made, visit the Bouncy Balls: The BRAVIA Commercial site.

NOTE: the video does take a while to load depending upon your internet speed.

Are Lifters On Their Way Out Of Fitness Clubs?

I really like lifting weights and building mass. It’s a lot of fun and I like having a nice body. The experience of building muscle is fantastic because it looks and feels good, it makes doing physical things easier and it gives you a huge lesson in body awareness. I’m going to stick with building muscle.

But I’m also a cycling instructor. Riding an indoor bike is an athletic activity, like running fast on a tread mill, but it isn’t a mass building activity. In fact, of the 6 different fitness classes that are offered at our gym, only one of them is geared towards mass building. And there is very little cross over between the fitness class participant members and the mass building members. I’m one of the rare members who participates in both weight lifting for mass and group exercise. But I’ll do whatever is put in front of me to do. And that brings us to cardio equipment.

There is a third type of exercise that people come to the gym for and that it cardiovascular exercise. This is the middle ground between lifting and Group Ex. Many lifters and Group Exers use the cardio equipment to burn extra calories. Some people actually use it as cardio equipment, working at high enough intensities to dramatically improve their cardiovascular health.

So of these three types of members, lifters, group exers and cardio freaks, what drives the bottom line of a gym? Well, moving forward I think it is going to be group fitness and here is why:

Lifters are always lifters. There are a few people who turn to the plates later in life. It’s a lifestyle if you want to make it work and most people don’t get that much out of it to start doing it when they’re any older than their 20’s. This group more or less stays the same size and grows or shrinks based on the number of people who are in the lifting age range. The point is, don’t count on there being a big increase in the number of lifting only members at your gym. The good news is they cost very little to keep once the initial over head has been laid out. Their retention depends more on the initial cash outlay for equipment than anything else. Keep the equipment working and leave them be.The cardio only people are the same way. Buy enough good equipment when you open your club and you won’t have to worry about this group. Cardio only people train themselves and they keep to themselves. Their numbers are dependent upon the age of the population.

This leaves Group Ex. Group Ex is where you need to focus your effort because it entices members who need more than just the equipment to perform a workout, it grabs them because Group Ex provides the motivation and education to help members get their workout. Along with helping to get people involved, Group Ex makes it fun. It adds enjoyment to an otherwise joyless experience which will help to ensure participant retention. Since the classes are very effective at building fitness, making them fun is going to improve your bottom line.

Group Ex will open your gym up to a much larger audience than the traditional group of users, thus driving your bottom line.

The beauty of it for a gym owner is that there is very little overhead associated with group exercise. The initially start-up costs are marginal in comparison to resistance training or cardio equipment. Operating costs are also low when compared to cardio and only slightly larger than resistance training costs.

The only cost that group exercise has that the others do not is the cost of the instructor. This is were you are going to need to invest the most effort to ensure that you maximize the growth potential of the group exercise market. Good instructors will facilitate exceptional experiences for participants, turning them into vocal advocates for the classes. They generate really positive word of mouth opinion about your club.

I compare instructors to personal trainers because both serve a very similar role and appeal, to a large extent, to the same type of people, those who need social accountability or external motivation in order to engage in fitness activities. Group Ex is going to do to that fitness studio what personal training has done to your lifting section, turn it into a money maker.

My Top 10 Books

Before the Internet I used to read books. It sounds funny to say that because I probably spend a couple of hours a day reading stuff online. I’m pretty certain that is why my list of favorite books have only 2 that were written this century.

  1. Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives by Dan Millman
    I have read this book 5 or 6 times and have given it as a gift once. My brother gave it to me after my girlfriend was killed in a car crash. It was my first experience with death and grief and it really threw me a downward spiral. I honestly believe that Des giving me this book kept me alive. There is so much wisdom in it that I will read it every couple of years to refresh my understanding.
  2. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
    I have read this book three times and given it as a gift twice. It’s another recommendation from my brother and I’m still coming to terms with the significance of the lessons Gladwell offers. It an easy book to read and the real world examples are keenly relevant and very illustrative. It gave me the reasons why I should trust my gut. It is an important book for those of us who still engage people in real-space.
  3. Feeling Good – The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D.
    My dad suggested this one to me. Reading it was an awakening for me. I had never considered the act of thinking before I read it. After words, I developed an interest in the science of thinking. It’s just too bad I read it in the last 2 months of university.
  4. A Day In the Live Of Ivan Desinovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
    I have read this book 6 times. During my first year at Ottawa University I took a half year English class to satisfy one of their requirements. We were placed according to some criteria. I am convinced that they placed me in the wrong class because I didn’t know the difference between a noun and an adjective. English literature was what they gave me and it’s what I did. This book and a C- are all I took out of it. I read this book at night when the job I’m doing at the time is getting me down.
  5. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
    I have read this book once, in grade 6. But I’ve probably seen 4 or 5 different movies / TV versions of the it. I loved the story and liked that the kids were doing all these cool things. I guess I wanted to be Tom or Huck because they didn’t let the rules get in the way of their plans.
  6. Speed Trap: Inside the Biggest Scandal in Olympic History by Charlie Francis
    I have read this book 3 times. I bought it because one of my high school teachers coached Larry Cain during those Olympics and his description of the Canadian athletes shock and disbelief after the positive result was released was intense. Charlie Francis tells a compelling tail of what it took to be the fastest man on earth. The chapter titled “The Running” captures the entire 100 meter race with complete clarity. It’s the best chapter of a book I have ever read.
  7. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
    I have read this book once. McCourt seems to write from the perspective of a 5 year old boy. You feel sorry for the life he’s living, but grateful that he’s too young to know just how bad he has it. Tis, the follow-up book was also very good.
  8. The Regulators and
  9. Desperation by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
    I have read each of these books once. They tackle the same story from 2 completely different perspectives, one from the suburbs and one from a desert town. I’m sure King could tell it another 10 different ways and all would be best sellers. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re starting with gold.
  10. Getting Things Done by David Allen
    I have read this book once, but some parts of it 2 or 3 times. It’s another one Des recommended. It’s a time management book. The biggest tip I took out of it was about adding the next physical step you need to for each item on your to-do list. Doing so allows your brain to consider the loop closed for now and divert effort over to the task at hand.