Mountain biking can be frustrating AF. It’s also fun AF too, of course, but I think when we’re trying to sell our non-bike friends on the sport we often oversell the fun factor and forget to mention that, oh by the way, this sport is kinda HARD. Sometimes you will crash and bleed. Sometimes you will crash on the same root six times in a row. Sometimes you will cry or yell or throw your bike into the bushes. Of course, I personally think it’s worth all of the frustration — but I also think it’s better to be realistic and that more people will stick with the sport if we all take a little time out to recognize that it’s freaking hard for ALL OF US.
One of my missions with this blog is to be as real as possible about the fact that even though I’m all pro and shit (lol), I still totally lose my cool, get frustrated and think I can’t ride worth a damn. There is no magic day where suddenly mountain biking is easy (or if there is, I sure as hell have not arrived there yet, and I’m not sure I want to). That said, I get frustrated way less now than I did three or four years ago. Part of this is that I’m in way better shape, and it’s always easier to deal with frustration when your heart rate is not 200bpm and your brain isn’t leaking out your ears. But a bigger part of it is that I have recognized scenarios that frustrate me, and developed strategies for dealing with them. So here are some common scenarios that push all my buttons and the coping mechanisms that work for me.
1. Being the slowest on a ride. I’ve been in this position a lot, and it used to bother me, even if I was riding with a bunch of fast, professional athletes and there was no expectation for me to be faster than I was. As I wrote, in this post, a really important step for dealing with this scenario is not apologizing and calling yourself slow at every intersection, as this just reinforces the frustration. I also find it helpful to try to focus on what I can learn, instead of how far behind I am. If it’s an XC ride and I’m being annihilated on the climbs, I just try to look at it as an opportunity to gain some fitness and push myself. If I’m being dropped on the descents, I try to stick on someone’s wheel for as long as I can and try to see their lines. If I’m totally by myself, I take the opportunity to practice my cornering, or just enjoy the trail, or whatever. If you’re learning something, or having fun, who cares? Most likely not the people you’re riding with.
2. People are watching you struggle. This used to be a MASSIVE problem for me. I could not handle riding anything technical if there were a bunch of people standing around gawking. There is no easy fix for this, but I’ve slowly become desensitized to crowds after doing a few EWS races. Pre-riding for an EWS used to really stress me out because there were always people standing around watching at the nastiest bits. Not to mention I would be constantly getting caught by guys going about mach 10 speed. Earlier this year while pre-riding in Corral, I had a stunning realization — I no longer gave a shit, and I no longer dove out of the way the moment I heard someone behind me. Sure I was happy to let someone by when it was convenient, but I had finally realized my own right to exist in that space and pre-ride for the race. It made everything so much easier. If this is a problem for you, here are a few things to remember — first of all, the people standing around don’t really care about you. They are thinking about their own race, what line they’re going to hit, etc. If they’re spectators, they’re just there for a good time and to cheer you on. They aren’t judging. They don’t care. Honestly, the worse you look, the more impressed they will be that you’re out there doing it. Secondly, and I’ve written this before — even if you ride/walk/run down something HORRIBLY, people will be impressed if you smile or crack a joke (or if you’re racing, just keep going without losing your temper). So if you care what people think (and don’t we all?), try to impress them by having a good attitude, as that is something that’s under your control.
3. Crashing in a race. Crashing at any point can be frustrating, but during a race is when I tend to totally panic and lose it. You’re losing time! Must get up and go faster to make up for it! As you can well imagine that often backfires with another crash and then another and before you know it, full on shitstorm and your race run is ruined. I cannot tell you how many times in my first year of racing I had relatively minor crashes but then proceeded to flush the rest of the run down the drain by going into panic mode and crashing again and again and again. This year, I’ve made a conscious effort to deal with race crashes in a very specific way. I get up, check my handlebars, check my brakes, check that my chain is still on, take a few deep breaths and tell myself (sometimes out loud) “freak out later.” This works for me because telling myself to “not freak out” would be unrealistic, but somehow I’m able to accept “freak out later,” I think because it’s a subconscious acknowledgement of the part of me that wants to freak out, so that part doesn’t feel ignored. At the end of the stage I can cry, panic, worry about the lost time, whatever. Just not now. It works. Often by the time I get to the finish, I don’t even feel like freaking out any more because it wasn’t a huge deal. [Editor’s note: This strategy might work a little bit too well, because after concussing myself in Sun Valley, I got up, checked my bike and finished the stage going pretty fast, which was fairly silly/dangerous under the circumstances. So, adding a “check for serious bodily injury” to your personal post crash list is probably not a bad idea.]
4. Trying the same obstacle over and over again without success. We’ve all been there. By the third or fourth time you try something, you are getting pissed, losing all finesse and just making the same mistake over and over again. But you don’t want to give up because that feels like quitting, so you just keep pushing until you get hurt or throw an epic trailside tantrum. Here’s the thing — as much as it feels like persistence and determination to keep smashing away at something, it’s not smart practice. Take a step back after you start getting that panicky-angry feeling, and say “not today.” Then go home, seek out similar obstacles or trail situations (where you don’t have this previous mental block), and practice. Strategize, visualize and then return to the obstacle when you’re fresh, both mentally and physically. Easier said than done, of course, but better than letting frustration ruin your ride.
Your frustrating scenarios might not be the same as mine, but hopefully these coping mechanisms help. Whatever it is that gets you riled up, the important part is to tackle it head on. Identify the scenarios that lead to frustration for you before you get into them — when you’re already pissed about something is not the time to figure out how to deal. But if you have a plan going in, you may be able to conquer your frustration when it comes up and keep having fun and enjoying the ride. And that’s the important part.