Start where you are. Find your personal starting point — where you are right now! — and start there. No where else. Right there.
This is one of the core pieces of advice I give new mountain bikers, racers and pretty much any other human being who asks my advice on basically any topic ever. (I’m really original.)
Naturally, it is also a core piece of advice that I manage to ignore time and time again, usually to my own detriment. Why are the most important lessons so often the ones we have to learn over and over again? Or, um, is it just me?
Fortunately, I’m pretty sure it’s not me.
I have a theory as to why “starting where we are” is so damn difficult. Here it is: most of us have no idea where we are. So, obviously, that makes it pretty hard to start there if we don’t know where “THERE” is. It takes a lot of self-awareness and perspective to know where you are. And maybe you have that self awareness in one aspect of your life (your job), but not in another (mountain biking).
Or, like me, you have that self-awareness with technical mountain biking but you’re kind of clueless about where you are physically. Which is to say, maybe you always think you’re fitter than you are — because, like a few weeks ago you were fit enough for this, what’s the big deal? (This is me, currently, in case you can’t tell.)
Here’s an example from today. I decided to do a swim workout to give my knees a bit of a break. I figured I’d do 3 rounds of 500yards at a moderate clip, because this is something I used to do all the time when I was 18 and training for a triathlon (you know, ten years ago). I got halfway through the second set and my shoulders went NOPE. Or maybe it was more like “hey dumbass what were you thinking you haven’t swam since FREAKING MAY.” Either way, the message was clear, and I stopped. Could I have finished the workout? Yes, for sure. Would it have been a bad idea? Undoubtedly.
Clearly, I was not where I thought I was, at least as far as swimming is concerned. Luckily I have — over the past few years — cultivated enough body awareness to be able to allow myself to stop mid workout or adjust my training plan as needed (this has not always been the case).
Here are my suggestions for anyone who finds themselves consistently NOT starting at their starting point:
1. Spend a few weeks consciously “under-doing it.” Obviously you don’t want to do this leading up to an event, but it’s a helpful off-season activity. If you give yourself space to identify what is easy, you will slowly grow your awareness of where your limits are — and you’ll know when, and in what way, you need to push yourself to overcome weaknesses. This applies to technical skills, too. If you’re the kind of person who crashes on nearly every ride, spend a few rides focused on riding completely safely. This will require you to go slower, naturally, but it should draw your attention to problem skills and features (i.e. where do you find yourself needing to be *extra* careful?).
2. Write it out One symptom of not knowing your starting point is a tendency to jump right into the middle of a project or goal. A good way to subvert this is to write it out — you know, with good old fashioned paper and pen. Write a list of all the skills required to achieve your goal, assemble some benchmarks that will let you know when you’ve mastered a certain skill and away you go. Sometimes the simple act of writing it down forces you to be realistic about your skill set and might shed some light on where you are.
3. Ask an expert. It’s important to be able to identify your starting points on your own, too, for those moments when you can’t have someone looking over your shoulder. But doing a skills clinic or working with a coach is a great way to give yourself some perspective on your strengths and weaknesses. Having an objective set of eyes on the situation is a good idea for pretty much everything.