Understanding Fear in Mountain Biking
|I get scared often; when I am about to drop into a line for the first time or even a gnarly line I have done before. You need to be aware of your level of riding or relatable scenarios that you have worked in and apply it. You always need to ride confidently. If fear gets to you, you will have a bad time.—Geoff Gulevich|
|I always looked up to other riders and learned a lot from them, this has helped me the most to know when to push the limits with gnarly lines and when to chill and relax. For some reason, massive jumps really scare me and it takes a lot of time to build up enough courage to send it. My nerves kick into gear and a lot of doubts enter my head. Over time I have learnt to just trust my ability to land everything I try perfectly and back the fact that I can ride a bike okay!—Troy Brosnan|
Jody Radtke is a Clinical Counsellor with a focus in sports - and an athlete herself. "When we see something that triggers the fight or flight response, the associated physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweaty palms, tense muscles are going to show up. That's what the autonomic nervous system is designed to do. And that's also the good news because we can use that information as an opportunity to notice that we're activated and then choose to do something about it rather than get on the unconscious ride to fight, flight or freeze. We can do things like breathing and visualizing. We can get off our bike and step away and do what we know to do to re-center ourselves. There are things we can do to bring ourselves back to the present moment and remind ourselves that our neurological system has just taken off. It's gone onto autopilot and that's okay. It's a good thing, it's a survival thing, except that it can stop us from doing what we want to do." Jody also believes it's possible to reframe fear in a more constructive way by backing off the mental construct we put onto it. "Typically, when we label something with fear, we really quickly tend to follow right into 'I can't, I shouldn't, I won't' - all these sorts of negative connotations. So, if we can back up from that and label it as energy, or a feeling, or an emotion, then we can back off of it into the sensation; and maybe it's just butterflies. Butterflies can also mean excitement, 'there's something really cool and positive that I might get out of this experience.' That just takes it out of that fight or flight brain, the survival kind of zone, and brings it back into our conscious processing brain. And from that brain, we have a choice. And maybe we are still going to say, 'that's a bad choice, I don't have the skills for that, I'm not okay with the consequences of that.' Those are really logical choices to make, but they are now based on something. They are based on your assessment of what your riding skills are, or how you woke up and the energy level you have today. You can factor all those pieces in, rather than just being driven by your emotions."
Darren Berrecloth and his brother Ryan have recently dug into the topic of fear in their upcoming film, Reverence. It's a topic near and dear to Darren's heart. "Fear held me back for years. I would have all the skills and tricks to win at competitions but fear always got in the way." The emotion has ebbed and flowed throughout his career and has morphed again now that he is a husband and father. "Family is a huge factor, with no dependents you don't have to think the same, it's a different mentality. I see things differently now - when I was younger, I would take risks all the time. Now, I evaluate the risk and decide if it's worth it or not." Darren has worked hard to intuitively develop ways to manage his fear and to find new ways to understand how to work with it to progress his riding, rather than having it hold him back. "Practice makes the difference. Practising letting go of your fears on a daily basis allows you to exercise that muscle."I was lucky enough to see Darren speak publically about the topic at Multiplicity in Whistler last year. When I asked if he was nervous speaking in front of the audience, he told me that his only focus was on whether or not he had a good speech. The physical act of being on stage didn't bother him at all. Akin to dropping into his line at Red Bull Rampage, preparation is everything for Darren. "Once you get to that moment of dropping in, the hardest work should be behind you. It's all mind over matter. The hardest part is putting your foot on the pedal and letting go, once that happens, the stress goes way down. Once you hit the jump, it's a Zen moment." When Darren and Ryan settled on this topic for their movie, they were immediately excited about its potential and the depth to which they could explore it. "I hope the audience walks away with a greater understanding of fear. And also, an understanding that we all experience it the same, whether we are moms picking out cereal for our kids at the grocery store or professional mountain bikers dropping into a line at Rampage." Reverence will feature not only Darren's personal story, but also those of James Doerfling, Matt Macduff, Cam McCaul, Tyler McCaul, Rachel Atherton, Gee Atherton, and Dan Atherton. Each athlete digs into their personal relationship with fear; how it has impacted their career and how they have learned to work with it. "I think why I said yes, was that the film gave me a chance to revisit a deeply personal battle, but with all the ammo I never had the first time around, an opportunity to close a door that was left open for years, and a chance to move forward and grow. Something I will never say no to," explains Matt Macduff. "Fear is one of my favourite topics and mysteries. I feel it almost every day in one way or another and have spent a large chunk of time studying the emotion and its effects on people."
Matt has developed a science-based relationship with fear. "I put in the work and remind myself every day with real data that I am constantly improving, growing, and changing. When you work hard enough, see the results, feel and trust them, then eventually over time, fear has no place. If you brush your teeth 100 days in a row and your gums bleed one day, should you be scared of brushing your teeth? My process works. My confidence builds with each victory and my experience grows with each failure." This approach and mindset are what continues to get him through as he makes huge gains recovering from a massive injury; a 40-foot fall that left him with 10 fractures in his right wrist and 3 fractures in his right ankle. Reverence is his first big project back into the public domain since his accident. "It was tough to be so vulnerable in front of so many cameras. I had a massive mental break down and confronted some of my deepest fears throughout the shoot. I'm so thankful for the experience because I feel like I grew but damn. . . it wasn't easy."A slow and methodical approach like Matt's can be frustrating, but it works, explains Katrina Strand, "it really takes a lot of patience to manage it, as fear can just linger. But if you fight it and let it frustrate you too much, it'll just fight back and stick around forever." Katrina recommends trying a compare and contrast approach. "As in, 'this jump is a lot like that jump that I have done before, or this rock face is similar to that rock face I rode last week,' it can help with confidence as you've had parallel experiences." And if that isn't working, sometimes just giving yourself a break. "I remember years ago I developed a fear of step ups and it just pissed me off because I didn't understand it! Eventually, I let it go, put them aside for a while, and came back to them on a day that I felt great on every level. It worked. The great thing about mountain biking is often the features that we come across aren't going anywhere for years. So, we can always come back on a better day."
|I go off of past situations and knowing what my personal limits are. When you are out in the middle of nowhere riding gnarly shit you really have to think twice about the stuff you are about to ride and trust your abilities. I don’t put any pressure on myself to do anything if it doesn’t feel right I don’t do it - simple.—Jame Doerfling|
If you are putting in the time and still struggling, then consider speaking to a sports psychologist to help to tune in your inner voice, to learn and practice some of the well-developed techniques available, or to find out what else might be holding you back. And go watch Reverence when it comes out to understand that you're not alone and that fear is no longer taboo.