09 November 2013

Everyone Needs a "Karen" in Their Life!

Confession. Until today I had not touched my mountain bike (last weekend's failed attempt does not count) since August. This whole mountain biking thing is pretty far outside of my comfort zone and as you get older and more sensible (who thought going down a root-infested trail with a giant log at the end was a good idea), it can be a little harder to travel outside that comfort zone and bomb your way down trails. And road riding really does absolutely zero to prepare you for trail riding. I owned a mountain bike back in 2005-2008 and when Mr. Sweetie and I went on a mountain biking kick, I rode it pretty regularly and felt confident on two wheels. Then I took a long break and I'm currently a complete beginner again.

Today I had a chance to go mountain biking with my close friend Karen. She and I used to race triathlon together before she moved over to concentrate more fully on all things bike - road racing, cross racing, mtb racing. Our speeds were pretty similar in the swim, she was a bit faster than me on the bike, and then it was a tossup as to who would have the better run. It wasn't a rivalry, even though we were definitely competing against each other and trying to go faster than the other, but more of a mutually beneficial friendship on the race course that resulted in faster times for both of us. I think every athlete needs to find their "Karen" - the person who pushes them to race harder, but if there was anyone that was going to cross that finish line first, you are glad it is her.

Racing our way onto the podium at Savageman 2009
Karen is an awesome mountain biker. But you know what I learned today? She is an even more awesome (and patient) teacher on the trails. We biked out at Wakefield (Rosaryville was closed, boo) and did a long warmup on the flat, easy, completely non-technical trails that wound their way under Braddock Road and towards the powerlines. Not going to lie, a part of me sort of hoped that we would stick strictly to these super easy trails. I think Charlottesville really did a number on my psyche and I feel a bit of anxiety every time a see a giant cluster of roots or a creek crossing. After a few miles, our warmup was over and we moved over to the singletrack in the woods. Before heading into the trails, Karen gave me some sound advice - elbows out, butt off the seat when not pedaling/going downhill/getting over an obstacle, pedals at 9 and 3 when not pedaling, ride DYNAMICALLY. My first foray into slightly harder stuff was not dynamic. We got to a slightly tricky downhill that, with confidence I should've been able to do, but instead I got off my bike and walked. Karen waited for me patiently and took me over to a flatter loop that ended up being the perfect mix of speed, small obstacles like roots and rocks, mini downhills and mini uphills. Karen humored me and we ended up doing that loop four times and each time I felt more confident, excited, and got a little faster and more daring - taking turns a little quicker and by the fourth loop I no longer had a terrified look on my face. This was just what I needed - I was able to get a better feel for how it felt to ride over roots and rocks (my 29er is a tank and, it appears, can roll over just about anything given enough momentum), understand that speed was my friend, and realize just how much fun this sport can be. I felt ready to try some other trails. We went over logs - we'd get to one and I'd practice going over it a few times. We went on some twisty, turny, hilly stuff (I did tip over on that one, very low speed, but I was still stuck to my bike when I landed, which made clipping out a little more difficult), we did some rock gardens, did some hills, and I found myself having a really, really good time on the downhills, just barely tapping the brakes and taking the downhills with confidence and more speed. By the end of the ride, I felt so much better and more excited about this mountain biking thing. Getting out of my comfort zone is hard, but I feel like the more great rides I have, with patient, knowledgeable friends, the easier it will be to tackle each challenge on the trail. Hopefully someday I won't be terrified by the wall of rocks at Wakefield and ride up it with ease. One of these days.

Thank you Karen for a really great ride - I am so, so grateful to have a friend like you who let today be all about getting me comfortable on the trails and patiently gave me tips on how to tackle logs, rock gardens, mildly technical downhills. You never left me in the dust AND made me feel like I was doing a great job and never made it seem like I was taking the easy way out if I walked or chose not to try out an obstacle. You are an awesome friend and mountain bike guru! Already counting down to the next ride!

1 comment:

Tyler said...

Very exciting! Glad to see you getting that confidence back. I need to get back out and start riding my MTB again...