The days I enjoy most on my mountain bike are the ones where the emotions I am associating with my ride are fun, freedom, exhilaration and/or exploration - just loving being out in nature and moving under my own steam, ideally without too many other people around! More recently, with the start of Bike Guide Devon I've also found great satisfaction in sharing my favourite rides with and seeing them enjoy the riding and build their confidence.
However, like everyone, I also have days when everything is a struggle; when I get on my bike with less helpful states of mind, such as frustration, fear or lack of belief in my ability.
In fact the first day of my holiday last month was just one of those days. I was a bit tired and stressed from getting everything finished before we left, then five minutes into our ride at Cannock Chase I misjudged the width between two trees, whacked one with my handlebars and fell off onto a tree stump. On the first climb I felt like I had a tight belt round my rib cage, as I hadn't quite shaken off a cold. I was so busy talking to myself in my head, that I forgot to look up and enjoy the new surroundings and the excellent trail that I hadn't ridden before. I'd been looking forward to riding Cannock's red runs for some months and I was in danger of blowing the opportunity!
At the top of the hill, I stopped and took stock. I announced to my (very patient) husband that I was going to stop making an effort to keep up, and just ride at a speed my coldy lungs could cope with.
I also made a conscious effort to look up. Obviously this is a good idea anyway. Looking as far down the trail as possible, and not at what's just in front of your wheel, is always good practice. Believe it or not, it also helps improve our state of mind.
Looking up or straight ahead is a way of engaging your visual field. Whereas looking down takes you into your emotions, and also to the place where you engage in internal dialogue. You may have found that when you're tired you gaze comes down, and that opens you up to negative thinking. You may begin to tell yourself you can't do it, or don't want to. Just looking up again can lead to a significant shift in your mood.
I know that looking up - and looking around me - always helps me to silence the critical voice in my head. And, in this instance, because I was not longer busy beating myself up about not riding as well as I know I can, I relaxed, and surprise, surprise, I started to ride better. The descent flowed more, the climbs went more smoothly. I managed to re-find that place where it's fun and exhilarating. I finished on a real high, and can highly recommend Follow the Dog and the Monkey Trail.
So next time you find yourself with riding in an unhelpful state of mind, just look up and ahead, and see if it makes a difference...