C’mon lets race!

When playing with my kids at a school park near our house the other night, we spotted the white outlined track on the grassy field. Zoé and Nico immediately got excited about racing each other and myself around the lap as well as several times down the 100m straight away. They were quite the challenge to my dinner filled stomach – whew! Kids love to run!

Then yesterday was Zoé’s first school track meet. In the morning she grumbled and whined about not wanting to go. However, when she got off the bus at the end of the day she was beaming with pride. She couldn’t wait to show off her two blue ribbons, give the play by-play of her races and recount the day she spent at the track with her school friends. It also brought back fond memories of my first and early days racing around the track in late elementary school.

When I see my kids eyes light up and race around the field with complete abandon, it reminds me of the true spirit of racing, of going as fast as you can while having fun doing it. Unfortunately, sometimes as we grow older our self-consciousness, performance anxieties and fears get in the way of that total abandon.

I was reminded this past weekend of that ‘I can’t wait, let’s get going already!’ spirit while watching the replay of the UCI cross-country women’s mountain bike world cup race in La Bresse, France. And that the childlike excitement of racing doesn’t need to disappear when we’re all grown up. The 2015 world champion, Jolanda Neff, a 23-year-old from Switzerland had missed the first two world cups of the season. While most others on the start line were doing some deep breathing with their serious game faces on, Jolanda could be seen in the second row, literally bouncing up and down with a smile that said ‘I can’t wait to get started!’ (pictured in centre below – as if its not obvious, ha!)

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And once she was out of the gate, as she always does, she raced full-out, charging up and down every hill with sheer confidence pushing the limits of control, along with a spectacular crash midway through the race on one of the narly, rocky descents. After a flat tire change on the last lap and some excitement battling our amazing Canadians Catharine Pendrel and Emily Batty, she won the race.

Of course we could argue that’s its easier to have fun, and go for it full of confidence when you’re the current world champion and you’re at the front of the race most of the day. But we also know that winning, being the one everyone is chasing after, and staying on top consistently is often harder and can feel more pressure filled than being the underdog!

My high school friend, Kiara Bisaro, a 2004 Olympian, who also competed for Canada in mountain biking, was known for her constant smile while racing (and off the bike as well). Whenever I have felt fearful or nervous on the bike I still think of Kiara and her smile. When I remember to smile, it relaxes me and reminds me to just have fun and let things roll. As grown ups sometimes we mistakenly believe that to perform our best we need to be super serious or hyper focused.

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However,  when I think of my kids saying, ‘c’mon lets race!’ its a great reminder to get out of our over thinking, often stressed out and pressure filled adult heads, to just go for it and have fun going as fast as we possibly can for as long as we can. No matter how we feel on the day or where we find ourselves in the pack, a race is a race! It can be that simple.

 

 

 

 

Ride like Yer Mom!

On Hornby Island, B.C. there is a trail called “Yer Mom”. It makes me smile and think of moms out there riding and I love that it’s a tough trail described on www.trailforks.com as the “Only trail with significant technical features. Large built up drops, gap jumps and skinnies. Most features have a ride around.New optional feature has been added to the trail. Its a 25 foot road gap that enters just passed the skinny to rock-face.”

However, it also makes me chuckle how often my 6 year son Nico will ask while out riding, “Mom, Uncle Geoff could ride that right?” When examining a feature or a descent its a fun way to assess together whether something is rideable. I may reply, ‘yes I’m sure he could ride that!’ or ‘hmmm, not sure that would be safe for anyone to attempt’. Or I may also need to add, “Yes, and mommy could do it too! Want to see?”

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While I appreciate that the importance and value of my son’s male role models to look up to: the older boys at the bike park, family members like uncle, grandpa, and papa, I also take pride in the fact that I can model to my son and daughter that women can enjoy and embrace the technical and physical challenges of mountain biking the same way boys and men can. And that women can go for speed, distance, or strength in any other sport we so chose to participate in!

A friend pointed out to me recently that we are now seeing the first generation of kids riding and racing mountain bikes whose parents raced when they were kids. These parents are often still enjoying the sport competitively, or at least recreationally. The kids that grew up in the 1980s experiencing the beginnings of mountain biking are now raising kids and enjoying the sport alongside them.

I was fortunate and proud to be a member of the amazingly well supported, all-women’s professional mountain bike team, the LUNA Pro Team while racing Xterra triathlons from 2008-2014. After retiring from racing Xterra professionally, I kept running and swimming regularly but found myself begrudgingly saying ‘I don’t have time to ride’. After a certain amount of self-induced bike deprivation I realized how much I missed whizzing along the road, or rumbling down a trail in the woods on my bike. Plus my quads were shrinking, and who wants to lose all that hard earned leg power?! So the balance has swung back and biking has come back up the priority pole. As much as I’m motivated to stay fit enough to ride with my friends, especially my fast girlfriends, I also want to be able to keep up with my kids on their bikes as long as possible. I want to show them that moms don’t need to slow down or stop anytime soon! AND I aspire to be riding the trails as well as my parents, and my children’s grandparents still are in their seventies!

As women, it can be easy to find excuses not to get out there in the still male dominated sport of mountain biking. You’re only too old, too slow, too tired, too busy or too fearful if you continue to tell that story to yourself. It makes me sad when I don’t see more girls at the bike park or women out on the trails. But every time I do I smile and keep up the hope that girls will continue to feel more confident to try riding off-road. And persist long enough to discover the high of flowing up and down the trails on two wheels too! And yes, sometimes mommy can ride the same things as your Uncle Geoff!

Daring Greatly

As the climax of another four-year summer Olympic cycle is rapidly approaching, intensity levels rise, and emotions are charged as dreams will be made and dreams will be crushed. There is a sense of urgency in the air as the time remaining to make the team or the Olympic standard is running out with each passing day.

As an athlete you may feel as if there is constant pressure – to beat the other(s), to impress, to please your supporters, to win the ultimate prize. With all the hard work you’ve put in there can be the fear of losing, coming up short, or failing to make the goal you’ve been striving towards for so long.

On the other side of fear and pressure is courage. In sport there are no guarantees. But choosing to go for it is to dare greatly. It is choosing to put your self out there, give it everything you’ve got and risk falling on your face, sometimes literally. As I watched the women’s most recent cross-country mountain bike World Cup race this past weekend in Albstadt, Germany, the eventual second place women’s finisher took a huge crash on her face at high-speed early on in the race, before shaking if off, getting going again, and coming back strong. Whether falling down literally or not, such moments can knock the wind out of our sails.

Overcoming the falls takes bravery and courage to get back up with pure grit, determination and resolve to find out what your potential really is? Even though failures are unwanted along the way, they are a time to pause and reflect; a time to embrace the emotional consequences and discomfort. In the moment of racing, it is the time to focus on simply doing the best you can. In the end there is no learning and a lot less self-discovery without accepting failures along the way. It means saying, no matter how far you get or how much you may feel is left undone, you can say, “I am enough”.

While most people spend their life on the couch, be proud to be one of the few that dares to step into the “arena”.

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

-Thomas Jefferson (epigraph from 1910 “Man in the Arena” speech)

What do you do with athletes?!

I often get asked what exactly I, and others in the field of applied sport psychology, do with athletes. For anyone who is curious, here is my answer.

First let me be clear as to who typically works in the field of applied sport psychology as a professional practitioner. In Canada professionals trained in sport psychology who work with athletes, coaches, and teams are called Mental Performance Consultants (MPCs) and are certified through the Canadian Sport Psychology Association. As in most other countries, there are minimum requirements for educational and academic coursework being at least a master’s degree, completion of supervised practicum, and a code of ethics to adhere to as a certified Consultant. In addition, a certified consultant may also have further training and be a certified clinical counselor or registered psychologist. Just like professionals in other fields (e.g. doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers), years of studying to gain professional knowledge and experience are required. Consequently informed, ethical and effective interventions, guidance and education can be provided to athletes, coaches, parents, and support staff as clients in the world of sport.

Within my current scope of practice here is a simple list of what I personally do and don’t do when working with athletes:

DOS:

  • Collaborate and strategize with athletes’ around mental preparation and planning
  • Address performance concerns such as improving focus, emotional management, stress, injuries, anxiety and dealing with performance pressure
  • Ask questions that enhance self-awareness through reflection
  • Encourage athletes to do more of what is already working
  • Listen more than talk
  • Advocate that small steps can lead to larger changes and desired results
  • Look for exceptions to any current problems in athlete’s real-life experiences
  • Focus on a language of solutions = positive, hopeful, and future-focused
  • Draw upon athlete’s existing strengths and resiliencies
  • Help athletes to expand options and consider different directions to take
  • Keep everything discussed in one-on-one sessions strictly confidential
  • Provide resources and mental training tools/techniques for athletes, coaches, or parents
  • Co-create clear, concrete, and specific goals for athletes to work on between sessions
  • Work with athletes in their daily training environments when possible to experiment with and apply mental skills

DON’TS:

  • Intervene or interfere with what is already working well for athletes
  • Clinically diagnose, label, or pathologize
  • Promise quick fixes or mental miracles

If you are interested in finding a qualified sport psychology consultant near you in Canada click here and for the United States click here.

 

 

 

 

Thank-you LUNA!

Almost exactly eight years ago, with a two month-old baby girl at home I was offered my dream contract as an an athlete – to race with the LUNA Pro team. It was all the motivation I needed to get training and get back into the best shape of my life! Thank-you to Luna for believing in me, supporting my racing and helping me to come back stronger than ever into motherhood times two! It was the ride of a life time as an athlete for seven years on the Luna Pro Team and one year as Luna Chix Sponsored athlete. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to compete at the level I have for as long as I have, and am especially proud to have worked with and represented such a progressive and incredible company as Clif Bar and Luna in this last racing chapter.

As I look back I have no regrets. I’m thankful for the years I had to put into life and racing challenges as a runner on the track, as a cross-country mountain bike racer, and finally as an Xterra off-road triathlon racer. More importantly I’ve met and made so many incredible friends that will last way beyond the next race. I look forward to lots of play in 2016 and maybe the occasional race purely for fun!

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Photo during first Luna team camp in March 2008

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One of the few times an Xterra run felt almost effortless on my way to 2nd place at the 2008 World Championships

xterra maui 2010

The year our amazing Luna mechanic, Chris, raced the World Championships with Shonny and I in 2011

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Lots of amazing places to ride and race via Luna support for Xterra!

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The best support crew ever in Maui 2012 with my family and awesome Luna team manager, Waldek holding Nico

2013 Luna Camp

2013 Team camp – Cheers to Gary and Kit (pictured in the middle and co-founders of Clif Bar) who started the Luna Pro team, a professional women’s only mountain bike team launched in 2001

Sports Parenting in 10 Sentences

Some great succinct advice here!

JAG GYM Blog

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1 word: Hi.  Greet your child when they get in the car with “Hi” before you ask about practice, the score of the game or homework.  

2 words: Have fun.  In all likelihood you’ve heard this statistic: 70% of kids quit sports before they turn 13 for the primary reason that they are not having fun.    Encourage and remind your kids to have fun.

3 words: Tell me more.  Before forming an opinion or dispensing advice, ask for more information from your child.  This will force them to tell more of the story and give you more information as to what is actually happening.  

4 words: Good job. Keep working.  Doc Rivers, head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers and parent of a NBA player suggests these four words.  Rivers notes that as parents we are often tempted to say…

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What my parents taught me about raising healthy, happy and self-motivated athletes

At 40 years old I’m scaling back my racing focus for the first time and the lifestyle of my most recent sport, that of a Professional off-road triathlete – although I love training and racing too much to ever “retire”. Meanwhile my 3 x Olympian brother continues to race his mountain bike after 22 years and counting with in his words, a motivation of “increasing complexity”.

While there are many factors that have kept both of us active and competitive since our first competitive beginnings in track and field club at the ages of 10 and 12, I would give a lot of credit to our parents and how we were raised.

After several years in the motivation lab at the University of Ottawa to complete my doctorate, and having worked with athletes over the past 10 years, I’ve heard about the pressures from parents often enough. Of course, the majority of parents have well-meaning intentions. But I can’t help reflect on a few things my parents definitely got right, which I believe have made a lasting and positive impact on sustaining our self-motivation, and I hope I can do the same with my children.

1. Our parents participated alongside us. On weekends growing up in the earlier days we did family runs. As our two border collies zig zagged in and out of the woods in front of us we ran several miles as a family on the roads and trails in Courtenay, B.C.. We cross-country skied together, did breakfast runs with the local running club together. My parents chaperoned the local kids to many track meets. My dad shot hoops with us, played soccer in the back yard. Both parents got into mountain biking well before I did when my brother started racing his bike.They are still mountain biking, xc skiing, hiking, swimming etc as they head into their seventies.

2. Give lots of free time to play. We were lucky to grow up on 10 acres of land with lots of forest to build forts in and climb trees. While of course there were some structured activities like swim lessons and soccer, my happiest memories are just free time play shooting hoops or running around the yard. My brother spent hours juggling the soccer ball or hopping over the picnic table on his bike. With plenty of playtime, there was room for self-discovery, curiosity, and creativity – all foundations of self-motivation. For one winter in high school I attempted to play club volleyball, high school basketball and continue my winter base training for running. It was all my own doing and after getting totally burnt out, I chose to drop the volleyball. It was a glimpse of how many over scheduled kids must feel all the time today!

3. Be more interested in the story than the outcome. Whatever sport we were doing, our parents took an avid interest. On top of participating with us, they were students of the sport and huge fans. They have always been most interested in the story of the day versus the end result. (e.g. How did it go? What was your workout today? How did you feel today? Not “Did you win?” or “Why didn’t you do better?!”). They’ve always known enough about our developmental stage, the sport, and the competition to understand what a truly good or off-day meant. I still appreciate that I can call up my Dad, say I smashed a track workout, tell him my times and he’ll get it.

4. Leave any “critiquing” out of the parent-child relationship. In contrast to the last point, I don’t recall my parents handing out any criticism or “coaching” type tips unless I specifically asked. Their unconditional support has primarily been through the role of being the patiently guiding, active listeners to let me express my feelings, and do all the problem solving on my own. All my choices in sport have been self-driven. As a female athlete I also need to give a big kudos to my mom. While many athletes struggle with body image to some degree or another for various reasons, I admire my mother in that she has not once put herself or her body down or once made ANY comment about mine. I cringe when I hear other female athletes say, “I’m so fat” or “Look at that girl, she is SO skinny”. I’ve even caught myself thinking or saying similar comments. I try to mindful of never making such remarks in front of my own daughter.

Thank you to my parents for continuing to lead by example, and for your continued support and unconditional love!

What drives you from the inside out?

Whether it be work, school, sport or any other arena in life where one needs to perform, the prevailing motivation view is typically, “reward me and I’ll work harder.” But is that how motivation really works? Not always, at least for the longer term for motivation sustainability. According to my favourite view of motivation, which is well grounded in science with an abundance of research around the globe, Self Determination Theory has demonstrated well that the psychology of motivation is innate, universal across cultures and evident for any age or developmental period.

When your motivation is self-determined, you have high levels of intrinsic motivation. And why is it important to pay attention and cultivate intrinsic motivation? As opposed to the other end of the motivation spectrum being extrinsic motivators, intrinsic motivation has proven to be associated with higher quality motivation, specifically better learning, more interest, greater effort, higher self-esteem, increased life satisfaction, and enhanced health. In sport, intrinsic motives also correlates to increased persistence and higher performance.

To cultivate your inner motivation, consider the three following types of intrinsic motivation below. If your motivation is wanes from time to time consider getting in touch again with any of these types of intrinsic motivators:

1. Knowledge. In the context of sport, what peaks your curiosity? What do you seek to understand better? (e.g. training science, nutrition, technology, new and innovative techniques?) What kinds of novelties and creative approaches to your life as an athlete keep your motivation fresh?

2. Accomplishment: Do you take pleasure in surpassing your previous self and personal bests in training or competition? Do you enjoy the ongoing challenge of mastering all the skills essential to your chosen sport? Can you take pleasure in the journey of becoming more and more competent at what you do?

3. Stimulation: Anyone who has ever called themselves an athlete, knows sport can be full or highs and lows. Intrinsic motivation for stimulation means focusing on that drive to experience excitement, the adrenaline rush of pushing our comfort zones, the challenge of putting it all together for a peak performance, and experiencing the optimal challenge-skills balance of being in “flow”.

Intrinsic motivation is experienced in those moments when you are simply enjoying the pleasure and satisfaction of doing your sport. Getting in touch with your intrinsic motivation means connecting with those moments of pure enjoyment, embracing the challenge, cultivating what is interesting and exciting, letting go of any fears of failure and doing your sport simply because it feels good!

Full Circle Focus for 2015

It all started with a grade six science experiment for school. The details escape me but it involved training with short versus long interval repeats, and running a mile flat-out several times, sometimes on the track and sometimes on a gravel road and see where I improved the most. It hurt every time and my lungs burned. My dad timed every one and cheered me on, he hasn’t stopped cheering since.

Running fast was fun. Battles and wins were fun. I peaked, plateaued and peaked again. A handful of times I experienced that perfect race: effortless, floating, in control with another gear ready to unleash anytime. It is the most amazing feeling when all the hard work pays off. Then my first long-lasting injury.

Why don’t you try mountain biking? Not many girls are doing it. Sure! You only live once! I learned that momentum is everything as I smashed my face into rocks and flipped over the bars. I was bloody and bruised almost every day that first summer. I was hooked. I like to be in control but I learned to let go of the brakes and be comfortable letting it slide. “RIDE IT!!” my brother bellowed from way down below. His teammates were watching on, waiting. I was shaking but I DID IT!! Things that were once scary and sent my heart racing became exciting and fun. I grew quads, developed pedal power and learned how to push mentally through race efforts of over two hours. I learned how to focus through fatigue and fear in order to stay upright at maximum effort on two wheels. I have had the opportunity to race on amazing single track all over North America. The post-race story-telling high can last for hours. There’s nothing like the feeling of flow on a mountain bike.

But I’m glad I dabbled with swim club racing in junior high. Gliding rhythmically through the blue water of a pool, over sea turtles, or next to the tree-lined shore of a glass calm lake is magical. I learned about balance through training for a 3-discipline sport. How all our energy comes from one place and that we need to spend it wisely; how variation and variety are the spice of motivation. From a sport that embraces the young to the very old, the able-bodied to the physically challenged, I have learned we should never set limits on what we think we can do…especially after birthing babies’ ladies! And oh, the places I might never have been and the wonderful friends I have made!

I’ve been away and now I’m back to where it all started. I’m falling in love with the purity of running all over again. I’m a runner who swims and bikes. I’m a triathlete who runs a lot. Either way, I’m having fun and still love the focus a competitive goal brings, the challenge of pushing way past comfortable, that body burn all over at least a few times per week. There’s no way I’m ready to just go easy yet. Maybe one day. Family and health come first. And for now, I just want to run out the door and see where it will take me next, some days easy, some days as fast as my legs can go.