I’ve been told my writing is much like a squirrel in that its oh look…NUTS! I greatly understand the struggle that many likely have. I struggle with it quite a bit and wrote about this in my daily life on my personal blog HERE. What I’d like to focus on (puns intended) is maintaining focus while you’re riding your bike. There are so many things to distract us while we’re riding, so what can happen if we lose focus and how can we work on fixing it?
What happens when you lose focus while you’re out on your bike? Simply put, you’ll be riding worse. You’ll be expending more energy than needed for a given situation. You’ll in turn be riding slower as well, which compounds the problem. If you’re riding inattentively in a non-race situation (whether trail riding or street\commuting), then you’ll be running the risk of missing other vehicles on the road, or animals, or God forbid some sort of cliff or ledge or just something random on the road that’ll cause you problems. Un-focused riding is a bad habit and one that needs to be broken.
Just as there are cons to riding mentally aloof, there are pro’s to being laser focused. First and foremost is the fact that your likelihood of crashing is going to go WAY down. No, I don’t have some scientific study on this, but will go off my personal experience. Any time I lapse in focus, or go off into la-la land it never fails that I’m careening off the side of the trail. Also, just as you expend more energy when not focused on riding, you’ll be conserving energy. Your movements will be more planned and thought out, not an afterthought trying to react to something you should have noted earlier and been prepared for. Thinking ahead for anything is going to allow you to also go faster. I don’t know about you, but if I’m racing, I want to be going AS FAST as possible AND in as much CONTROL as possible. If your concern isn’t racing, but street or commuting, you’ll benefit from seeing OTHERS. You can pretend all you want that someone will see your Hi-Viz gear, but the reality is that you’re invisible to everyone else (or at least you should be assuming you are). As such, the more YOU are aware and attentive to your surroundings the more you can be ready for whatever may come up. Attentive & Aware = SAFE.
Now, let’s look at some distractions that can keep us from performing how we should on the bike. What are some things that distract you while riding? Is it pain or fatigue? Possibly a long event has your mind wandering to happier times? Maybe its just a slight bit of boredom on a long open stretch where you’re smelling the roses. What about thinking about bike problems? Maybe you’ve forgotten to do a full fillup at a pit stop and you’re wondering if you’ll make it to the next stop, or you’re out adventuring in the woods and you’ve done the same? How about some maintenance item you let slip and now it’s in the back of your mind just slowly nagging at you. Or maybe you’re dealing with something at home or work and despite how much you try to let riding be your escape, those issues just creep in. Maybe you’re obsessing about your technique, worrying about being exactly right, but not allowing yourself to actually RIDE. All these things are just the tip of the iceberg of what can distract you from focusing on your ride. You’ve gotta lock in what it is for you that’s the problem and get laser focused on fixing it.
Next let’s look at some ways we can combat these distractions. I’ve already made one personal goal to eliminate digital distractions while I’m on my bike. For commuting, I’ll keep my bluetooth headset on in case there is an emergency call I need to stop and take, but otherwise, the only noise I’ll hear is the wind, my engine and tires. Before a race, I find I need to sit on the bike, close my eyes, and control my breathing. I take a few minutes to breath in deeply through my nose and exhale out my mouth. I’ll visualize best I can what the start of the race will look like for me. I know the start will always be hectic and my heart rate will spike. Once that heart rate gets out of control it seems to go downhill from there, but if I get ahead of it, I can save myself. Look ahead. No, don’t look 2 miles ahead (unless you’re going THAT fast), but look far enough that you have a clear idea of what your bike will be bucking into or off of. Try to note JUST the big things. It seems odd, but if you can ignore little things in the trail and only worry about the big stuff, the more speed you’ll carry and the less your mind has to process. If you deal with pain in your hands, or blisters, tape your hands BEFORE the race. Find a method that works and stick with it. I know I can callous up my hands, but all it takes is 1 little blister to be a real thorn in your side, which will pull your concentration from your riding. If you find you’re obsessing about a certain technique or skill (in practice), take a few minutes and stop. There’s no harm in sitting at the side, think about how you were riding and then process how you could do things differently.
The key here in all this is to be PRESENT and focused on the moment. If you’re in a race and other life things creep in, maybe dial back your speed or how much you’re pushing just a bit. Circle back to locking in slow and steady breathing and remind yourself that you’re racing. A 30-60 slow down in a 2 hour event is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. That little bit of allowing yourself to regroup will likely net you that time lost VERY quickly and hold you over for much longer. Sometimes your focus issues could be food related. Your body may just be saying that you need some energy. I used to keep a little energy gel taped to my handlebars I could grab mid-race and eat. That little sugar boost made a HUGE difference.
Finally, let’s put these new skills into action. You’re going to have to experiment with what works for you. If you have a distraction, get RID of it NOW! You’re the only one who can keep your brain in check. Get yourself a friend who will keep you honest. Let them know your goal of being more focused with your riding. Talk to yourself before a ride. You can even write a reminder on a piece of tape on your handlebars. Whatever it takes, you’ve gotta take the steps NOW to start seeing the benefits. This isn’t going to be a short simple fix. I suppose you could stock up on some Adderall and focus that way, but that’s like slapping flex tape on a hole in a ship in the middle of an ocean.