Sunday, April 23, 2017

Confessions of a Mountain Biking Perfectionist

A few days ago I was gifted a valuable lesson in how I tend to be my harshest critic. I've been critical of myself all my life along with constantly comparing myself to others. For example, I grew up watching my mom create beautiful oil paintings yet I hated painting because I felt I couldn't do it "right."

I liked drawing and sketching, but I felt my art was overshadowed by the talent of others whom I admired. I put folks on a pedestal and couldn't accept the gift that I brought to the table. I would spend hours on a drawing, erasing frantically at the perceived imperfections of an eye, nose, or mouth. Fingers and hands were absolute nightmares for me. My drawings evolved to manga and anime-style characters. I still felt what I put out on paper was not good enough to be considered "art." I have spent years without sketching or drawing, perhaps I'll whip out a doodle here and there. My own self is what stopped me from pursuing drawing further. My critical thinking and self judgement.

In high school I took a creative writing class, my very first assignment proved to be an excellent one for me. Descriptive writing was the theme and I got an A. The teacher was notorious for being hard on students and not too easy to win over or please. He wrote on the paper, an expectation for me to "live up to" the grade. I didn't do poorly in class, but I didn't excel- I struggled with having to do certain things vs. just being able to write how it felt comfortable. Standards and expectations that I failed to meet kept me from writing past that class more than a few poems written for loved ones who had passed away.

There is a glorious theme here. I have had a tendency to give up on things that actually brought me joy and happiness because I felt I wasn't "perfect."
I spent most of my life searching for that "one thing" that would make me feel like I was "good" at something. I wanted to feel skilled and talented- provoking the feelings of awe from my peers. I wanted to do something which brought forth feelings of admiration and respect.

How could I if I kept quitting?
If I continued to not apply myself, I would never find myself improving.
How does all of this pertain to mountain biking? Quite well, actually!

I had to swallow a difficult lesson the other day when Travis and I had gone out for a ride on Easter Sunday. Oh, the day was beautiful! Temperatures were fantastic, the sun was out, wildflowers were abundant along the sides of the trails. I was brimming with anticipation of a glorious ride where I would be able to impress Travis with my riding prowess. Instead, it was far from that.

We were going to do the Time Trial course and see how the trails were after some rain. We figured our plus bikes would be the best choice- extra traction and footprint in case things were still a little greasy. The route starts with a lot of climbing- the ride up Luge to Rocky Road felt more like a death march for me than anything. My legs were feeling like lead and I had a feeling of fatigue wrapped around me like a cloak. Oh, this wasn't ideal.

Usually I start to perk up on Little Big Horn and I had a heavy realization that this wasn't going to happen today. As we continued on, my handling would become sloppy at times. I felt like I had to work extra hard to keep my bike on track. The front end wanted to go where it wanted, not necessarily where I wanted.

Today it felt like my bike weighed 60 pounds. It was relentless.
On a climb, I got off-course and rammed my front tire into a small stump. This caused Travis to run into my back tire- my bars turned and the brake lever rammed itself into the area right above my knee. A mighty "Ouch!" escaped from my mouth and I looked down and knew immediately I would be graced with a bruise. (Side note- 2 of three cats had an excellent track record of finding that bruise every time they got up onto my lap over the next few days.)

Everything about the ride was stacking up against me mentally. The bike, how I felt, the lack of control, the inability to hold a line well. Perfectionism was setting in, the frustration with myself started to grow. I took time to be quiet and reflect on my feelings so I could better understand why I was so frustrated.

1. More times than not I'm on a solo ride where I'm not riding with another person. On these rides, the only person who knows if I'm having an off day is myself. I'm not sharing my fumbles and bumbles with anyone- so it's all on me. I can choose to share how my ride went if I want to; admitting anything is completely by choice. There are days where I also rock the solo ride.

2. Time of month and how much I'm riding can definitely affect how I ride. There are times during the hormonal changes where riding is utterly exhausting. It's biology. I can change it only so much- those days I'm extremely hard on myself because I feel like I can't accept that it is what it is.
If I'm riding a lot on a regular basis without proper rest- of course I'm going to feel like crap! I have yet to master my acceptance of days off the bike and days without any strenuous physical activity.

3. When I ride with Travis, not taking into account anything with #2, I have a 50/50 chance of riding well or being "off." Maybe I put too much pressure on myself when I ride with Travis because I expect the worst before we even begin. It's frustrating on my end when days prior I rode really well I have nothing better to show than my "worst." Especially to someone I look up to, who was the person in which introduced me to the sport. I want Travis to see me rock it on the bike, not flounder around like a fish out of water.

Travis was happy to be out, sure, there might have been a moment or two where he wondered what was up, but he didn't hold it against me or tell me I was a "bad" rider for putting a foot down. He knows better than any, that "off" days can happen, where our bodies and minds surprise us with the unexpected. Instead of cursing yourself or your bike, you give thanks for the opportunity to get outside and ride. You embrace the temporary and unwanted chaos and accept that it is what it is. You get a gift- time outside on your bike be it solo or with friends. You shouldn't waste it on a plethora of unknowns and "what ifs."

I realized that my perfectionist tendencies had led me to putting unnecessary pressure on myself to be, of course, perfect. I fell back into patterns of thinking that have plagued me since childhood- the feelings of being unworthy, unskilled, and imperfect. Had I listened to those feelings all during the start of my biking, I would not be where I am today. I would not be writing and I'm certain I would not be mountain biking.

In the beginning if my riding and writing, I had a choice. I could continue to persevere and move forward with something that I wasn't particularly "good" at in order to improve. I was able to accept mistakes and temporary failures were all part of the process. I had desire and I was thriving on pushing myself past the point of quitting and further over the line into the field of achieving. The best part? I was able to take something and make it my own. I could ride how I wanted to ride and write how I wanted to write. 

A person that both Travis and I know gave me the nickname Lil' Bit. The other night I came up with a motto based on that- "Lil' Bit Don't Quit."

It's true. Even tho I battle with myself at times with my own ways of thinking, I manage to find a way to work thru those feelings of self-doubt and questioning. Why? Because I have passion. I have passion for storytelling, for sharing the stoke of women who want to inspire others, and simply for riding and what it can do for a person.

Perfectionism can make this a hard process, but you are in charge of whether or not you allow yourself the opportunity to move forward. Realize that with growth- there will always be off days, and those days do not take away from the amazing things you've already done.
Those days allow us to have a chance to look inward and learn more about ourselves and how to deal with those annoying little voices of doubt, fear, and perfectionism. 

Refuse to let the difficulty of learning something new or taking chances keep you from the ultimate goal: Progression.

"I think anytime you can affect people in general, in a positive way, then you're a lucky individual."
-Sam Elliot

Monday, April 17, 2017

Women Involved Series: Selene Yeager

Today we meet Fit Chick, Selene Yeager, who many of you may recognize from her articles featured in Bicycling Magazine. You may have picked up one or more of her books on cycling or fitness.
Selene is a woman who made cycling and fitness her life, and made it her mission to share her experiences and wealth of knowledge thru writing. I decided to make contact with the rider and author, so we could all learn about her #bikelife and what fuels her passion for life.

"I’ve always ridden bikes. Then at some point I got into writing about them and racing them. That’s taken me all over the world: Brazil, South Africa, Israel, Cuba, British Columbia, and beyond. I ride every kind of bike everywhere. I race mostly off road. Gravel, mountain, some enduro."

Biking has always been a part of your life, what would you say has been the driving force behind your active #bikelife?
DNA. I’ve always just loved it. My grandfather used to go out and ride to see how far he could get, long before anyone I knew ever talked about that kind of recreational endurance riding. I didn’t know anyone in my small town who rode like that. He didn’t either. He just did it because it gave him joy. When I was in middle school I just started riding my bike everywhere. When I got to high school, I too, liked to see how far I could go—sometimes riding 20 miles to a friend’s house when everyone else was driving. I’ve always inherently loved the way it feels and makes me feel. Still do.

What was your inspiration to start participating in competitive biking events?
Friends and colleagues. After I got a job at Rodale (the parent company that publishes Bicycling), I started riding with a lot of other people who worked there. People kept saying, “You should race.” I didn’t think I wanted to do that. But eventually I caved and signed up. I was the only woman who showed up! But I had a good experience and started racing pretty regularly.

Out of the events you have participated in, what would you say is your most favorite?
I love mountain bike stage racing. Pedaling across the countryside is the most amazing way to take in a place. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been able to line up in some of the iconic ones like BC Bike Race and Cape Epic as well as Hot Israel Epic and Titan Tropic Cuba. My favorite of all the ones I’ve done is Brasil Ride because it was spectacularly beautiful and every day felt very different as you passed through coffee plantations and lush bamboo forests. One that I do nearly every year and is near and dear to my heart is the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic (a stage race in Central PA) because it’s close to home and it feels like summer camp. It’s also very technical riding, which I like best.

Do you have any suggestions for those who are planning to attend their first competitive event? What should they keep in mind?
Keep in mind that everyone is just like you! People have this idea that they’re going to go to a race and everyone is going to be PRO. Untrue. Most racers are there for the camaraderie and the challenge and the fun as much if not more than for the result. Relax and enjoy it. You’ll have a better time and probably do better, too.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? How was your introduction to off-road riding and what about it inspired you to keep at it?
I remember my first official introduction to “real mountain biking” (as opposed to taking my 10 speed in the woods like I used to) very clearly. I was on a fully rigid Cannondale on some super technical trails that are right in town here where Bicycling is located. I was with a small crew that included friends and colleagues I still ride with now and then (though some have since moved on). I was dumbfounded! People were just popping their bikes over rocks and logs and riding through streams. I couldn’t stop laughing it was so fun and ridiculous. I loved it immediately. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just followed the person in front of me and tried to imitate what they were doing. It worked pretty well. At one point one of the guys looked back and smiled and said, “I think you’re going to be pretty good at this.” After the ride, Bill Strickland (still my boss at Bicycling today!) gave me an old Rock Shox Judy fork that he had in the garage. It was awesome. I still love those backyard trails best of all.

Besides mountain biking, you have done quite a few endurance mountain bike rides/events. What do you enjoy about endurance rides?
I love going places on my bike. And I like going far. You really feel a sense of place and accomplishment and it soothes my mind and fills my creative well, so when I go back to writing I have something to say! That’s not to say there aren’t moments when I’m out there and I’m suffering wondering what the hell I’m doing and swearing that I’ll never do whatever it is ever again. But I nearly always do. I’m an optimist at heart and tend to remember mostly the good stuff in life; so I forget those moments pretty quickly and come back for more.
For someone interested in trying out an endurance-type event, what are some things they should take into consideration when preparing?
Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. In the end, your fuel pretty much makes or breaks you on a very long day. It’s very overlooked, especially when people are first starting out. Practice eating and drinking on your long rides. See what works—and what doesn’t—for you. Go into endurance rides with a fueling plan—i.e. “I’m going to drink a bottle an hour and eat 200 calories an hour”—or whatever works for you and DO it.

Clips or flats? What works for you and why?
I know I’m supposed to say flats. But clips. I like the power transfer of them. Yes, I know that flats make you a better rider. I’m still not going to use them. But I appreciate riders who do.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Oh, I’ve had a few. I wrecked on my road bike at about 30 mph a few years ago. I luckily walked away pretty physically unscathed, but mentally? I’d be lying if I said I still don’t have to remind myself to relax on long technical descents. On the mountain? Crashing is part of the learning curve for sure. I’ve broken ribs, fingers, my collarbone, and have had multiple shoulder injuries. I think the hardest part is when you first come back because it’s fresh in your head. But gradually you work back up to riding at speed and pushing your comfort zone and rebuilding that confidence. It’s important to know why your wrecks happen I think. Because it gives you something to keep in mind and try to prevent. Honestly, as I’ve gotten older, I also take less unnecessary risks. I weight the risk/reward a little more now. I’m not willing to lose a fully summer of riding for an injury that wasn’t worth it so to speak.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Fast cornering. I’m still not the best at it. It’s hard for me to trust that my tires will hook back up when they drift a bit. But I’ve gotten better. I think just riding with people who are better and watching and learning from them has been big. Also weight distribution is everything. It’s easy to be static on your bike and try to let it do the work. But being an active rider; shifting your weight and dancing on the bike is key to maneuvering rough terrain at speed.

What do you love about riding your bike?
It’s where I feel most peaceful and alive. Even when I’m hypoxic and suffering, I feel centered there. And I feel more centered when I’m done.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My current mountain bike is a Yeti Beti SB5 and everyone is sick of me telling them how much I love it every time we ride. It climbs well. It descends beautifully. It dances with me over rocks and logs. I just love it. On the road my bike of choice is a Liv Envie—she’s a rocket ship and super comfortable. Feels like flying. On gravel, it just depends. But my most trusty steed is a Specialized Crux because it’s super versatile. I can put giant tires on it for gravel races or skinnier rubber for more traditional cross races.

Cycling is one aspect you are well known for, health and fitness are the others- how did you originally become involved in those fields?
I think people just gravitate to what they’re interested in and what they’re good at. I’ve always been active. I played field hockey. I ran track and field. I danced. I kayaked and ran and swam. When I started writing it made sense to write about things I loved. Then it made sense to pursue some education and certification so I could speak from a place of a certain level of knowledge.

You have helped pen several books as well as magazine articles, when did writing become a way for you to share your passions?
It always has been. If I didn’t write, I don’t know what I would do. Probably work at a bike shop or coffee shop. I really don’t know. I’m writing in my head every minute of my life. Always have.

Do you have suggestions for folks who would like to write articles or a book about cycling or whatever sport they are involved in? What are some good first steps?
This is hard to answer, as the publishing world has changed so much since I first stepped into it. The web is a good place to hone your skills, though. Start writing and posting your own stuff. See how people respond to it. Then see if you can float it past some editors. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of rejection, always has been. But if you love to do it, persistence usually pays off.

Out of the books you have been an author of, what would you say is your favorite and why?
I’d have to say two. ROAR, which I co-wrote with Dr. Stacy Sims. It’s all about women’s specific nutrition and training and it was just a mind-blowing experience for me. She’s a goldmine of knowledge on the subject and the advice I learned and subsequently wrote about has changed the way I train and fuel. The other would be Rusch to Glory, which is Rebecca Rusch’s story. I’d never written anything like that before and it was amazingly challenging and gratifying. I loved the process.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I actually don’t think that’s true anymore. When I go on mountain bike rides now, sometimes the women outnumber the men. Women still don’t race bikes as much. Maybe they never will. But I don’t think we should judge the participation in the sport by the participation in competition. There are tons of women out there on bikes now, mountain bikes included. That number is only going to grow. I think it just took a while. When I first started riding, there weren’t any good clothes for women and everything was geared to men and it was sort of intimidating and you were worried about holding the ride up because you were a woman or whatever. That’s not 100% gone. But there’s so much fabulous gear for women and there are tons of women’s groups and women can go online and see other women being awesome and rad and riding and having fun. That only leads to more women riding.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think we’re doing it. There’s still some bro-industry bullshit. And yes, there’s still sexism. But those walls are crumbling. We just have to keep chipping away. The more women that get involved, the less you’ll see of that.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Riding makes you feel free. Every woman should feel free.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have 6 toes on my feet. (Kidding.) I don’t know if it’s random. But I think what surprises people about me when they really get to know me is that I battle fear of failure pretty much constantly in everything I do. I have some very loud demons that bang around in my head telling me I suck and I’m an imposture and I’m going to get my ass handed to me if I do any given event. I have to slay those demons just to get out of the house some days! But it’s totally worth it. It makes you stronger. And they just get in the way of having a good time. Probably deeper than what you wanted—like I collect lip gloss (which I do)—but ultimately more helpful I think!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Women on Bikes Series: Ashlynn Smith

Well my name is Ashlynn Smith. I am a laboratory technician for a professor at the University of Florida (Milton Campus in Milton, FL) as well as a teaching assistant and graduate student in the Environmental Horticulture program. Because of this, my biking life has had to slow down a bit this semester, but I would have to say my niche in the biking world is definitely in the long distance endurance events, especially the self-supported ones!

This past October I completed a self-supported, self-navigated endurance race called the Tallahassee Tango. I was so proud of myself for that one! I also try and host at least one ladies only off-road ride each month. I do this because I’m tired of women attempting to get involved in off-road biking and being intimidated or afraid of being left alone in the woods because they are dropped from a group or hurting themselves because they feel pressured to ride faster or above their skill level.

The group is called Women’s Adventure Riding- It’s not that big of a group yet, but I have had up to 10 ladies join me and I would love for us to start going on small bikepacking adventures together!

Tell us what introduced you to discovering your #bikelife and how it has influenced your world.
I was first introduced to road biking by a co-worker and I took to it right away. I think I liked biking so much because I was able to use the same muscle groups I had already developed from rowing in college. Rowing is all legs! Road biking evolved to triathlons, that evolved to road bike racing (which I was NOT good at!), which evolved to a cross bike for commuting, which then turned to gravel grinding / mountain biking / bikepacking.

Can you take us back to your first mountain bike ride? What did you learn from it?
I can’t remember my very first mountain bike ride, but I can remember my first time being clipped in on a mountain bike. My husband and I were visiting family in Kentucky and I thought it would be a great idea to bring our mountain bikes! We stopped in Tennessee to ride so not only was I over my skill level, but it was also my first time being clipped in. There were a lot of tears and crashes that day. One crash I had was so scary for me, after finishing the trails up there, I was afraid to get back on my bike for a month. What I learned from that ride was how important it is to take things slow. Slowly work your way out of your comfort zone and on to harder courses/skills. I always keep this ride in mind when riding with beginners. I know that if they get scared, it may take them a month or they may even not get back on the mountain bike at all, so I try to be very patient and understanding of their fears.

For those nervous about off-road riding, do you have tips or suggestions that may help them cope?
I guess I sort of did that in the previous question, but I always try and tell women who are new, that I can’t promise they wont fall or get scratched up, and may even be a little scared at times, but once they feel comfortable and in control, there’s nothing like tackling a challenge on the bike and coming out on the other side.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
Even with my first bad clipped-in experience, I’m still a clipped in rider! I like feeling connected to the pedal at all times. I can apply more power knowing my foot won’t slide off the pedal.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I honestly feel that many physical challenges are often just mental/emotional ones. I learned in college as an athlete at a very competitive level, that the body is capable of things beyond what you can even imagine it’s capable of. You just have to get past mental blocks to allow it to reach its full potential. Even being aware of this, getting past those barriers is way easier said than done. I mentally talk myself out of all kinds of things! I would recommend though that setting a specific goal helps me get past the mental blocks. By the way, I NEVER make my goals about winning and rarely are they about a finishing time, but setting a distance goal with a long endurance event just helps keep me focused and I’m less likely to talk myself out of training and such.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
At the very basic level, I just had trouble putting my bike exactly where I wanted it. If there was something I wanted to get around, it was hard for me to get my bike to do it. It’s easy for people who have been riding for a long time to forget what not having control of where the bike is going feels like, but it’s not always a ‘given’ when people get started. A female mountain bike instructor finally told me that inevitably where your eyes look, your bike will go there too. This changed my life! Haha! So that tree I wanted to go around, if I focused too hard on it (because I wanted to avoid it) without spotting with my eyes the alternate path around, sure enough, I would go right into that tree!

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Of course!! I still have a mental block with rocks (probably because we don’t have many in FL)! It’s like if I see them, I freak out inside, my skills I’ve worked so hard on go to crap, and I talk negatively to myself. Again, I just take it slow, calm myself down, and tackle what I can. I think something that really helps me is that even minor accomplishments on the bike make me really excited, so I can sort of forget about the stuff I can’t do yet (like big rocks!). I’m a beast at roots! LOL

What do you love about riding your bike?
I’m sure this question gets you a lot of long answers because there are so many things to love. Mine might be a little strange. The challenges I’ve been telling you about are real and my skills were not natural in any way. It has taken me so long and so many miles to feel comfortable and in control on my bike, and that’s my favorite part! It’s a challenge every single time I ride. There are always going to be things I can improve on. If I did what comes naturally to me, I would be a weightlifter or do crossfit competitions or something, because that is what I’m best at. Mountain biking scares me, hurts my feelings, pushes me down, but when I get through a tough course or event, it’s just that much more rewarding knowing how hard I worked to get to where I am. Nobody knows how I feel on the inside, but me. I think people assume that it’s easy for me, or something that’s a natural fit, but that’s not the case. I love it because I have never liked easy ☺

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have the 2015 Giant Brava SLR. It is a cyclocross bike. I chose it because I live in Blackwater River State Forest and there are lots of dirt and gravel roads. I wanted to be able to commute wherever I wanted and not worry about having to stick to paved roads only. This bike was my transition into off-road riding and it got me hooked! I’ve done one cyclocross race on this bike and that was pretty awesome as well!

I also have a Salsa El Mariachi – single speed. It is a steel frame, but has a Whiskey carbon fork and a nice American Classic wheelset. I got this bike because I felt like I could handle most of terrain here in FL on the cross bike, so I didn’t see the need for suspension. Also, I wanted to take it on bikepacking adventures with my husband and there’s just less fuss with a ridged frame. I don’t have to worry about adjusting the shock fluid pressure or anything like that. I switch it back and forth from geared to single speed, but single speed is definitely my most favorite way to ride.

How did you get started with participating in endurance events?
My husband definitely had a big influence in getting me involved in endurance riding. He was Did you know there are people who bike for hundreds of miles off-road and camp along the way?" and I was like..."That sounds awesome! Let’s quit our jobs and do that!"

We still both work full time and now I’m also back in school, but one day, we will be seeing the world by bike! For now, we train the best we can for ‘shorter’ distances while learning what we need to bring for particular distances and temperatures. He has really helped in doing most of the research and purchasing our gear so that all I need to focus on is being physically and mentally ready for a ride.
With long-distance endurance events, how do you prepare yourself?
I ride a LOT. The best way for me to get miles in is to commute to work by bike. It’s about 20 miles away so I can get 40 miles in each day I can commute. The rest of the miles come in on the weekends. At one point this summer, I was doing about 200 miles each weekend for maybe 6-7 weeks in a row. We also found some other crazy people to do these rides with us who were willing to start at 3am to avoid the heat. I don’t do any special training programs and I definitely can’t afford a coach, so I just ride.

Tell us about your favorite event that you've participated in-
My favorite event by far was the Tallahassee Tango. It is a 160-mile self- supported/ self-navigated mostly off-road ride from Tallahassee down to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and back. The people who do this event aren’t in for bragging rights. I can say that because it’s a small event with no prize money. There are no people along the course cheering you on, except for the event coordinator, Karlos and his fiancĂ©. The best part was that at the finish (11pm for me) my husband was the only person standing at the end of the road on a sidewalk, waiting for me in the dark. The only people who knew what I had done were my family and close friends who were tracking me using
There was hardly anyone else around me the entire time. Any people I passed were genuinely happy that I was feeling strong and doing well. There was nothing but encouragement from other riders. It’s just great to accomplish something like that all on your own and have only those people, who really care about you, know about what you’ve done. It is a beautiful course you share with some really down to earth people!

You have a women's group: Women's Adventure Riding, tell us about your group and how women can get involved-
The group is really small right now, but I started it because I noticed that the local off-road riding groups were male-dominated and were holding group rides at a pace that was way too quick for casual riders and people just starting out. There was no way a person just starting out was going to enjoy riding in one of these types of rides. I decided to open the rides to only women because there just weren’t any women-only rides being held in my area.

Women can get involved, in general, with their mountain biking communities by holding women-only events. If anyone has questions or would like tips on how to get started, feel free to contact me. As far as getting involved with Women’s Adventure Riding, just by sharing and liking the page on Facebook is a HUGE help to spreading the word about us.

Why do you feel it's important to have women's groups?
It is important for me to provide an atmosphere where women can be themselves while trying something new, or polishing up on skills they already know. Women are encouraging and supportive by nature, and taking them out of a male-dominated environment helps them express those traits even more. It’s amazing the positive talk that occurs during the W.A.R. rides! I love it and it seems like the local ladies appreciate the opportunity to ride among other women as well.

What has been your biggest struggle with establishing your women's group? What has been your biggest success?
My biggest struggle has been getting the word out to women in the area that these rides do not foster a harsh competitive environment. It’s hard to reassure them that they will not be made to feel like they are holding anyone up, that they are not an inconvenience, or that they will not be made fun of if they fall or wipe out. It is just really hard to get women over that hump. Once they show up though, it seems like they really enjoy the rides.

My biggest success is when I get asked ‘Ashlynn, when are you going to have another ride?’ It lets me know that what I’m doing is making a tiny difference in my community.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Fear. Definitely fear. Fear of being injured. I think women sometimes have this idea that mountain biking has to be descending down a rocky mountain or cornering so fast you nearly rip your arm off on a tree. They don’t realize it can be just a low-technical trail in the woods with the sunshine and wildlife. You don’t have to go fast and you don’t have to battle rugged terrain. You just have to get outside!

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Oh gosh! Now I get to vent. LOL I have two major pet peeves when it comes to women and mountain biking. I HATE when other female mountain bikers post their injuries on social media. How the hell are we ever going to get women out on mountain bikes if we post nasty pictures of our wounds?! It won’t happen. It doesn’t make you tough because you crashed and tore up your elbow/knee. We need to be posting pictures of women riding together and having a great time if we want more women to get involved in this sport.

OK now for number 2:
I have seen over and over again at local bike shops that men are offered a higher quality bike than women. They sell down to women if they aren’t familiar with their abilities or riding style. Doesn’t it make sense to make more money? And isn’t someone more likely to stick to a something new when they have the best, most comfortable, equipment to use? I even heard about a local bike shop ‘hiding’ the larger sized women’s shop jerseys behind the counter and not putting them on the floor in the clothing area. This is unacceptable. These both seem like they would be a counterproductive business practice, but I guess I don’t know much about selling biking products to women ☺ I think more women would get into mountain biking if shops treated them as if they were equal to their male customers.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I don’t really know what my inspiration is. I just know that more women would be able to enjoy this sport if there were more women promoting it and working together.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love to read, I’m obsessed with podcasts, and I hate cooking. I read a great book recently called Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Shining Light on the Shadow of Doubt

Last year provided growth with many areas of riding and advocating. I felt like I was seeing success and growth with my adventures. This year feels even more promising, yet I'm still struggling with a shadow that likes to lurk in the background.

That shadow, is named Doubt.

Looking back over the past few years, Doubt has been the biggest killjoy. It's like walking into a room and everyone looks at you but doesn't say anything. Just a coy glance, a smile, and back to conversation with everyone else while you wander around trying to find a group to mix in with.

Doubt takes questioning to the next level. I'm envious of folks who can go into something and not analyze- they just jump right in and get to it. I, on the other hand, have never been like that. I'm observant, I judge, I analyze, and I question. I play scenarios in my head and I try to think of every possible outcome and come up with appropriate reactions and responses ahead of time. That way I've already set myself up simultaneously for success or failure.

Doubt likes to think it has control over you- it will encourage you do what it wants. Doubt feels it has the ability to prevent you from trying new things or challenging yourself to a goal, participating in a race, or applying for a sponsorship/ambassador program.

Doubt says things like-
"You aren't going to be who they are looking for."
"You won't win, so why try?"
"Do you even know what you're doing?"
"Are you sure you can do this?"
"Do you think anyone will care?"
"Are you crazy?"
"Sure ___ can do this, but why do you think you can?"
"Won't you get hurt?"
"Won't you be scared?"
"Won't you look stupid?"
"Won't you feel stupid?"
"You aren't that good."

There are many more phrases that Doubt likes to throw out, and Doubt likes to feel big and make a person feel small. Doubt has a big, booming voice or sometimes a sly, smooth-talking voice that can be quite convincing. Doubt likes to do a lot of talking, and the hard part is figuring out when it is a good time to listen or shut Doubt up.

Quieting the voice of Doubt is not always easy. Sometimes it isn't hard, but other times you feel like you're spending weeks working against it. Second guessing, talking to friends or loved ones, talking to yourself, and simply taking small steps towards proving to yourself that Doubt isn't going to be the one to tell you what you can or can't do.

Doubt will tell you that you can't ride off-road, and it's going to be up to you to decide if you will listen to the voice in your head saying you "can't" or if you'll take the actions to prove to yourself that you "can."

Doubt likes to think it's keeping you safe- yet at the same time Doubt often leads us to avoidance. We shy away from new experiences because it feels scary or unfamiliar- yet if we would step towards those situations with a sense of openness, we could find ourselves having a most enriching experience.

Doubt wants to save you from feeling disappointment- it thinks that if it stops you from trying, that it's better for you. You won't have hurt feelings, you won't feel sad or discouraged- you just won't know what you might be missing out on. You won't apply for something, you won't go to an event, attend a group ride, or you simply won't give something new a shot- all because you would rather stay safe and secure with what you are currently comfortable with.

If you do not apply, you won't have a chance. It's just like the lottery- don't wish for something if you don't even play. Above all, work on not taking rejection personally- which is easier said than done, but look at it as an opportunity continue doing your own thing. Sometimes the freedom of being your own ambassador and creating your own brand is the best route. As an advocate or ambassador of something you love, you have to start somewhere!

If you don't go to an event, you miss out on meeting new folks or seeing new trails. When it comes to events, the fiercest competitor you go up against is yourself.
I have interviewed women who place in the top 5 and I've interviewed women who attend events just for the fun of it. Those who attend for fun have just as much fun as those who win- and both are highly encouraging of seeing more women participate. They want more women to participate because they feel it's good for the sport.

If you do not attend a group ride because of doubt, you have no idea on the fun you'll be missing out on or the ability to connect with other folks who might have felt the same way. Yes, group rides can be tricky in terms of finding a group you'll resonate with- but if you never take a chance, you'll never know. If you're a newer rider some things to look for in a group ride that might suit you are the terms "No Drop" which means folks will stop and wait for you at intersections, etc. "Introductory" or "Beginner" which means those rides are geared to newer riders and will not be possibly as long or technical as "Intermediate" or "Advanced" rides. There are also Co-Ed rides or Women's rides, depending what your area offers- and both are excellent ways to meet like-minded folks who simply want to have fun on bikes. Plus, you'll have more opportunity to learn- sometimes it takes seeing someone else to something to have it "click" or they might be able to explain it in a way that makes sense.

Simply not trying because of Doubt means you are not allowing yourself the opportunity to see what you can do. Doubt didn't just affect mountain biking for me- it affected my entire #bikelife.
From my childhood years until June of 2012- at least 15 years if not slightly more, I avoided riding a bike because of Doubt. Doubt assured me I was safer in my car; that I wasn't cut out for riding a bicycle. It convinced me I would get hurt because I couldn't ride a bike well because I'm accident prone. Doubt told me that I was a fool for thinking I could get around the Trout Run Trail. When it came to mountain biking, Doubt was right there with me saying I was better off not even trying. With blogging, it told me no one would possibly care about what I had to say.

"You're scared."
"You'll get hurt."
"You'll look stupid."
"You think you'll get good at this?"
"Do you even know what you're doing?"

I came to a fork in the road with two doors- Door number 1 had Doubt standing there with all of the comforts of life that make me feel safe and secure. Door number 2 had challenge, fear, uncertainty, and confidence standing around a newly planted tree- all of the things that come together when experiencing growth. What did I want most? 
To grow.
To gain experience.
To be confident.
To tell Doubt to shut it.

The learning process was not without challenge- but the whole point of challenge is to work on overcoming. It's to realize that challenge is what pushes us thru life, it gives us something to work towards. Fear works with Doubt, and they can be boisterous together- being able to find logic behind those feelings and talk them down can grow confidence.

When was the last time you did something you thought you would never be able to do? 
When was the last time you surprised yourself? 
Instead of telling yourself "I can't." "I couldn't." "I'd never.
Start telling yourself "Yes." "I can." "I'll do this." "I won't give up."

Acknowledge your feelings, your fears, and Doubt- but don't let them tell you what you can or can't do. It can be tempting to give in to Doubt and stick with what feels familiar, but with doing so you take away all of the wonderful possibilities of discovering how wonderful growth can be.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Women Involved: Lisa Mazzola

Kristen Phillips and Lisa Mazzola Live in New York City and are involved in the cycling and coaching communities. 

Kristen and Lisa are both long time cyclists with strong background in art and yoga, and their coaching business, Art of Cycling NYC, blends these concepts together in a unique way that emphasizes total enjoyment in the moment. 

Their goal is to turn cycling into an art form and are on a mission to use bikes as a way to improve quality of life in the urban jungle.  

They are also part of the leadership team for Bicycle Habitat Women's Cycling – a bike shop driven program that leads bi-weekly rides and  provides coaching,  clinics, and other instructional programs throughout the season.

Tell us the introduction to your #bikelife and what it means to you-
My #bikelife started in 2005 when I went to my childhood home in Long Island, NY to go through my personal effects as my parents we selling the house and ordered us to get our stuff out. While I was doing it, I found my sister’s old ten speed bicycle buried in the garage. I brought it back to Manhattan (NYC) where I was living and started using it to commute. Immediately I was reunited with that amazing feeling of freedom and joy that I used to have as a kid cycling around the suburbs, not known as an interesting place culturally or environmentally. Unfortunately, within a year it got stolen, but luckily a woman I worked with (who eventually turned out to be a team mate) and her husband were selling one of their many bicycles. The rest is history as they say.

When did you decide that being involved with cycling as a coach was something you wanted to pursue?
In 2010, I took part in the New York Cycle Club A SIG Classic series. It is a 12 week progressive series where you go from 50 miles to a 110 miles, the whole time focusing on fine tuning skills, and working towards cycling in fast, tight pace lines. Only 50% of the participants graduate, and I was one of them. Afterwards I was asked to become a leader and then in 2013 I was asked to serve as a Co-Captain for the 2014 season. It was that position that made me realized I had much more to share, and wanted to do so in a more formal way.

What would you say has been your greatest moment with coaching?
I don’t think there has been any one moment, but rather, luckily many moments of being present when an athlete accomplishes something they never thought was possible before. Seeing that level of stoke and pride in an athlete is something I can’t get enough of.

What would you say is the most challenging part of your job?
I think that I still struggle with the balance between the art and science of coaching. Although it requires content knowledge, and an understanding of the scientific framework, it also requires good communication skills, patience and intuition. I feel comfortable with the latter, but still learning and trying to become as expert as I can.

How did you first become involved with Art of Cycling NYC-
Kristen and I met last summer on a cycling holiday in the France. After several long climb chats in the Pyrenees, we realized that we shared a similar philosophy about cycling and its power to improve quality of life. In addition, we both had some similar opinions and thoughts about how to integrate cycling and yoga both into our own practice, but also into coaching. It was really empowering for me to hear about Kristen’s and the Habitat program and realize that there was someone else out there that felt as strongly as I do about the need for focused and supported practice and coaching, especially for newer riders to the sport. Five months later Art of Cycling NYC was born. It all came together very organically and easily.

Tell us about Art of Cycling NYC and how women can find benefit-
Art of Cycling NYC is actually for both men and women, although we currently have a predominately female client base. I do think that beyond the obvious benefits from taking part in coached, structured training, I think that women work well in groups and can gain inspiration from each other. So, for example in our indoor computrainer classes, I already see a sense of camaraderie building as everyone gets to know each other. It would be great to see the group continue to ride together outside. Although I do not think it is required, I also think being female coaches can be helpful for women. Having coached men and women, I definitely have seen many women really thrive having woman mentors who understand the issues that are specific to women, whether it be training or even equipment related. Only a woman truly knows the pain of not having your saddle dialed in!
Why do you feel it is important for women to help educate and inspire women riders?
Cycling has long been considered a sport not for women, for a variety of reasons. Luckily, most recently, athletes like Evie Stevens are not only challenging that notion, but also represent someone coming to the sport later in life. I also think that cycling can be very intimidating and for some reason, men seem to move more easily past that feeling, where woman I feel need more of a welcome and mentoring into the sport. Ultimately, women can do anything a man can do on the bike!

Take us back to your first mountain bike ride- did it go as you had hoped or was it stressful?
This is an interesting story. My very first mountain bike ride was no stressful, and was not what I expected. I was thrown on my friends full suspension 29 er and just barrelled over stuff, and crashed many times. I did not do it again for many years, and when I did it was super stressful. I was once again on a full suspension 29er but for whatever reason I was absolutely not comfortable on the bike. Add in terrain that was way over my head and I as ready to never mtb again. All that changed last summer when I got to demo my Superfly at Kingdom Trails in Vermont. I still crashed, but it was not nearly as stressful, and actually very fun!

Give us a few suggestions that may be helpful for new off-road riders-
Whatever you do, try to stay relaxed (mentally and physically) and try to focus on having fun. If you're totally stressed out, you're better off backing up to a place where you can challenge yourself and still enjoy yourself in the process.

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
Clips! I am a climber and can’t imagine doing technical climbing without them. Caveat, I have only tried flats a couple of times.

Have you had any buffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Although my worst “biff” was in 2009, in 2012 I crashed on a gravel downhill on my road bike. It freaked me out so badly that even after getting a cyclocross bike with bigger tires, I was still petrified on rides, especially downhills that emulated the one I crashed on. Although my physical injuries were fairly minor, but I struggled for almost a year to gain confidence. Interestingly, once I started mountain biking, my confidence off road and on my cx bike happily took a big jump.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Although I took to the sport pretty well from and endurance and fitness standpoint, I did not have an easy time with bike handling skills. I basically practiced them all the time. The whole 10K hours concept. I would do drills on the grass in the park, and also on my stationary trainer. Once I started racing and then riding off road, I had to go back to the drawing board with new drills and a whole lot more practice. That would be my advice, practice, practice, practice.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Absolutely everything, except the time it takes to get dressed in the winter! It is my time to feel the most free and close to flying as I can as a human.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Like Kristen, I am lucky that I have room for three bikes in my NYC apartment. From 2010 to two weeks ago my road bike was a Cannondale Supersix. For 2017 I am on a Specialized Amira Expert, which despite the geometry differences is similar in ride feel. Light because I love climbing, and stiff because I also road race on it. This past summer I entered the wonderful new world of mountain biking and I have a hardtail Trek Superfly 5. I also have a 2011 Van Dessel Gin and Trombones cyclocross bike that I ride dirt and gravel on, as well as bike commuting.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
As kids we all jumped on bikes, but as adults it seems to be much more intimidating. There is all sorts of gear to navigate, terrain, fitness. It’s a lot to process. Add in the skill level and learning curve required in mountain biking and it's even more overwhelming. I would also argue that the same would be true for men entering the sport. I think men are conditioned to buckle down and suck it up. Whereas women connect to sport with more subtlety and nuance.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
In New York City women in cycling continue to rise steadily from my experience. Programs like Bicycle Habitat Women’s Cycling and organizations like New York Cycle club and even CRCA give women opportunities to enter the sport with lower barriers. The common thread is community, opportunity and mentoring.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I think my own love of the sport, and experience going from totally unathletic to riding at a high level, and even racing motivates me. I want everyone to enjoy life and feel empowered as much as I
do because of the sport.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I have a cat named Ollie who loves to hang out on my kikr mat, with my bikes.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

How To Fail at Introducing Women to Mountain Biking

There are not enough articles out on the internet or in magazines to help gents have a better understanding on how they can introduce more women (daughters, wives, girlfriends, sisters, etc.) to mountain biking.
I've compiled a post on some "fails" when it comes to introducing a female to mountain biking. These are from either personal experience, interviews, or conversations with women who had less-than-stellar introductions.

Note- not all of these may apply to you, or perhaps none. Not all women are the same and this might not resonate with some, and that's okay. This is written for those who may find benefit from it either as the person introducing or the person introduced. Either way, you aren't alone.

However, as much as you might want to deny it- there are women out there who make learning to ride off-road a very mental and emotional experience. Especially if we aren't at the same fitness level or confidence level as you.

I applaud you on wanting to share the joys of off-road riding, but I implore you to make sure you think about the notes below before following thru with it. Do some research, take time to talk about things. Make sure a proper bike and accessories are purchased, have her find a tribe of women or a single woman who can be a role model for her and additional source of support.

Be prepared to not have a "Disney Movie" experience when it comes to the learning process- the closer you are to someone, the more difficult it might be. Especially if it's your significant other.

Below is a list of "Fails"- these are legit. Either from personal experience, past interviews, or experiences told to me by other folks. Behold- the "Dirty Dozen of Dirt."

#1. Not doing enough research or asking enough questions. Is this something she wants to do or are you just projecting your grand ideas on her?

If there is no willingness on her end to go out on dirt trails with you and you force her anyway- the chances are very high you will ruin the experience for her. There has to be some desire or curiosity around mountain biking first. What factors are the most appealing? Being out in the woods in the beauty of nature? Riding somewhere with less traffic? Boredom with where she's currently riding? Mountain biking ticks off those boxes easily. If it sounds appealing, then it's time to explore a legitimately easy trail.

If there is willingness to take her out on the trails, but you do everything you "think" is right, you might still ruin the experience because you didn't do enough research, ask enough questions, or assumed everything you were doing was "right." If you think where you are taking her is "easy" because it's easy for you...find somewhere easier yet. Don't be afraid to travel somewhere that has more beginner-friendly trails.

#2. Not being able to think like a new rider with no handling skills or cardio fitness.

If you bike everyday and shred the gnar and you're taking someone out who may be entering the world of fitness for the first time- you need to tone it down. Way down. Making us "chase" you isn't fun. We won't know how to get up the hills, we'll be afraid to go down the hills, and we'll have a hard time keeping up. Be willing to take breaks and be willing to walk sections with us without shaming us.

You have to look at the trail with eyes of a new rider who hasn't done it before. What might be intimidating or scary? That little log you like to launch over? Scary. The roots over there? Scary. The rock you roll over? Scary. That bridge over the creek? Scary AF.

If you can't put yourself in the shoes of a new rider, then you might not be the best individual to take that person out. If you can't stand hearing how "intimidated" or "nervous" or "scared" the rider is, and you make no effort to be kind, thoughtful, and understanding- find someone who can.

#3. Not having the female on a bike suitable for mountain biking.

This means everything from the wrong type of bike, to an old clunker POS, to the wrong size. Get her on something appropriate! Too big, too small, falling apart, heavy, or not appropriate for mountain biking is just a disaster waiting to happen.

Do not get her on a bike of lesser quality than yours, especially if mountain biking is truly what she wants to do. If you have disc brakes- she should too, not the under $500 bike with rim brakes. Stop thinking "entry level" or "base model" when it comes to what type of bike she should have for the best experience. If you started from the bottom and worked your way up the quality chain- you learned nicer is better. If you wouldn't choose to ride it or buy it for yourself, she shouldn't, either. Also, don't make us feel like we need to "earn" something- that's just downright uncalled for.

If you can't buy a quality bike, see about renting one. Maybe there is a friend the same height that has a bike that is solid. Don't make the experience awful by not having a proper setup

Along with the bike- stop forcing the whole "You've gotta clip in, you'll love it!" concept.

Let us learn how to ride on quality, grippy flats first. (Like Race Face Chesters)
Don't let us go out with cheap plastic pedals that have no traction pins, either! Stock pedals are crap- you know it, I know it. If you don't ride stock pedals, don't let a new rider use them, either.

If we don't already ride clipped in elsewhere, learning to ride clipped in on off-road trails as a new rider is our worst nightmare. There is NOTHING wrong with riding flats, so stop acting like it's a total joke. If folks at the bike shop are telling you that flats have come a long way, that they are a viable pedal option for new riders- you should listen. Clipping in is something that can be introduced at a later time, like a few seasons in.

Let new riders get the hang of what they are riding first before you pressure clipping in- that's the smarter route to go.

#4. Not taking them on a trail that is legitimately suitable for riders with little-to-no experience with riding dirt trails.

If the person has not been on dirt on a bike before...find the flattest possible trail- NO EXCEPTIONS. Sometimes one just needs to have their first "mountain bike ride" on a terrain other than pavement. Take them on a smooth gravel or a well traveled fire road. A skinny path is scary as heck to someone who has not ever ridden something skinnier than a paved trail.

Also, don't push them too quickly- let them get used to riding one trail a few times before making a grand adventure out of it. Biting off more than one can chew the first few rides is one of the biggest deal breakers possible. Travis learned this during my first introduction- instead of just sticking with one thing for several weeks it was "Cool, let's try this trail, now this one, now this one." We didn't use repetition and I became easily overwhelmed. Sure, I had some successes- like climbing up Rocky Road as a newbie, but I was almost traumatized by not being able to really work on learning just one trail at a time. We rectified that the following year and would stick with the same trail or two for a couple weeks before venturing off onto another one.

#5. Devaluing the female's emotions.

Don't tell her she's worried for nothing- you're the one who can ride all the trails. Stop being insensitive. Shutting down her feelings will lead to more trail-side arguments and feelings of resentment. You have to bring forth some empathy- don't shut down what she's scared of. We don't need to hear from you how "little of a hill" it is or how "small" the log is. If we are new, we don't know what we're doing and what's easy for you is hard for us! Do not shame us for crying. Do not be surprised if you hear "You don't understand!!!"---because you probably don't. Actually, you don't.

#6. Don't say "Just follow me!" blasting away, while she is yards away trying to keep up, ultimately hating the experience because she's alone and feeling anxious/scared because she has no idea what she's doing.

We learn nothing when we can't see. We just learn that you're too busy caring about your ride to care about ours. If you never take the time to ride with us, why would we want to ride with you?

You have to take the time to ride with the person you're introducing. If you don't, you're instilling the whole "I'll hold you back, I'm making it not fun for you, I'll always be last, and I can't keep up" thoughts that make women never want to ride with others. Stop trying to show us how good you are- we're more focused on not getting lost and not crashing everywhere.

Along with this, don't follow behind and bark orders or scold us for every little thing we do incorrectly right away. If we don't have the basic knowledge of simple skills, of course we're going to screw up. You can bring up those things in a nice manner, maybe show us some skills, help us learn and practice instead of acting like we should simply absorb knowledge by photosynthesis while we're biking with you.

#7. Don't "mansplain" things.

It's not appreciated, especially in the high-stress environment of learning something new. Keep things simple. Don't give us a million tips/advice because that will overload us. One thing at a time, please, and be willing to show us multiple times- if you overload us with all of this "knowledge" you have of trails and riding we often become stressed and anxiety ridden because we can't either a. use it all or b. don't understand what the heck you mean.

#8. Don't take photos of us after we crash, laugh at us, or "WTF" the situation.

Don't antagonize us when we're at our most vulnerable! All you are doing is making us feel embarrassed about our "failures." As we grow with experience and confidence- we'll tell you when it's okay to take a picture of us when we crash. To put it bluntly, don't be a dick.

#9. Don't think you are the best mountain bike instructor ever; especially if you've never introduced another woman (successfully) to mountain biking before.

You probably aren't a certified coach. You aren't a female- do you really get how we think? Are you truly ready for what may unfold out in the woods? You probably won't see the next Emily Batty and you'll likely find yourself wondering what the heck you got yourself into because you thought it would "be different" with this one. No stress, worries, anxiety, tears, etc. If you're making the same choices as you did with previous failed attempts- that's why it's not working!!!

#10. Do not discount the opinions/thoughts of other women mountain bikers.

You should seek them out for their opinions on easier trails to introduce the female to. You should also see if one could take her under their wing for additional support, advice, etc. If you don't have a woman mountain biker to talk to- talk with your local bike shop(s) and get suggestions from them. They will have ideas on appropriate gear and bikes and likely rattle off easier trails for out-of-town folks/new riders all the time. That can be valuable- ASK. LISTEN.

#11. LISTEN to the female and what her needs are.

If she says it's too hard (and it's more of an intermediate trail vs. beginner) than find a damn beginner trail. Stop making it more difficult than it has to be. Mountain bike skills and confidence take time to develop.

If she says she wants to work on easier stuff- go out of your way to help her boost her confidence by riding those "boring and flat" trails. Travel to them and make it an adventure! The more fun she has- the more fun you'll have, because you're actually on your way to helping her have a positive experience with mountain biking. Which is the point!

#12. Don't avoid the concept of having her join a women's mountain bike ride/group. You should encourage it. 

Women do often times fare better around other women- plus it will give you a break from being the sole "teacher" to the off-road scene. Sometimes a break is needed, and that's okay- many times women will "get" each other more. They feed off their successes and often times a women's ride will help boost confidence or increase the desire to try more things (like going over that small log) because women are inspired more by seeing other women doing something vs. seeing men do the same thing.
If you are introducing someone to off-road riding, understand that there is a level of trust between you and the new rider. Once that trust is broken, it's extremely difficult to earn it back. 
If you want to give it another shot, show that you are truly willing to ride with them and that you are completely open to feedback and requests. For some new riders it takes more time and repetition to gain confidence. Don't try and force it. You'll know when they are ready for a push to try a new trail and that will be after they can ride some easier trails with confidence and success.

If you are a woman reading this who has had a less than positive experience with your first introduction to off-road riding, I would love to help. If you are not local to the Decorah area, please check out the FWD Ambassador page to see if there is a FWD Ambassador near you. If not, please contact me and I may know of someone near you that would be willing to assist from previous interviews on my blog.

If you are within the Decorah area, I would love to help you get re-introduced to off-road trails with one of my FWD Women's Rides or a solo ride.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Women Involved Series: Kristen Phillips

Kristen Phillips and Lisa Mazzola live in New York City and are involved in the cycling and coaching communities. Kristen and Lisa are both long time cyclists with strong background in art and yoga, and their coaching business, Art of Cycling NYC, blends these concepts together in a unique way that emphasizes total enjoyment in the moment.
Their goal is to turn cycling into an art form and are on a mission to use bikes as a way to improve quality of life in the urban jungle.

They are also part of the leadership team for Bicycle habitat Women's Cycling – a bike shop driven program that leads bi-weekly rides and provides coaching, clinics, and other instructional programs throughout the season.

Tell us what introduced you to discovering your #bikelife and how it has influenced your world-
I discovered #bikelife as a freshman in college. A friend from drawing class invited me on a mountain bike ride (story below) and that was the turning point for me. Everything changed after that. I had a new group of friends, a healthy outlet for stress, and was introduced to the world of racing which effectively used up all of my free time, in a good way. Everything awesome in my adult life has come some way or another through bikes. I met my husband riding bikes. It just keeps getting better!

You are the co-creator of Art of Cycling NYC- what inspired the development of your group?
In 2015 I co-founded Bicycle Habitat Women’s Cycling as a way to serve the growing NYC women’s cycling community. BHWC hosts rides, clinics, and other (mostly educational) events. Art of Cycling was inspired by the success of that program, and based on a shared vision between Lisa Mazzola and myself. We learned on many long rides together that our personal philosophies were aligned, and shaped heavily by our backgrounds in art and yoga. I’m an artist and Lisa works in art education at the MoMA. We are both yoga teachers. We both love long rides with lots of climbing. Art of Cycling was created to blend traditional coaching methodology with the philosophy and wellness aspects of art and yoga. It’s basically our way of using bikes to improve every aspect of our lives by introducing creative and spiritual components in a practical way.

What would you like women to know about Art of Cycling NYC and how can they get involved?
Art of Cycling is a coaching program for people looking to take the guesswork out of reaching their goals. We work with clients individually and in small group settings. The easiest way for women to get involved is to keep an eye on our class schedule by visiting our website and following us on Instagram: @artofcyclingnyc.

What do you feel has been the greatest achievement since creating Art of Cycling?
We launched Art of Cycling on December 1, 2016 and are still getting started, but our winter indoor group coaching class is sold out and our yoga for cyclists class is filling up fast. It’s so exciting to feel like the community wants and needs what we’re doing.
When did you decide to make the move to become a coach? What was the best thing you've gained from it?
The opportunity to teach mountain biking for college credit at Northern Arizona University fell into my lap in 2004 and that’s where it all started. My husband and I taught this class together for three years. So many good things came out of it, and I learned a lot about how to be a good skills instructor. Then a few years later, I had the opportunity to be the head bike coach for a large triathlon training program in Hawaii. These experiences taught me I love coaching, and helped me grow as a leader. The personal growth aspect has been incredible. Coaching has brought me full circle in love for cycling and provides the opportunity to share it with others.

Can you take us back to your first mountain bike ride? What did you learn from it?
My first mountain bike ride is still fresh in my mind. It was in September 1999 in Flagstaff, Arizona. I was taking a drawing class, and my classmate brought her mountain bike as a still life prop. She was from Colorado and invited me to explore some local trails with her. We were both new to town and got a little lost, and decided to turn around as the sun was setting. It was the first time I had ever ridden singletrack. Down the trail I went, bike chattering, no clue what I was doing, but wow-- what a feeling! Something in me had completely let go into this unknown experience, and it was like nothing I had ever felt before. I was high on nature, beauty, pine trees, and sunset. My heart was beating; my adrenaline flowing. I WAS ALIVE and I felt it for the first time in my life that day.

For those nervous about off-road riding, do you have tips or suggestions that may help them cope?
Mountain biking is as much mental as it is physical. Deciding that you want to do it is the biggest asset you have. I wrote a blog post for BHWC recently called “Advice for New Mountain Bikers” based on the things I find myself saying the most. Hope it helps!

Clips or flats? What do you like and why?
Clips for pedaling efficiency and technical climbing :)

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
In 2005 I was preparing for MTB Nationals in Mammoth, CA and took a bad crash on one of my last training rides. I was riding well that day and feeling confident! Then, my front wheel washed out unexpectedly and I took a hard hit to the head. Thankfully I was with people who could call for help. Thankfully the damage was nothing the ER and a few trips to the dentist couldn’t fix, so I was pretty lucky. It was scary to get back on my bike though. I didn’t end up racing at Mammoth, but I did do the local hill climb on my road bike the following weekend. For me, getting back on the bike as soon as I could was the best remedy.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Handling skills came more naturally than fitness when I was starting out. In races, I would always gain time in technical sections. Climbing was the thing that took a lot of determination. I said before that mountain biking is as much (if not more) mental than physical. Anything you can do to be calm and in sync with your equipment will help bike handling. Practicing slow speed balance is one of the best things you can do. Everyone wants to go fast, but you have to learn to go slow first. Anytime you’re waiting for someone on the trail, practice riding slow and trackstanding. Practice hopping in place. Never waste a moment.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Staying positive is everything, and there is no shame in walking something you’re not comfortable riding. The thing I’ve been working on lately is riding skinny logs. There is a mountain biking area called Sprain Ridge just north of Manhattan that has a zillion obstacles to conquer. I start with logs low to the ground with zero consequence, and work my way to the higher ones. I have a mantra: “I am calm, I am centered, I am steady, and I can do this.
What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything… but mostly the connection to nature and having way to stay fit that never feels like work.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Living in NYC, it’s a luxury to have four bikes. My road bike is Trek Emonda SL8 Women’s, my mountain bike is a Trek Fuel EX 9.9, and I also have carbon hardtail and single speed cross bike. I chose the Emonda because I love to climb, the Fuel because I haven’t had a full-suspension bike in 4 years, the hardtail because it’s awesome, and the cross bike for commuting.

You work at Bicycle Habitat- tell us about your job and why you enjoy being in the industry:
The bike industry is a really great place to be. It’s not perfect, but no job is. I’m surrounded by people who feel like family, and my extended family of cycling friends gets bigger every year. My job at the shop is split between running Bicycle Habitat Women’s Cycling, and sales. The women’s program involves planning events, organizing rides, teaching clinics, and any/all marketing-related efforts like social media, website, and emails. It’s the best job in the world and there are a lot of perks.

Do you have any suggestions for women interested in being involved in the industry? Such as working at a bike shop?
I’ve worked in a lot of shops and every shop is different. They all have their own unique culture. It’s important to find one that fits with the type of cyclist you are, or want to be. For me, it’s all about quality of life and helping others improve their own lives through cycling. There are many times when I’m not sure if I’m working or not, since work and play are so connected. They flow together seamlessly. When I worked for other industries it was not that way. I guess you could say I tried the real world, and came back to bikes. I believe in them even more now.

You were chosen as a Trek Women's Advocate for 2017, what does being a Trek Women's Advocate mean to you?
My role as program manager for Bicycle Habitat Women’s Cycling and Trek Women’s Advocate are one in the same. It’s my job to create an environment that encourages and supports women’s cycling. This happens internally within the shop, and externally in the community. A welcoming shop environment is an incredible resource for women. The products and service we provide is so important to long term health of the cycling community. BHWC was created to provide a support system for present and future customers, and the Trek Advocate program is a wonderful extension of that.

What are your hopes for the future of the Trek Women's Advocate program? How do you see it helping with what you are currently doing?
My hope for the Advocate program is that it can have a huge impact with getting more women on bikes. Trek is the perfect company to make it happen. It’s been inspiring to be part of this effort because the mission is so positive. The other Advocates are amazing! We all share a common love for bikes and have already made a difference. It’s helpful to have a network that expands beyond NYC.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Mainly fear and lack of confidence. Women also tend to discount the importance of good equipment. Especially with mountain biking, good equipment and proper setup is everything. Good instruction is also important, because that helps with confidence. BHWC and the Trek Advocate program are here to help guide women through the learning process one-on-one and in positive group settings.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
This is a big question, but the short answer is women beget women. More women in shops means more women apply. More women on bikes means better products for women. The industry will adapt and change based on demand. We have come so far, but there is still much work to be done.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Cycling is an easy way to improve every aspect of life. It’s a fun way to get exercise, explore new places, and meet new friends. I encourage women to ride because I know what life was like before cycling. I also know how difficult the learning curve was for me. My goal is to help ease that transition by supporting every aspect of the cycling experience. With Bicycle Habitat, I can ensure a positive bike shopping experience and all related service-- including social aspects like group rides, clinics, etc. With Art of Cycling, I can provide a higher level of instruction and coaching. It’s the best of both worlds in all the right ways.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
PB&J is my favorite ride food.