So I started training with a cycling group at Centennial Park, a close-knit bunch of semi-pro triathletes, ex-national level road cyclists and a coach. I spent the first six months close to the edge, near exhaustion after each session with these men and women, and would often drop my head on my desk at 10.30am each morning at work and wonder if I could keep going with them.
In time, I adapted and could eventually hold my place in the middle of the group, though it was never easy. But I learnt a lot; I learnt the importance of riding with mutual respect in a group. I learnt to hold a pace-line flat out with 100% concentration. And I learnt how to suffer, to really hurt and get up the next day and do it again. Our coach used to preface a particularly hard training day by saying “This is the sort of session where you give it to yourself.”
But the best thing I learnt from them was how to descend – that is go downhill fast, particularly around corners. You see, if you’re going to be a good bike racer, you’ve got to be able to descend well and keep with the pack, if not get ahead of it.
And here’s the theme in my story.
When you’re heading downhill around a corner, you become aware of two extremes. The first is the apex of the corner; the line you want to take, the safe part of the road and the lane you’re in. The second extreme is the danger – the other side of the road, the steep drop off, the oncoming traffic.
And it’s our natural instinct, driven by our reptilian brain, to look to the second extreme – to the other side of the road; to assess the danger, to see the room for error, to watch for the coming cars. And if you focus your eyes on that side of the corner, you very quickly learn that we tend to go in the direction we look. That is, our mind follow our eyes, our body follows our mind, the bike follows our body, and before you know it, you start drifting to the very extreme you need to avoid. You drift away from your goal, the safe line and the apex!
So the first and most important lesson of descending around a corner, on a bike, at speed, is to keep your eyes on your goal – look to where you want the bike to go, look to the apex and the safe line. And you start to find that when you do that, you go round corners that you thought you couldn’t do, and the danger stays out of your field of vision, out of your mind, and out of your way.
That lesson has always stayed with me, and I think about it whenever I’m riding and descending hills.
Reflecting on it now, I think this is one of those ‘whole body’ things, an alignment of mind, heart and body, where these three elements align to achieve a goal. You look to the goal you want to achieve, your set positive thoughts towards success, and your body heads in the direction of the goal.
Maybe this is a form of applied optimism or positive thinking, but in an immediate and very experiential way. All I know is it works in cycling, and it might just work in life as well. Look away from the darkness and look to the light. Look to the positive outcome and focus your view and energy on what you want to achieve, not on the danger or the pitfalls.
Keep your eyes on your goal.