Every year I encounter quite a lot of people wanting to get into racing. Whether they are mature riders or young teenagers, making a first step into racing mountain bikes isn’t always simple. Here are a few common questions we ask ourselves:

What’s the best way to go into a race in order to perform my best? What’s the trick to figuring it out fast? How do I figure out what works for me?

Seriously, this had to be my biggest personal struggle with racing: Figuring out how to mentally approach a race.

Riding and training is the easy part! We know how it’s done; there are certain guidelines, rules and lessons literally written on paper. You read it, you understand it, you do it. Easy. As for what goes in between your ears once you are in the start gate, no matter how much you read about this, you need to figure out what works best for you.

I remember my first tries at racing! I would show up at the race, meet with a girl friend and practice with her not really thinking or knowing what would happen on the sunday event. When it was time to race, I would be in the line up leading to the start gate wondering: “What am I doing here???” “This doesn’t feel so good, I’m super nervous!” So my first thought to go down the hill for my race run was to do what I had done all weekend. I literally imagined my friend being ahead of me as if I was riding with her again! hahaha! She actually started her race just ahead of me and so I was imagining that I was chasing her down like I did in practices… It didn’t take me too long to see it wasn’t a great approach. My thoughts were all over the place during my race run and not so much on the trail. That was my first trial and error.

At that point I realized I shouldn’t be thinking so hard when I’m racing. I started to race not really thinking of anything. I was still pretty nervous at my starts, didn’t really know why but I was! That gave me okay racing results but I would still make mistakes or take crashes that I didn’t quite understand… I knew what had made me fall but I didn’t understand why I had gotten to that point; why I wasn’t focused. That was an ongoing issue that I couldn’t quite figure out. Some races were good and some were bad. One time I had a pretty good race at my local hill, Bromont. The following year, Bromont hosted another race on the same race course. I thought: “Sweet! I did good at that race last year, I’m comfortable on that track.” A small mistake followed by an over-confident Vaea ended in a big injury where I broke my femur and pelvis. I was definitely going to come back from it but I really had to do some thinking and try to figure out how to race to be more consistent while still performing! Injuries suck. Period. And even though I really want to stay away from them by riding and racing smart, I still learned the most from them.

After that injury, 3 years ago, I started riding very conservatively. For the longest time I couldn’t perform my best, couldn’t commit to ride as fast in races as I did in practice. Every year after my injury, I posted better and better results. It wasn’t all mental. I trained better in the off-season, I learned a lot more riding skills and got more and more confortable on a dh bike… So mentally I was getting more confident too. I wasn’t fully satisfied and wanted to do something else to help myself.

book_in-pursuit-excellence

I decided to pick up a book on mental preparation called “In Pursuit Of Excellence” (which I totally recommend to anyone wanting to act better on anything in their lives). It taught me how to find my best focus and how to keep it when racing. Key things to reflect on: When did I perform my best? Why did I perform my best there? How was my mindset at that race? In contrast to: When did I not perform my best? When did I loose focus? What made me loose focus? Did I gain my focus back? How did I gain focus back?

The main thing really is to find what brings you back into your best focus. We all loose focus at some point, I still make mistakes and think: “Oh damn I got completely off of my line there, I’ll tell my peeps when I get at the bottom!”. WHAT IS THAT!!? It’s so ridiculous that sometimes -still while racing- I’ll think to myself: “Vaea! Stop talking to yourself and focus on riding!” Funny isn’t it? Well, that whole chat going in my mind is exactly what not to do. It is at that exact moment that you make more mistakes. Slipping a pedal or missing a line is not that big of a deal. Not many people get perfect runs (maybe 1 racer per event gets an unbelievable fast and perfect race run!), but not recovering from an error right away and getting into more mistakes is what costs you time and possible injuries.

What works for me? “Braaap!” A very simple expression. Haha! As funny and stupid as it may sound, that is what I came up with to keep myself focused! I am a big fan of motocross racing and I love to see those guys shred the way they do while racing a super stressful event. That motor sound “Braaap!” makes me stoked on riding, simply. I ride my best when I’m enjoying it, when I’m confident in my riding and when the track is sweet! That friendly reminder pops in my head when I make a slight mistake and just tells me to get right back into it, keep my rhythm and keep shredding! It cuts all other thoughts and makes me focus only on what I am doing, racing.

Braaap tshirt

That’s my personal trick and what works for me. You get the idea and I hope that you can figure out how to find your best focus too!

I think that a good preparation and mental readiness are key to perform your best. You learned your lines, you practiced well, had fun and hit what you wanted to hit, your bike is ready, you trained hard for this and you’re going to do your best. Because we can only do our best.

As for the start gate, I believe that an empty mind is the best you can give to yourself. You know your lines, you know you are ready, just do it. I feel like this part of our brain just functions better when you let it react freely. Just focus on racing, your lines memorization and riding skills should follow automatically.

2014 World Championships - Focused and smiling, ready to rip it!

2014 World Championships – Focused and smiling, ready to rip it!

This year was a big big step up in my racing performances. I won the National Championships, got solid results on world cups and finished 6th at the world championships. The season started with a set back when I lacerated my liver while training in May, but I somehow carried a great mindset into the start gate and performed so much better as soon as I was back racing. I feel like after years of races, crashes, injuries, frustration, motivation, progress, etc, I came to realize that it is not worth stressing too much. I mean if you’re like Greg Minnaar and you’re trying to be a World Champion 10 times in your career, that’s one thing. That guy gets really nervous about racing, and handles stress really well, and wins. For me, and I think of youngsters out there getting into racing and wanting to make it on the world cup circuit, I think that the best way to find your groove and perform your best on stressful events is not to worry so much about it. I was told once: “It’s only racing bikes Vaea, it shouldn’t be so hard.” Thanks to Duncan :) Whether it’s a local race or a world cup, you are racing on your bicycle in both situations. It shouldn’t be any different in order to perform. It means: enjoy it, embrace it, evolve with it and let it fulfill your life with happiness and radness! Worrying about the outcome of my race run would only make me nervous, ride a ragged run and make my racing journey not as enjoyable… So I just have fun with it and give it my best. And it works!

Working hard and getting stronger performances is the best feeling out there! I can’t let set backs make me so frustrated or nervous, because I perform my best when I’m enjoying riding. Take 2 riders: Gee Atherton and Josh Bryceland! See where I’m going? Gee is the super serious athlete, calculated and particular that won’t settle for less than winning. And then you got Bryceland, being rad, throwing crazy lines, having fun with it and looking like he’s playing with the race course while everyone else is struggling to hit some lines. For him having fun and not worrying is what works best. In both cases, one is World Champion and the other is World Cup Champion.

Different approaches work for different people. Find where you perform your best and don’t worry about the rest, because that works for you!

I just got back from an amazing month of riding, racing, adventuring in France and Italy.  What a trip!  So much happened that there would never be anyway I could possibly paint the right picture . . . so I’ll keep it short-ish and sweet :)

Trans-Provence

Custom race plates for everyone!

Custom race plates for everyone!

I could honestly say this was the best week on my bike ever.  I seriously enjoyed every second!  6 days. 300 km.  8,500 meters ascending, 15, 000 meters descending.  24 timed stages.  Amazing people.  Amazing scenery.  Amazing trails . . . . holeeeeee shit it was incredible!  Words cannot explain the epicness of the week and I feel incredibly lucky that I got to be a part of this event.

The TP is BIG.  The shortest day was 6 hours, the longest was 10.  After having a somewhat rough start – getting lost and a major mechanical that both really bit into my overall time – I started getting a better feel of the terrain, riding faster, not getting lost and biting back time.  I ended up 5th overall and was stoked on some great stage results.

Just the beginning . . . Jamie Nicoll and I stop to take in the view.  Shortly after I took an accidental 'detour' that brought me down the wrong side of the mountain and had me riding/hiking an additional 10 km on an already big day.  Oops.

Just the beginning . . . Jamie Nicoll and I stop to take in the view on Day 1. Shortly after I took an accidental ‘detour’ that brought me down the wrong side of the mountain and had me riding/hiking an additional 10 km on an already big day. Oops.

No shortage of hiking during the TP.  This day was huge!  4.5 hours up and over a mountain pass with bikes on our backs . . . a true adventure.

No shortage of hiking during the TP.  Day 2 was huge! 4.5 hours up and over a mountain pass with bikes on our backs . . . a true adventure.  Gary Perkin pic.

Hiking, hiking. hiking . . . .

Hiking, hiking. hiking . . . . Gary Perkin pic.

In and amongst all the hiking, there was some climbing too.  Gave the blisters a break :)

In and amongst all the hiking, there was some climbing too. Gave the blisters a break :)

Chris Johnston didn't mind the hiking with views like this!

Big days means big views.  Chris Johnston, smiling of course.

Camp life.

Camp life.  Gary Perkin pic.

Blind racing is a weird thing . . . you definitely find yourself in hollleeeee shit moments!  It's amazing what you can pull off on instinct alone.

Blind racing is a weird thing . . . you definitely find yourself in hollleeeee shit moments! It’s amazing what you can pull off on instinct alone.  Gary Perkin pic.

Lots and lots and lots of these. Switchbacks.

Lots and lots and lots of these. Switchbacks.  Gary Perkin pic.

Almost there . . .

Almost there . . .

Santa Cruz teamies Wolsky, Iago and Chris celebrate the end of a big, great week.

Santa Cruz teamies Wolsky, Iago and Chris celebrate the end of a big, great week.

I could really go on and on and on about this event. Everyone made it unforgettable, but a real highlight would have to be spending a lot of time with Ines, Anita and Caro – The Füstli Crew – who are my new fave girls.  Funny, fun, inspirational and in all of this for the right reasons . . . wish they lived closer!  Thanks girls for all the laughs, good stories, encouragement and saying it how it is :)

Yep.  This happened.  A race that ends in bikinis at the beach is the epitome of best event ever.  #thefüstlicrew

Yep. This happened. A race that ends in bikinis at the beach is the epitome of best event ever. #thefüstlicrew

EWS Finale Ligure

Wow. Wasn’t easy going from the TP straight into an EWS.  Especially Finale.  The transitions were tight and the riding was tough.  Training was challenging due to shuttling logistics.  I was enjoying myself but finding it tough to push hard.  Didn’t have much of a choice though . . . lots of climbing, tight transition times and riding that really needed precision, focus and power.

Teamie Anka Martin and I about to get Day 1 started.  Gary Perkin pic.

Teamie Anka Martin and I about to get Day 1 started. Gary Perkin pic.

It was a good race.  Welllllll.  Haha.  Kind of!  I had two big falls in the first two stages.  Broke my visor blah blah blah . . . but then I pulled it together and rode my best otherwise.  The problem was that my best wasn’t as quick as I would have liked, I finished 16th overall.  Not disappointed whatsoever with this though – 47 girls were registered, 36 started and 32 finished . . . these races are HARD!!!  Around 2 hours after the race was done, I got hit hard by the flu and shivered and sweat for 3 straight days . . . hmmm, wondering if this had something to do with my low energy over the weekend?  Maybe.

Day 1, Stage 4.  No shortage of epic Mediterranean views in Finale!  Pic by Gary Perkin.

Day 1, Stage 4. No shortage of epic Mediterranean views in Finale!  Gary Perkin pic.

So the season is over and I am on some major R & R time.  I think it’s incredible that after all these years of riding and racing my bike, I still giggle and laugh and love riding my bike every time as if it’s the first time.  Sometimes I really can’t believe how much I love mountain biking!  I had such an amazing season, and am thankful to everyone who was a part of it – you know who you are :)

The Füstli Crew celebrating our epic season!

The Füstli Crew celebrating our epic season!

Claire has a neat little profile and interview up on xtremespots.com. It seems to be a pretty big community website full of “Extreme” Sports athletes from all over the globe. Click here to read the full interview

xtremespots_screenshot

Very happy to come away with 1st overall in the Canada Cup DH series this year! I owe it to my 951 Evo and all my sponsors who helped me to have such an amazing season! Last year was a bit of a tough one, dealing with injuries and a shortened season, so it feels pretty good to come back this year and get some decent results. Full results are here.

If you were to go on an “authentic adventure” like, say a bike ride, what might you drive? Well, you might drive a Subaru Outback. Who knows, you just might. My Tracer 275C and I got to do a little driving around in one earlier this summer for a commercial and it was just released. My bike got way more air time than me but if you don’t blink you’ll see my smiling face in there too. :) Here it is!

And a little quote I read recently that just made sense:

“We loose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there too.” ~Kristin Marts

So happy to now be able to share this project with you all! I am still really grateful that I was given this opportunity. For those of you who couldn’t make it out to the show during Crankworx Whistler, this is me and my teams 3rd place Dirt Diaries edit. Our story was subtle: How just simply getting out for a ride can turn sad into rad and how the characters and friends we make in this sport are what really keep us hooked. Most importantly, I really wanted the riding to shine as you can’t always express that as a name on a results sheet. Thanks to Dylan ForbesMitch Gulliver and Justin Roy for doing an epic job putting this together and thanks to some of my favourite characters,Chris KovarikFalcon Falcone and Ian Morrison for being a part of it. Much love!
http://www.pinkbike.com/news/summer-of-summit-claire-buchar-dirt-diaries-video-2014.html

Just found out that I won the overall for the Sea to Sky Enduro Series – sweet!  I did 3 of the 6 races, but I guess 3 consistent podium finishes did the trick to take a healthy lead.  What a great local series, with awesome trail selection and good competition.

Squamish, 3rd place

Squamish, 3rd place

Pemberton, 2nd place

Pemberton, 2nd place

Whistler, 1st place

Whistler, 1st place

Well.  Rumours are out and they are true.  The Crankworx EWS was, for lack of a better word, f’in brutal!  Over 8,000 feet of climbing on a 35 degree day with no time to stop for food or a pee cause transitions were so tight and then we were greeted by racing down the gnarliest terrain that Whistler has to offer.  HARD.

I’m all for a good challenge, but for the most part, this race was pushing the limits and people were miserable.  No one was talking on the climbs, death marching up the hills through the heat . . . the ‘spirit of enduro’ was lost.  I’ve never seen people, including myself, in such a state at the top of stage 4.  Just f’d.  But that being said, we did it.  A lot of us did.  And maybe a challenge like this is important once and awhile to really know what you’re capable of?  I don’t know, but I do know that you can convince your mind of almost anything.

My number plate mantras kept things in perspective :)

Friendly reminders from my number plate mantras :)

How rad was it to see this!!!

How rad was it to see this!!!

As they are, Enduros are chaotic and this was no different but guess what?!  No mechanicals!  Well, one little one that for sure did not interfere with my racing – just made it hard to get to one of the stages on time.  The biggest issue for me this time around was passing.  And people not being particularly good about getting out of the way.  A couple crashes, but sounds like everyone was on their face at some point.  Other than that, I rode a little more conservative and slow than I would have liked but oh well.  I finished 12th overall.  Happy, but room for improvement.

Dropping into Stage 5, Top of the World.  Pic by Vince Shuley.

Dropping into Stage 5, Top of the World. Pic by Vince Shuley.

So there it is.  Another epic adventure with my bike in the books :)

Crankworx Whistler officially starts today!!!!

Over the next 10 days, I am looking forward to racing the Garbanzo DH, the Air DH and the Canadian Open DH. I’m looking forward to going up against some rad inspiring World Cup girls and friends in my home town. I’m looking forward to challenging myself to be the best I can be from where I am in my own life.

Why I race has evolved over the years and although winning feels great, racing to me has become about the challenge of performing MY best at that moment in time. Wether it’s a local beer league race or a World Cup its just me, the track and that damn ticking clock. It’s the rewarding feeling of doing your best despite feeling good or bad. Wether I win or lose, I am not the best and I am not the worst. I am not even in between. I am that I performed my best under whatever circumstances.

Spirit Goals are my favourite kind of goals:

These may be the most important of goals; they involve personal growth and how you want to feel when the season is all over, what you want to take away with you besides a medal that is only worth maybe $5. Ask yourself what is driving you to seek out your other goals in the first place; or in other words, what do you really hope to get out of this besides defeating others. While meeting your Season Goals may contribute to reaching your spirit goals, your spirit goals should stand alone. For some people their spirit goals involve having applied themselves to the fullest, for others it has to do with fitness, and for others still, it has to do with having experienced the love of competition.

aline

 

“80% of success is showing up.” ~Woody Allen

This past weekend we travelled to Kicking Horse BC for our fourth and final race this month, the Western Open/BC Provincial Champs. This is one of those tracks that isn’t easy – it’s steep with long smooth rock faces, lots of exposed roots and a massive pedal to the finish line. It usually takes me a few runs to “feel it” but once I get there it turns into a whole lot of fun! We lucked out this year in terms of conditions – 2 days of rain prior to practice meant some tacky dirt that almost held up all the way till race day. And although a bit chilly on Friday and Saturday, the sun showed up for race day and brought the heat.

It's a long gondy ride to the top

It’s a long gondy ride to the top

That can only mean one thing - a long ride back down!

That can only mean one thing – a long ride back down!

So there was something a bit different about this race. I don’t know why, but there was a noticeable shortage of female competitors, not only in the Pro/Elite category, but in every other category as well. Altogether there were four brave women who came out to race the gnar, each in their own category. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been the only competitor in my category at a race, but it was the first time it’s happened at a race of this level of significance. I know there are lots of other female rippers out there, some who race and couldn’t be there and some who don’t race. I understand that racing isn’t for everyone and I wouldn’t ever want to push someone to race if they’re not comfortable with it, but if there are girls out there who have hummed and hawed about it – I say GO FOR IT! Racing will challenge you, push you to be a better rider, give you the opportunity to ride in new places and meet some incredible people. There is nothing more exhilarating than conquering that section you didn’t think you could… except maybe crossing the finish line at the end of it all! And the best part of all is that you don’t have to win the race to accomplish goals and have a blast. I have learned something from every single race I’ve gone to, whether it be about biking or about myself, and in that respect I consider every race a success. Woody Allen is onto something… but I digress.

Enjoying some morning sunshine on race day

Enjoying some morning sunshine on race day

I felt privileged to be running the #1 race plate

I felt privileged to be running the #1 race plate

Bryden riding through the flowers like a dream

Bryden riding through the flowers like a dream

Practice went well and before I knew it it was time for seeding. A flat tire half way down made for a very slow run but gave me a good excuse not to have to sprint the long pedal to the finish line. ;) Thankfully things went much better in my race run and other than some minor mistakes made it down with a decent time. I surprised myself in the start gate before my race run – I didn’t think I’d be nervous but those pre-race jitters still snuck up on me. A race is still a race, and even if you’re not competing against anyone else the clock is still ticking.

Junior Experts lining up for their race run

Junior Experts lining up for their race run

Race run - time to pedal!

Race run – time to pedal!

When all was said and done Stephen Exley, the mastermind behind the Dunbar Summer Series events, did an excellent job of recognizing each of the women who raced and even awarded me with a sweet new Momentum watch for being the fastest female! I still got my champagne podium and a giant cheque and now have the official title of Provincial Champ and the jersey to match. To honour the reason these races began in the first place I donated half of my winnings to Stephen’s daughter Lola – check out his website Love for Lola.

Podium!  Thanks Jason Louden for the photo

Podium! Thanks Jason Louden for the photo

BC Champ!

BC Champ!

Pro Men's Podium

Pro Men’s Podium

Thanks to Danielle Baker for taking so many amazing photos! She also did a great write up on pinkbike covering the race weekend. And as always, big thanks to all my supporters who make all these wonderful things possible: OGC, Intense, TLD, Fox Racing Shox, Suspensionwerx, ODI, MRP, Thomson.

The women of the weekend!

The women of the weekend!

I just finished my first Enduro World Series in Winter Park, Colorado.  What a wild week!  I had no idea what to expect when I hopped on the plane one week ago.  The scope of my expectations basically went like this:  Yeah riding and racing in a new place with fun people!

Me and my best friend.

Me and my best friend. Pic by Daniel Dunn.

No one finishes an Enduro race without a story, or five.  So much can happen in a few minutes of racing, let alone several.  Enduro racing is all about managing chaos.  Straight up though, this was the most chaotic race I have ever done in my life of racing.

Winter Park decided to have us race over 3 days and 7 stages.  The bike park itself is typical bike park style berms and jumps with a couple slightly more technical tracks in the mix . . . nothing wild or big, just cruisy fun.

I gotta say, the days leading up to the race were really fun!   I love riding my bike.  Period.  And riding with a bunch of rad girls and guys makes it even better, of course.  I spent most of my time riding and practicing with fellow CDHG Vaea, Rachel Throop and Kelli Emmett . . . thanks for making it so fun.

Wolsky my travel buddy and  new friend Iago chairlift shenanigans

Wolsky my travel buddy and new friend Iago chairlift shenanigans

The format was different – they would announce the tracks a couple at a time so we would train in the afternoon, race in the morning.  Made for some big days.  They really tried to get us off the beaten path of the bike park by putting in a usually illegal trail – for this one we only got one practice lap in.  You’d think that a lift access Enduro would be easy, ha.  The combo of 10,000 feet elevation and flat tracks made it so physical.

I say, for the most part, the stages were fun, and sure maybe quite characteristic of a bike park, but that is what this area had to offer.  I think they tried a little too hard to create a ‘new’ experience by having us race that illegal trail – which in my opinion was similar to riding in an ashtray but hey, that’s what they decided to do.  I have a much stronger opinion about Stage 6 – which was the most horrific, lame, boring, flat, disappointing, stupid and every other bad word you can think of trail I have ever ridden.  Not alone in these thoughts that’s for sure, as I know some racers tried their best to get it taken out.  Unfortunately, this track (and perhaps a couple other organizational issues . . . ) left a really bad taste in the opinion holders mouths and so I doubt an EWS will come back here again.

Stage 6.  Glasses with a full face?  Yep, just as lame as the stage!  Pic by Daniel Dunn.

Stage 6. Glasses with a full face? Yep, just as lame as the stage! Pic by Daniel Dunn.

Anyways. Back to me :).  I won’t bother with the details of my chaos cause that’s boring and no one really cares anyways.   All I need to say is I had enough mechanicals to last me a long time, one of which could not be fixed.  Bummer, yes.   I remained positive, but it became hard to stay motivated.   It actually became funny at times, and mind boggling to my fellow competitors . . . I’d get the “Really??”.

Our category started with a strong field of 39 competitors that eventually got whittled away to 32.  Every single girl who competed is a phenomenal rider; the level is impressive and inspiring.  I finished 16th.

Interestingly to some, I’m not holding any disappointment whatsoever.  No, things didn’t go picture perfect but really, it doesn’t matter.  If it did, I’d have far bigger issues than some measly mechanicals!  I rode my bike.  With great people.  In a new place.  It’s just mountain biking.  And it’s supposed to be fun :)

I need to give an extra special thanks to Mavic for helping me deal with all my mechanicals . . . Maybe just another weekend for them, but honestly I wouldn’t have made it to the end of the race without their support.

I’d also like to send some speedy healing thoughts to Brittany Clawson, who had a huge crash on the final day.   We can’t wait to race and ride with you again.

 

 

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