I recently read an article about leadership and the role of calm in times of crisis. “Calm is Contagious” was the point of the article and it was focused on how effective being calm is in times of crisis. The author drew an interesting comparison to biathletes – particularly those at the Olympic level – and how they balance the demands of cross country skiing and accuracy in shooting. The skiing is highly aerobic and strenuous. The shooting requires a calm and steady hand. They’re at odds with one another.
Remarkably, the highest caliber biathletes can bring their heart rate from 200+ bpm to sub-50 in about 20 seconds. Just 4 breaths.
What? I know. That’s what I said, too.
I’ve been spending a lot of time on the mountain bike these past few weeks. Many of the trails in Colorado start with a significant climb. And they’re interspersed with some sections that require a fair amount of skill, concentration and finesse.
It occurred to me that the demands required for steep, extended climbing and a technical downhill or rocky section are sometimes at odds with each other. Just as they are with the skiing and shooting of biathlon. Would training my body to ‘calm on demand’ yield benefits? I decided to give it a try.
I don’t know that my max heart rate reaches the 200+ range these days (sure feels like it sometimes!), but I know for certain that the prospect of bringing it to my resting state in anything less than 5 to 10 minutes seems to be pushing it. But reading further about the efforts of biathletes, I found that coming to full rest (in HR) is not necessarily the goal. Calm certainly is, but they learn to shoot between heart beats.
So over the last few weeks, I’ve been focused on bringing calm to the forefront of thought, taking some big, mind-clearing breaths, and concentrating on the outcome. It seems to be making a difference. I don’t go into the technical sections as fast as I might have before. I take any space given and time allowed to focus on calming the mind, breathing deep, and relaxing the hands.
I put it to practice again yesterday on a loop of single-track that I’ve ridden dozens of times. When I got done, I knew that it was the ‘cleanest’ I’ve ever ridden the route. I managed to clear just about every obstacle and (just as important) had a blast doing it! I didn’t believe it was the fastest I’d ridden the loop, but I was happy with the effort.
I’ve shared this with a few friends and we’ve explored the idea of extending this to the concentration in racing a crit; a high-speed descent following a tough climb; and even just the level of awareness needed when you’re putting in a hard effort on the road with vehicles and traffic around you.I’m doing my best to share the benefits. Because while calm is contagious, it’s effective, too. When I downloaded my ride, I was happy to see that many sections were indeed PRs for the loop. Best ride there in 7 years. I’ll take it.
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About the Author
A lifelong commuter and amateur racer in road, CX and MTB, David Newcomer has experience with just about every aspect of our sport. A former race director of the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb, and Executive Director of one of the largest cycling clubs in Colorado, he brings a wide range of experience to share with others. David is the Customer Service Manager at Pactimo and host of our podcast "On the Road with Pactimo." You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org