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Discovery: The Difference Between a Fitness Workout and Fitness Adventure

July 23, 2017

My classmates and two coaches in the Ninja Mountain Bike Performance clinic, July 2017

For me, the difference between a vacation and an adventure is the former consists of experiences that rate a 1 – 4 out of 10 on what I call my Worry Meter. While I might try new food, go new places, see new things and meet new people, nothing about them physically or emotionally taxes me. That’s a marvelous thing if the goal is to relax.

But if I want to discover what I may be missing in life, I have to venture into what I find uncomfortable, sometimes extremely so. The payoff is that I almost always learn something new about myself and the world, lessons that often turn out to be life-changing.

I was reminded of that recently when I took a two-day Ride Like a Ninja mountain biking clinic in the Santa Cruz mountains through Ninja Mountain Bike Performance.

I’d been mountain biking for the last five years and had picked up the activity as most people do, by borrowing a bike and going out with friends and picking up tips here and there along the way. Two years ago I started riding with a group of people who seemed to have a much easier time with steep terrain. Whereas for me, though I continued to ride regularly, even trails I’d glibly ridden when I first started seemed to grow more threatening. Why?

That and I wanted to go on a 4-day, 100-mile mountain biking trip in Arizona in September with the same group of riders. The organizer, who I’d only ridden with on a few occasions, asked if I’d be up for intermediate-to-advanced terrain. I said I was certainly fit enough. He said while that was a plus, tough terrain requires skill. That separation of the two attributes — fitness and skill — gave me pause. I told him I’d like to sign up, but would check my skills by taking part in a clinic

When the day of the clinic arrived, I showed up at the designated location, the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos, CA. There I met the two coaches: Richard La China  has a long list of both mountain bike racing wins and coaching certifications, as did Randy Inglis, a former expert downhill rider. Both were very welcoming, as were the nine other men in my class, which decreased my nervousness somewhat.

The coaches first assessed our basic skills in a flat region of the forest: the ready position, braking, manipulating the bike from side-to-side and performing various cornering techniques. During the last, my Worry Meter rose from a 3 to a 4 because I couldn’t quite get the feel of what the coaches wanted.


Section of downhill at Forest of Nisene Marks

Then we went on a ride that involved a short technical segment involving rocks and roots down a somewhat steep slope. At the bottom, we practiced a short, steep transition of maybe five feet, first on a moderately steep section. When it came for the very steep transition, my worry meter shot up to 8, so I remained on the sideline to watch those who felt comfortable trying. As the day progressed, I discovered more an more bad habits I’d been using.

Though I was nervous about the second day’s more challenging terrain at the Soquel Demo Forest in Los Gatos, CA, I showed up to the same enthusiastic coaches and clinic-mates. The day of riding progressed as the previous one had, in that we stopped frequently to talk about different terrain features, including log crossings. Though receiving consistent and supportive verbal cues from the coaches, my morale continued to slide. Proper cornering and braking still eluded me and I fell several times because I was looking down in front of the bike instead of farther down the trail. The only thing I did well was the final slog up a long, wide fire road back to the parking lot.

I enjoyed the coaches and their sense of humor and multitudinous insights. I appreciated having accomplished a trail I’d been too nervous to do on my own. I loved learning about the others in my group while swapping recommendations on where to ride. I really loved the breakfast, lunch and transportation to the trailhead provided by Cyclepath Outfitters.

But as I drove home, my morale sank to zero, an emotional state I’d never experienced before, especially in the fitness realm. It was then I had my first revelation: I was a rotten rider. How had I survived for so long without getting seriously hurt?

When I got home, I jotted down debriefing notes, then allowed myself to feel lousy. I consider that a necessary step if I want to gain any insight. Realizing you’re not as accomplished as you thought is sad!

The pity party over, I thought over the experience. That was when I had the second, and much bigger, revelation: My fitness level is high enough, and my core strong enough, that until now I’ve been able to muddle my way through tricky situations, which masked the fact my basic set of skills was not only tiny, but half of my techniques were wrong.

Big ouch.

Once the lightning bolt struck, however, what I had to do became clear: create a weekly program to methodically work on the skills I’d learned, starting from the basics. This week I went to a relatively flat park two blocks from my house and went around and around trees while monitoring my ready position, bike shift and braking. This weekend when I biked in Soquel Demo again, I already felt more in control of downhill segments as I consciously used cues I’d learned.

So much better than guessing what I should be doing or clinging on for dear life!

By sharing this experience, I hope to encourage you to safely adventure out into activities you either would like to try, but are nervous about, or that you’ve never really gotten comfortable with because you never had lessons.

Below are the steps I’ll encourage you to follow.

4 Steps to Fitness Discovery

  1. Adventure out! Trying is better than not trying.
  2. If you’re new to an activity, get a lesson! If you’ve been doing that activity for a long time, but have never had a lesson, sign up now.
  3. Follow your Worry Meter. If some part of the activity strikes you as a 5 or above, there’s still some aspect you’re not understanding. Keep asking questions until your WM rating goes down.
  4. Set up a regular daily/weekly schedule for practicing the skills you learn. If your system is effective, you should quickly begin to see your confidence rise and your WM rating go down.


Happy working out!

  1. mom permalink

    Read your Blog. The trip you had hoped to take sounded scary and dangerous to me…glad you rethought it. I am safe (pretty safe) on all the activities I do every week. Yoga is a challenge. Dancing is fine and weight lifting is ok, but maybe i should slowly go from 2 and a half weigh to a 5 for some of the routine. Your already have a full plate and seem to love it. Good for you.

    • The idea of starting with the 5-lb weights for the first few reps, then changing to the 2.5-lb wts sounds both reasonable and safe. Good for you for extending yourself, especially since getting stronger may help keep you safe or better able to do something fun.

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