Image by Tracy L Chandler

For a long time, I thought I just wasn't a descender. Timid, feathering the brakes, and taking it slow, descending filled me with dread rather than joy and I was always, without fail, the last one down the mountain. For someone who loves to climb, this was a bit of a problem (and a bit of an oxymoron), but something I thought couldn't be helped. A flaw in my personality, perhaps. 

All of a sudden, I found myself ripping down Highway 2 in the Angeles Crest, getting aero, fingers nowhere near the brakes, fear nowhere to be found. What happened? It turns out, pushing yourself past your limits is one way to drastically improve your performance. It's like tossing a kid in a lake so they realize they can swim. When you're busy trying not to die, you can really surprise yourself with what you're capable of.

This particular ride was a tough one, and I knew it from the start. We had 120 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation on the books and I ate my food too quickly. We allotted 8 hours when it really took 12, didn't plan for 100 degree heat, and did not expect the mid-ride cafe stop to CLOSE. Needless to say, it was one of those days that was physically hard and mentally harder, leaving you barely able to pedal and even less able to think. 

By the time we hit the descent I was toast. Running on Coke and potato chips, I had totally hit the wall.

In that moment of desperation, I flew. I got lower than ever before, railed those corners tighter and faster than I thought possible. Fully in the drops without even touching the brakes. 

Another recent ride found me (on my road bike) on a steep and rocky mountain bike trail in Colorado. (Are you seeing a trend here? Maybe planning well isn't really my thing). Too far in to turn around and left with no choice but to take this godforsaken path wherever it led.

Turns out, walking a trail in road shoes carrying your bike for more than a mile is really not fun. After about an hour of this, I was so fed up I decided to ride everything, mediocre dirt skills be damned. 

Wooden step in the middle of the trail? Let me try to hop it. Huge boulder? Yeah I'm gonna ride that. Loose sandy sections so steep that I can't even clip in? It's fine, I'll get a running start and push off the grassy side of the single track. Anything to get momentum, one leg unclipped acting as a kick-push to keep me going. No fear because fear meant walking and I was too hot and tired to take another step! No second-guessing because I was hell-bent to get onto some damn pavement. 

So there you have it: The Sink or Swim method. Put yourself in a situation where you are so tired and miserable that you would literally rather do anything to get it over with. Even that thing you're scared of or that thing you suck at.