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Archive for March, 2014

I’m spending a week in the mountains. In beautiful St Anton, in the heart of the Austrian Alps, snowboarding with my friends but little did I know this week would be such a mental test…

I’d spent the 7 weeks prior to my trip getting in shape, or at least trying to… Slowly turning around my sluggish gym attendance to at least three times a week. I was on squat overload, and was upping my cardio to try to build stamina ahead of what I knew would be a challenging week on the board. When the time came round to start squishing ridiculous amounts of luffa clothing into my small suitcase I felt ready for the slopes, physically, at least.

What I didn’t plan for was the mental side of things.

It’s been two years since I last snowboarded, and before that it was 3 years again. My boarding is not what you would call frequent, but saying that I have been around 5 times previously over the last 10 years, so I can’t call myself a beginner anymore. I was excited to get my board from the hire shop on that first evening we arrived, I could visualise myself strapping into my board and swooshing off down the slope with a graceful snowboard swagger… It just didn’t work out that way.

I quickly fell on my ass. Now this happens a lot with boarding and it didn’t phase me… The first few times, at least. But then I couldn’t get my turns in, my body felt foreign strapped into the board, and before long my inner voice (and outer voice for that matter) was shouting at myself… “Relax”, “bend your knees”, “hips forwards”, “don’t twist”, “lean forwards”, “relax!”, “you’re going to crash”, and then yes, I was down again.

It always takes a few hours or even the first day to get your “snow legs” in. That first day was a white-out, visibility was poor, the snowy slopes were rising up and down like stormy seas to meet my board and bewildered legs and knees. I rapidly descended into a spiralling negative thought process; frustration, anger, helplessness. It was not a happy place.

The more my voice barked on, the more I tried to override it, I know about these things, I read about these things, mind over matter, come on you can do it, just relaaaax. And then, just as quickly as my board wobbled, my body tensed up, my gentle soothing counter voice became weak and I was on my behind again, pummelling my mittens into the snow and just wanting to cry.

Fun eh? And I pay silly amounts of money for the privilege :s

After a few hours of this I’d turned into quite a monster on the mountain, we’d retreat to a cosy ski lodge for hot chocolates and a hearty meal. Here I return to my happy fun self, now revived with optimism and hoping a little caffeine will pick me up for the afternoon runs. Back on the slopes a few slides and wobbles later, the monster would return. I was the Jeckyl and Hyde of the mountain (Jeckyl on the piste, Hyde in the lodge).

So that was the first day. I thought I would leave it behind me and day 2 would be a fresh start. It was a little better but still slow going. I was determined to stay out for the full day though. And the relief of getting to the bar for Apr├Ęs Ski was epic. Day three started well, I was linking some turns and felt a little more comfortable. The snow was pretty much perfect and the skies were blue – finally I could see through my goggles! Things were looking up and then I crashed into a skier (rather he skied into me), he twisted my legs and threw a twinging pain into my left knee. I was shocked, it threw me back into my negative mindset and I slid down the mountain. The next chair lift up I fell over coming off the chair and something in my knee went “pop”.

I took an ibuprofen and tried a few turns coming down the mountain, some worked Ok, but I was hyper aware of my weakened back knee and the inner mind battle started raging again. After the lunch stop I decided to spend the rest of the day on a deck chair with a blanket for company, it was time for a mental “timeout”. No more oxygen for this fire.

Today is day 4 of the holiday. I’m in our lodge with an ice pack on my knee. I’m looking after my body, the one that I prepped for this trip. Yes, perhaps I could have worked harder to strengthen the muscles around my knees, but I think the real lesson here has been prepping and strengthening my mind. That’s been the issue this week, that is what wasn’t prepared, what cast doubt into my riding and ultimately what caused my twisted knee injury. The doubt, the fear, the lack of confidence. Everything else followed.

So it’s a huge insight and now I can finally relax and reflect on the past three days. I know I can snowboard, I’ve done it before and am quite good, but there was something else at play here.

Nowhere else in the world can you hear your inner voice as loud and clear as when you are hurtling down snow covered mountains. It’s so loud I was even able to have arguments with it. And undoubtedly an icy mountain slope is NOT the place to start arguing with myself.

Today I’ll do some stretches for my body, to ease aching muscles and mobilise my stiffening knee. Who knows I may even get back onto the slopes again this week. But today I will also walk through the village, gaze up at the snowy peaks and work on calming my mind. It’s there, thanks to the mountains and the fearless life lessons they teach, that my work needs to be done.

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