Tour de Lab September 1st

Guest article: On being a mom and becoming a mountain biker

Posted by on March 10th, 2016 at 9:09 am

Julie Browning and her daughter Indie at a Portland race.
(Photos courtesy Julie Browning)

This story comes from Julie Browning, owner of an endurance sports coaching business in Portland.

As we get older it’s not easy to take on new challenges, especially ones that are physically demanding, are potentially dangerous and offer technical barriers. Back in 2004, a year before our beautiful daughter was born; I thought I was quite happy running, swimming and riding my road bike. Little did I know that I was about to fall in love with riding and racing mountain bikes.

I’m not a big risk taker in life and that held true to mountain biking. I was a cautious learner. I didn’t want to get hurt. After all I still needed to be mom.

Before my daughter Indie was born I was a competitive triathlete and road cyclist. I assumed that after we’d settled into parenthood I’d gravitate back towards training and racing again. In the final weeks of my pregnancy I asked my OB/GYN doctor how soon I could get going again. She looked at me with a lot of wisdom in her eyes and said three words: “Time, energy and desire.” I rolled my eyes with a “whatever” attitude. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know how motivated I was to get back in shape and work towards an athletic goal.

Post-Indie’s birth those three words came to help me much more than I ever could have expected. They were a gift. They gave me a license to have guilt-free non-exercise days and to accept the wonderful new role of being a mom.

Here’s how they helped me to transition into parenthood with much more grace than I thought was possible:

Time: how can such a little baby take up so much time? Having a productive day took on a whole new meaning. Getting the dish washer emptied was a productive day. Allowing myself to honor time made it ok to not get my usual 20 things done in the day and to not worry about getting a workout in.

Energy: how can caring for a newborn be so tiring? I have never napped in my life. I certainly did after Indie was born. And I did so without guilt by accepting that my energy level was what it was. This made it ok to nap and forego a workout.

Desire: I’ve been an athlete all my life. How could I not be motivated to go train? Love. Falling deeply in love with this tiny bundle of joy. I didn’t want to miss a thing. It made it easy to give up trying to ride my bike or go for a run.

I lived by the ‘Time, Energy, Desire’ mantra for about 18 months. However, once an athlete, always an athlete. I love physical challenges. It’s how I’m wired. After 18 months I was itching to get back at it. But I wasn’t hungry to race as a triathlete or road cyclist any more. I needed a new challenge. My husband suggested cyclo-cross.

In 2007 I raced in the masters Cross Crusade races in the Portland area. I had a blast. Previously I hadn’t ever ridden off road. No trails or gravel road riding. After a few races I realized it wasn’t my fitness that held me back, it was my bike handling skills. I was determined to figure that piece out.

The following year I started mountain biking, thinking this would help me become a better cyclo-cross racer. On an old hard tail mountain bike with V-brakes I tried to embrace riding off-road. It didn’t come easily and was not without frustration. I’m not a big risk taker in life and that held true to mountain biking. I was a cautious learner. I didn’t want to get hurt. After all I still needed to be mom. After trail rides, the focus and concentration left me mentally exhausted, gripping the handle bars way too tight left my arms a sore mess, and not being able to figure out how to go down steep hills without feeling like I was going to die left me incredibly frustrated. But I stuck to it, and I am so glad I did.

I took some clinics. I got some instruction. I became a student of mountain biking. I learned about my bike. I watched videos. I read books. I rode with good riders who became my mentors. The feeling of terror slowly was replaced with a little confidence. The clinics I had taken gave me a foundation to build on. I figured out how to descend, how to get my bike around a switchback, how to use my suspension, and use my body position to manipulate the bike. I learned something new about me, the bike or the trail from every single ride. I’d come home giddy from excitement (I still do!), and over time I become more comfortable with calling myself a ‘mountain biker’.

Browning racing at Portland International Raceway.
(Photo: Victor Duong)

Now I race my mountain bike; cross country, short track, and (who would have thought?) 100 mile races. I like seeing that as I get older I don’t have to accept getting slower. Fitness is only a part of riding a mountain bike. I keep learning how to be more efficient and competent. Technique is worth so much. Forever a student.

Best of all is, I get to ride with my now ten-year-old daughter and watch her figure this crazy sport out (a lot faster than I did, I might add) AND I get to help beginner mountain bikers get off on the right foot. I love to see their astonishment and sense of accomplishment when they figure something out or have the confidence to trust me when I say “You can do it. Give it a try.”

Last year I took a friend mountain biking. I had talked this trail up as being super fun and playful. After one lap my friend wasn’t getting it. She was frustrated. She didn’t feel confident in taking the bermed corners. I started to give her some help, a few pointers, breaking down what to focus on, how to move her body. After the second lap I saw a huge smile on her face: “I get it. I get what you mean by playful. That was so much fun,” she said. I love that. It takes me back to my early days of figuring it all out.

I still reflect on those three words: time, energy and desire. It helps me find a healthy balance between being mom and bike racer.

– Julie Browning, BreakawayTrainingOnline.com.

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9 Comments
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    Kate March 10, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Great post! I just bought a mtn bike about a year ago and am slowly learning my way around it. I think the craziest, most interesting thing to learning how to mountain bike at this age is that aspect of risk taking. I, too, find myself terrified on descents. On every trail/ ride, I’m weighing the risk/ reward of ‘going for it’. I know I have to in order to become a better rider, but I also reallllyyy don’t have time to have any broken/ sprained bones in my life. It’s a constant choice and I’m often riding alone which makes me less prone to take chances.

    Anyhow, I loved this. I would also love your recommendations on some clinics in the area to take. I’m really looking forward to improving and unlocking some skills this year. Thanks!

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      Julie March 10, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Kate, Glad you liked the post. Thanks for reading. Congrats on getting a bike and diving into this sport! There are several local mountain bike coaches in the area (me included) that offer one-on-one help with beginner skills. There are also some great weekend clinics. I can highly recommend the Dirt Series. They have a clinic in Hood River July 9-10th this summer. Good luck and have fun.

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        Kate March 10, 2016 at 2:44 pm

        Thanks! I was on the wait list last year for the Dirt series and unfortunately have a wedding that weekend this year. Are there any other clinics in Oregon that folks know of?

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    Brian March 10, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Thank you so much for sharing. I just sent the link to my wife who is in a similar spot in her life. Mountain biking can be such an incredibly enriching and rewarding activity. I would encourage people to look into the different groups forming within NWTA to find like-minded and skilled riders to meet.

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    Champs March 10, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    What can I say, I’m a sucker for these back-in-the-saddle posts.

    Energy and desire are easy to find for the things you enjoy. It’s a shame that time isn’t a personal limit, too.

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    Jocelyn Gaudi March 10, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story and for being such a rad mom, Julie!

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    waterpopp March 12, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    I was able to talk to Julie after 6 hours of hood race last year. What a inspiration. I find it difficult to find time to ride and be a good parent. Thanks for posting this article. That’s one reason I subscribe love reading your articles.

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