Why is MTB Adventure Therapy different to Mountain Biking?

I’ve been fascinated by the notion of delivering Adventure Therapy on bikes since reading an article about Lee Craigie’s cycle therapy work (https://leecraigie.com/cycletherapy) in MBR magazine. As I was already looking into becoming an NLP practitioner and getting more involved with outdoors activities, as part of my teaching job in a PRU, I began to fully appreciate the connection between physical outdoors activities and developing more positive behaviour patterns. After a few years, this led me to leave the classroom and spend a few years working in the bike industry and eventually set up Breaking Cycles CIC to combine my passion for behaviour change and Bikes!

Over the years, having a keen interest in the subject, my mind has been drawn towards a plethora of research, anecdotal evidence, heart-warming articles and stories about the benefits, of getting fit and being outdoors, to our mental wellbeing. This has led me to ask the question ‘When is it just a ride and when is it adventure therapy?’

Cycling, particularly when you venture into the hills, helps us to de-stress and gain perspective on the challenges we face in life. On its own, simply getting out for a ride can be the answer to your problems, but adventure therapy adds a more purposefully directed experience to this and provides me with truly awesome environments in which to share NLP techniques in a meaningful and memorable way.

This week, I have been providing some Adventure Therapy taster sessions for pupils of The Alternative School (https://www.thealternativeschool.co.uk) at Harwes Farm CIC (https://harwesfarm.org). Developing a generic taster session was a bit of a challenge for me as I would generally think about specific aims for each pupil and general aims for the group as I plan the activities for each session, which would generally be a full day too. So, following in the footsteps of Albert Einstein, I went for a ride and came back with an idea!

I’d like to take this opportunity to publically thank Anderton Bossonet estate agents (https://andertonbosonnet.co.uk) for offering some financial help to provide these session and 3 Peaks Cycles (https://www.3peakscycles.com) for the excellent quality and well maintained hire bikes we used; my tools stayed in my bag all week!

The session was built to include elements of learning new skills, developing confidence and gaining a sense of community by giving something back. We concentrated on understanding the cone of movement and how our position on the bike affects our ability to lift the front wheel over an obstacle (wheelies!), using a couple of trail features that myself and volunteers at Harwes Farm had built the week before. After a brew, we returned to the developing skills area with tough gloves and shovels and began to develop the trail features further. As Harwes Farm has an ethos of environmental sustainability, we only used materials that we could find on site too!

Groups from both the Accrington & Rossendale and Pendle Campus’ of TAS are keen to return and continue the development of an accessible, sustainable MTB skills are and themselves!

“We already have the resources we need, or we can create them” – Presupposition of NLP

National 100 mile TT 2019

I rode the National 100 today and feel elated to be unhappy with the result, as I was about 1mph off the pace I was looking for and something went wrong with course navigation; resulting in receiving a DNF result.

That may seem like a strange concept so I’ll explain the thought processes involved…

When we experience negative thoughts, it can be useful to consider how we feel about our thoughts and feelings by imagining that we’re on the outside looking in.

This pattern is based on NLP change techniques:

First start with the facts of the situation.

Then consider our emotional response and how we would feel about it if we were giving advice to a friend or family member.

Finally revisit the current situation and see if our thoughts have changed.

If the have, is it enough? If not, can we examine another thought or feeling relating to the same thing? We then need to refocus and revisit.

The following is what went through my head today…

After less than an hour, my legs had nothing left and I started to feel very tired: this frustrated me.

I questioned why I was tired and if it meant that I had lost fitness… I racked up 266 miles of commuting this week and was able, both mentally and physically, to turn up at a very competitive event.

My thoughts changed to something more positive.

I felt a little disappointed in myself for having not predicted that this would happen today.

I asked myself if I ‘should know better’ than to push that hard early on or not rest up properly.

It’s only 5/6 years since I rode my first 100 mile ride: that took all day and had 3 cafe stops! I’ve been on a pretty steep learning curve so don’t have years of experience to call upon, I now have a little more! This is OK if I learn from it!

I realised that I had ridden 95miles as I crossed the finish so knew that something had gone wrong with navigation and it was likely that I’d end up with a DNF. This made me feel like the whole day was pointless.

I asked myself why I came here to do this today and if I had achieved anything.

I was never going to win: Marcin Bialoblocki was over an hour quicker than me! I wanted a time for the BAR competitions to see if I’ve improved from last year and a good long ride under race conditions to get ready for the Mersey Roads 24hr.

My position on the bike felt good, I got my nutrition right for the event & I had some really good practice at pushing myself despite feeling rubbish, which will stand me in good stead for the 24hr TT in a fortnight.

Just the BAR comps then…

I thought ‘if I continue to the next Marshall and give my number I can prove that I rode over 100 miles and I have STRAVA for a time’ this is what I did. The organiser didn’t accept this but I know I’ve done what I can to correct the error so I’m disappointed but not regretful.

So in short, whether I end up with an official time (I rode 101.2 miles in 4:47:27) isn’t in my control but whether I choose to focus on the positives or negatives is entirely in my control!

MTB Summer Schools

This August, I will be running some MTB adventure Summer School sessions.

I’ve developed a 2 day program, which will be run at Gisburn Forest on 12th & 13th August. This will help kids to develop their Confidence, Resilience, Independence and organisation skills whilst enjoying spending some time in the forest!

Developing these skills will help a child to get a great start to their secondary education, so this session is great for children moving up to secondary school and in year 7 & 8.

Activities will include: MTB skills sessions, map reading and navigation, outdoor cooking and planning an adventure!

Even lunch time is an adventure with The Ride Guide!

Keep an eye on my facebook page events for details of other Summer Schools, these will focus on Social skills and Building confidence…

The Mersey Roads 24hr TT

I’m preparing for my second 24hr time trial, which takes place on 21st – 22nd July 2018, and its making me think about how I found myself competing in such a challenging sporting event. Those who have met within the last 5 years, will undoubtedly see me as a cyclist, but it’s not something I’ve grown up with, it’s something that I’ve grown into.

Although I have always liked being outdoors and exploring, I wasn’t a particularly ‘sporty’ child. I was actually the lad who’d always get picked last for playground games of football, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have picked me first either! The complexity of football proved to be too much of a challenge for me. I always had difficulty remembering who was on what team and which way I was supposed to be shooting, so when you add trying to stay upright, remembering complicated rules and all of the skills and techniques that I needed, it just resulted in overload!

20 years ago, at 14 years old, I learned that I am Dyslexic and that this is the reason why I found some tasks much more taxing than my peers (I found out much later that my particular SpLD has much more in common with Dyspraxia, which explains my schoolboy football prowess!) Learning this about myself, developing strategies to cope and engaging with the support that I received at school and at home led me to become interested in how we learn and differences in the ways people achieve and succeed. This ultimately led to me training to teach and pursuing a career in SEN and SEBD teaching. A-Levels and a degree course were significantly challenging and at times frustrating, but ultimately achievable with a lot of determination. Teaching at a Pupil Referral Unit was a great fit for me as I got to concentrate on helping those who struggled to fit into the system for various reasons, which gave me a lot of job satisfaction. The education system is just that; a system: a machine that processes learners in order to produce qualifications. Issues arise with this when the components, or the materials don’t fit the original specification, for example if something is of a different shape, size, density etc. maybe these are the materials that need to be worked by hand…

Being of an irregular shape and size as a teacher, I always felt that the system should be developed further so that it can process everything, not just the regular. In short, I found that it doesn’t (well, not consistently anyway!). I had a few years of success and a few years of having my edges smoothed off to make me fit the system. Ultimately, my mental health suffered and I had a career change.

So, getting back to the cycling bit…

Riding my bike, along with other outdoors activities, has done wonders for my co-ordination, given me the space and time I need to organise my head and helped me to keep going when my mental health is suffering. Riding the 24 is a positive expression of what it has taken me to get through school with SpLD and to live with depression. I can compete in a discipline like this because of the experiences i have had: both positive and negative.

I appreciate all of the support i have received from my family and friends

I am grateful for all of the professionals who have helped me, both at school and with my mental health.

I don’t resent those who called me lazy, clumsy or told me to ‘pull myself together’

All of these experiences brought me to this point and without them, I might have ended up doing something ordinary!


Relentless preparation!

It’s getting close to Relentless time again and I’m starting to feel a little disappointed in myself as I haven’t stuck to the plan I made after last year’s race. That plan was simple: keep everything pretty much the same but make myself lighter, and therefore faster! This hasn’t happened and there is a limit to what can be achieved in a week so I’m focusing on what I’ve learned in the last year that might help.

In July, I raced the national 24hr TT championship and covered 414miles. More importantly, I managed to keep stoppage time down to just over an hour by being much more organised with nutrition etc. I’ve also discovered (having not re-applied until hour 16) that happy bottom bum butter can last for as long as 15hrs! So that should only need re applying once during the race! Hopefully, these lessons will result in a couple more hours on the bike and allow me to get a better result at Fort William without actually going any faster! This isn’t just about me though, Jen has developed some great soigneur skills (the word support was used in our wedding vows, so she’s contractually obliged now!) and designed a much more professional pit area which will feature an inflatable sofa, heating and lights and her (not very glamorous but extremely resourceful) assistant; Doug! We’ve also got The Green Jersey van so I’ll be able to take a spare bike and extra kit too.

I’ve also learned loads about nutrition and how focusing on ketogenic fuelling rather than carb based energy products can make it easier to keep going for 24 hrs without blowing. I will be using a few carefully chosen energy products though; Stealth training mix which has slow release carbs that don’t interfere with ketosis will be in my bottles throughout and I’ll use a few of their keto gels too. I’ll be eating a few Mr. Yeti bars too as they’re very natural, tasty and easy to eat on the bike. Caffeine gels will be left alone until the last couple of laps when it takes a lot of will power to just keep moving.

Comfort is king when it comes to bike setup and kit choices so I’ll be riding Candy again with the same forgiving gear ratio (about 55”) but some subtle changes have been made; a new set of wheels with wider rims (hand built by Rick at The Green Jersey) should give a bit more cushioning, along with the ergon cork grips, I shouldn’t have bruises on my palms this year!

With very little time to go, I’ve been spending some time working on my bike handling skills, culminating in today’s ride at Gisburn Forest with ATR skills. Rick had me picking better lines and getting through some of the more technically demanding trails much more effectively, which should help with making the most of my efforts and minimise the palm bruises too!

So this leaves me feeling excited, nervous, confident and apprehensive all at the same time. Think I’d better just turn up, ride and see what happens!