I have spent the last 4 years racing and training with age group triathletes, and I have realised that the focus is hardly ever on technique, that drills or skill sessions are rarely incorporated into training programs. Not out of a lack of trying by coaches but more so out of lack of interest by age groupers. Since time is an issue, the general perception by AG athletes is that an hour trained hard is much more beneficial than an hour worked on skills, therefore the feedback on skill sessions seem always quite negative. Generally age groupers measure improvement by power output on the bike, by min/km times running, and 100m’s times swimming. TT sessions either in the pool at the track or on the road seem to be the most attended sessions in triathlon squads. They seem to forget that if you can swim, ride or run more efficiently you will be able to hold a certain pace for much longer and will make you faster in the long run.
Technical skills are very important in XTERRA and MTB Races. I learned the hard way at the XTERRA World Champs in Maui that I do not have good technical downhill running skills and just missed out on a podium spot because of this. At the National MTB Champs in Atherton last weekend I was playing cat and mouse with another girl who would leave me for dead on the technical descents yet I would catch her again on the hills…When I tried to stick with her on a technical section I had a near death experience, it was impressive how skilful this girl was and I wondered how I could develop those same skills to improve my overall performance.
I decided that I needed to learn how to ride my bike in order to become a better competitor. My skills (or lack of) were self-taught so when I got an email from Wild Horizon about a skill course they were organising I immediately signed up. Ray, a self-confessed frequent crasher, joined me and off we went to the beautiful Southern Highlands where the course was held. Home of the Highland Fling, the terrain was familiar and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The sun was shining , temperature was mild, and everyone was very relaxed. Elite riders Anthony Shippard and Kyle Ward were the course instructors who both carry a world of experience. Anthony has been finishing top 5 in Marathon MTB events over the last 4 years and Kyle has represented Australia in XCO events all over the World. Both pretty classy riders and we were lucky to be able to learn from their experiences. The two boys were kept under control by Danien Beets and his 8 year old son.
We started off the day with some easy riding whilst Anthony and Kyle rode amongst us giving pointers where necessary. This was followed by more specific skills which we practiced around and over obstacles in a paddock where we sat up camp. Cornering, braking, cornering while braking, lifting up the front wheel, lifting up the back wheel, mono-hops, roll overs etc… The performance benchmark was being set by Danien’s 8 year old son who rode with style doing wheelies and mono-hopping over logs and flying through corners on a bike which looked about 3 sizes too big and about 20kg’s too heavy for him!! In between skill sessions we would ride single-track to practice our newly acquired skills… Our efforts were rewarded with morning tea and lunch. The course was very well structured, organized and executed.
We were given heaps of information (including equipment selection, nutrition strategies, etc) and I was exposed to a whole new way of riding… Whilst I had been doing it mainly on feel, I was now thinking about what I was meant to be doing – where I needed to be in relation to my bike, where my feet should be, whether I should have a high or low elbow, whether my weight is forward or back, head high or low, hips left or right… try again and again and again and out of maybe a gazillion attempts I would maybe nail the specific skill twice (if I was lucky), but when I did do it right, it gave me the sensation of how it was meant to feel. This was awesome and made me want to try it again (and again). As the day progressed and I practiced, practiced and practiced some more… I got slightly better… worth it? Hell yes. Like they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”
Both Kyle and Anthony made everything look extremely easy and smooth when they showed us how to do the drills, both impressively skilful riders and something to aspire to.
The beauty of this skill course was that most of the exercises we did are easily repeated in our own backyard, street or park close by. For example one of the exercises Kyle made us do was riding a figure of eight around two obstacles roughly 10m apart, these obstacles can be simple things like a couple of shoes, helmets, anything. Without touching the breaks the key was to corner as tight as possible around the obstacle whilst trying to increase the speed. Aside from learning how to use your body position to move your bike from underneath you, this exercise can be done on different surfaces or with different tyres to get a feel for different things.
I had a great day and found all the tips and tricks very helpful. It was quite refreshing doing something other than a hard road ride or stationary trainer session and I’m confident that these new skills will be just as effective in improving my race performance. I would recommend this course to anyone who is keen to improve their riding skills and their race results!