Wawayanda State Park in Hewitt, NJ is one of the state’s treasures and offers one of the biggest and diverse trail networks in the region. In the heart of the park is Lake Wawayanda, and for the second year the park is hosting the Way Over Yonder XTERRA, which was a smash hit in its inaugural year.
The 2018 race is Saturday May 19th and the trails will require riders to use a multitude of skills to navigate the course. There is no better place in the country to run an XTERRA: sand run and then two laps in the lake, then challenging MTB jaunt through these destination woods, then dynamic trail run. This race is a true test.
Mastering fundamentals is the key to success on the MTB. Cornering is a skill riders must get comfortable with on trail. When cornering, make sure to use the entire width of the trail. If making a left-hand turn, set up on right-side of trail, as far over as you can set up. Then, as you come into the turn, turn in to the inside, towards the apex, and then exit the turn as wide as you can. The goal is to make the turn as straight as possible.
Again, make sure to utilize the entire width of the trail corridor. There is more trail to use than you realize. As you come through turn, look where you want to go, look ahead. This is not an easy skill to master, but over time it will become intrinsic – where the eyes go, the body will follow.
Braking is a fundamental skill you must consciously practice and aim to master. When using the brakes, get comfortable braking using the front and rear simultaneously. Apply even pressure to both brakes, this will help with traction and body-weight transfer as you come in and out of corners. As you progress, experiment with more rear brake/less front-brake, but for most part apply the brakes evenly until you begin to feel new velocity and confidence on trail.
Aim to complete the majority of your braking before you reach the turn. As you approach, feel in-control; take your time setting the speed and setting up wide for correct race line. The best riders use minimal if any brakes in the turn. If you are not comfortable, try feathering the brakes evenly as you enter the turn, halfway into the turn, and then release. You will get better at this, carrying more speed and using less brakes. Remember: what happens in snow when you hit brakes? You slide. Braking many times forces you to loose traction, and the key is to find this edge. Be cognizant of your braking technique and work to keep getting smoother.
While turning, recognize how much you can control the bike with your hips. As you come into the turn, point your hips to where you want to go. Imagine you have a flashlight in your belly button – point the light in direction you want to go. If approaching left turn, you set up on right side of trail, put all weight on outside foot, and point left knee out, into direction of turn, like a motorcycle rider. This will turn your hips slightly left; weight your left hand and outside (right) foot –you will feel the bike begin to come around you like a compass, maximal traction and control.
Wawayanda has rocky and rooty terrain. Riders must learn how to lift front wheel and also lift rear wheel. Learning this skill will help you traverse technical terrain with confidence and not panic when you approach something that might make you clip out.
Practice post-ride: find a curb, a simple curb, and approach it at comfortable speed. You are not allowed to hit the brakes. Pull up on front wheel, lift wheel onto curb. And as bike continues to roll forward, pick rear wheel up using your feet so the bike clears the curb. Practice this move and dynamic. Approach the curb. Pull up on handlebars. Pick up rear wheel with feet. Front wheel back wheel. As you get more confident in this movement, increase approach speed and the front wheel back wheel movement will become smoother.
By mastering this skill, you will be able to get over more and more rocks and logs. This is a fundamental skill to master if you want to get better at riding technical terrain so keep focusing on the front wheel back wheel movement. As you get better, practice pedaling-pulling up on front wheel, semi-wheelying, this will help you get up more challenging terrain. The beautiful part about MTB is every ride is a learning experience, you see something different every time you ride a trail, chance for improvement.
“Pumping” is another skill you need to learn to negotiate rocky and rooty terrain with maximal efficiency and economy. When you go to a pump track, you are not supposed to pedal – just pump the bike through the terrain. “Pumping” is when you push with the terrain. When the terrain goes down, you push down and unweight the feet. When the terrain goes up, you unweight front-end and put more weight into feet – when you use body weight correctly you seesaw swiftly through the track; this is necessary skill called “pumping your bike.” Visit a pump truck and aim to feel this dynamic.
Just how you pump through a rolling pump track, you pump in same fashion through a rock garden or trail littered with roots – you are constantly pumping your bike with the terrain, for the smoothest path forward. Not only do you go faster, the ride is smoother and you are in direct contact with the ground, never out of control.
When you come to a rock garden that appears to be a minefield, stay calm. Look to where you want to go. Many times, a straight line is the best line. Look for the cleanest, straightest line. As you approach the rock, judge whether you can pump bike over it or need to lift front wheel. You will go over rock, lift up rear wheel with feet, then continue on.
If you have to unclip, that is fine. When you clip in again, always make sure to back up far enough so you are fully clipped in when you come back for second try (note I said this LOL). Regarding technical sections on course that you can’t seem to clear, a good rule of thumb in practice is to give it three honest tries, then move on.
On descents, you want to feel balanced on bike, never too far forward or too far back. If seated, make sure you don’t have too much weight on front wheel. If standing, hover over bike with weight slightly back. When standing or riding through techy terrain, many riders bend their arms like L, bending their torso down and putting too much weight on front end, making it more difficult to get through the terrain. Your arms are shock absorber – keep them slightly bowed out, as if you are hugging a barrel. Head up eyes out, look to where you want to go, feel your elbows wide. You will have strong balance and better ability to soak up the terrain vibration.
Just how you want to keep elbows out, keep your knees out, too. When out of saddle on descents, elbows out knees out, feel a wide stance as your bike descends. Feel the center of the bike, feel completely balanced over this center. Point your front wheel where you want to go. Keep your head up and see clear path and safely pump your way through. Feather brakes so you feel in control the entire descent. As you get faster, you will notice the faster you go rip technical descents, the better you feel, the easier it is.
To prepare for riding and racing at Wawayanda, here are a few different workouts:
Get used to hard starts and also approaching technical terrain at fatigued state. Start from standstill, then have hard 2min effort, on the gas with effort, and then enter a technical section of the woods, blast through it, then turn around, pedal aerobic pace back where you came, go back 60 seconds on trail, then repeat the technical assault 3-4 more times. This will give you much more wherewithal in the technical terrain and boost your performance off the start line. #WinWin
I would advise aiming to go to technical MTB trail network and putting in 75 minutes of solid brisk tempo, comfortably on the gas and hitting the uphill sections with vigor. You can do an out-and-back or a loop but trying to get a rhythm together for 75min or so will go a long way in your developments, superior use of your time.
If you have a road bike, I advise ripping steady hard threshold intervals for 9-14min with two-thirds recovery time of interval-length. After you do 2-3 of these intervals, then settled into 2 12+min tempo efforts – tempo is not hard not easy, that middle ground gray zone. Purr time here, reinforcing the strength of your aerobic engine. As you get more fit, your tempo intervals will become faster and faster at same perceived effort, efficiency will groove in at this threshold.
My final tip for riding technical terrain is staying light. In the months and weeks approaching these events, keep diet clean and drink more water. Aim to have early dinner with greens every night and get to bed early. Fueling properly allows metabolism to churn, recovery rate improves. With the undulations and dealing with the technical terrain, the lighter you are the less taxing the movements are, the less you will fade through the event. Beginning to adapt to a clean race diet 6 weeks out from race day is good baseline. When you look at average speed of event and realize it’s 9, 10, 11 mph, you will be motivated to get light stay light.
Guaranteed, if you create dedicated technical loop for yourself and begin to train there 2-4x/month, your ability to clear the terrain will dramatically improve. #JustShowUp
If you have any questions, please contact me at Coach@EliteEndurance.com. If not at the pre-ride, see y’all on race day! Be well stay well.