Off-road Triathlon Technical Skills

Melanie McQuaid mountain biking XTERRA Ogden

Off-road Triathlon Technical Skills

(Previously published in the print edition of  Triathlon Magazine Canada)

Working on technical skills is important if mixing some off road triathlon in an otherwise paved season is in your race plans  Off road racing technical skills are important as the course is a challenge in itself.  Once you have the technical skills in place you can then plan your strategy to best the competition.

mountain bike penticton three blind mice trails
The trails were technical and fun at ITU Cross Triathlon Worlds.

Training for an offroad race doesn’t have to detract from the rest of your season if you have road triathlons as your main focus.  You can sprinkle these events in your season as training events to build strength, power, and handling skills.  Also, these races can represent fun transition events that offer mental breaks from the expectations you may have of yourself in road events.  No matter how you approach the event’s priority, you should prepare your technical skills in advance.

If you are the kind of mountain bike triathlete who is focused solely on staying upright when you hit the trails, please enjoy the advice that immediately follows.  The second group in the class is the mountain bike triathlete who is concerned with speed, race splits and age group placement.  This is the group that has gone past the “finish the race” mentality.  If you have goals demanding speed on a mountain bike you’ll need to read further on how to work on those skills specifically.

Building Handling Skills

For my first group of tentative beginners, you will improve with frequency and hopefully some technical instruction.  Every time you take your mountain bike out and put rubber to dirt you will learn something and get better.  Just as a swimmer needs to hone their feel and technical ability, so too do you need to develop “feel” for off road riding.  Bikes handle differently on broken ground and riding on this less predictable terrain requires balance and body awareness to maintain your momentum, traction and speed.  You will want to maximize your exposure to the trails.   Mountain biking is technical like swimming.  You can do your best to chase after your friends and eventually improve, but getting one-on-one instruction for mountain biking is worth finding.  Learning body english, line choice, cornering, and braking skills is easier when someone tells you what to do.

If you choose to ride with people who are stronger than you are technically, you’ll find your mountain biking is an excellent tempo ride.  Consistently chasing yourself back into the group after lost time in technical sections adds up to a hard ride.  I used to chase the much faster boys on the weekends and this made for a bread and butter tempo ride when I was learning.  The downside of this is you never have a chance to stop and analyse features you are uncomfortable riding.  Spending some time riding with technical work as the objective is important.  You need to practice riding technical trails with an elevated heart rate to be prepared to race but you can’t improve your skills unless you are focused on the skills themselves.

Riding off road is always a mixed back of energy systems so I would never call it an “easy” ride but using your “easy” days to work on your technical skills is, at minimum, the road to improvement if you don’t want to devote all of your training time to mastering your mountain bike.

Developing Race Specific Speed

Intermediate riders need to practice riding as in a race.  There is no substitute for riding trails at speed but focusing on how to find the speed is important.

The weekend group mountain bike ride is a lot of fun but may not create the opportunity to hone your skills.  If you want to practice riding at race pace and improve your skills at race pace, the following suggestion can make the social event a better training opportunity.

It is an entirely different challenge to ride trails as fast as you possibly can.  Relaxing your upper body to absorb obstacles in the trail while you are at maximum heart rate is challenging.  Using a mountain bike for a hill session once per week addresses these skills and the energy system.  Ensuring the downhill sections are technical allow you to work on skills with an elevated heart rate.  Creating a looped course allows you to find more speed on a route you are familiar and comfortable with.  This workout is great in a group environment as you have the added competitive motivation of racing your buddies with no one actually being left behind.

Leaving the mountain bike in the garage for too long can negatively affect your technical skills.  As with swimming, frequency is important no matter how good you are when at your best.  Don’t neglect your technical ability as it needs constant attention.

If you want some help working on it… I have just the thing.  Tri The Dirt Triathlon Camps is launching this summer.  

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