We need to talk about your skills on a mountain bike.
Having good bike handling skills is not a matter of one's amount of fitness, or capacity to tolerate physical or mental discomfort. In fact, good skills are what will allow you to convert your fitness into speed on technical sections; it is what gives you the confidence to tell yourself "yes, i can" instead of "no, i can't" when faced with riding situations out of your comfort zone - something that is served up often on an extreme MTB event such as Yak Ru.
To understand mountain bike skills, we need to understand the nature of the sport, summed up in 3 main points:
1. Mountain biking is an equipment-intensive sport - a good bike suitable for racing (not merely riding) across the harsh terrain of the Annapurna Ranges usually costs a lot of money. The rider needs to know how to use this expensive piece of equipment to his/her best advantage, being as efficient as possible and ensuring it is not abused or damaged over the course of the event
2. Mountain biking is a skills-based sport - like tennis or golf, it is extremely easy to hit a ball randomly as it is to balance on a bike and ride down a flat road. But there is practically a lifetime of learning when it comes to hitting a ball with accuracy and correct force during an actual game - or for that matter, to pilot your bike accurately and smoothly on rough terrain.
3. Mountain biking is a high-risk sport - riding a bicycle off-road has been granted 'extreme sport' status because participants are at the mercy of terrain and elements. There is always height, the element of speed, and the sheer roughness of riding terrain that can cause loss of control - and possible injury or equipment damage. The extreme high-altitude environment of the Yak Ru race route will only magnify these risks.
What does this mean for you, the budding race participant?
Take the time to learn mountain biking skills, starting off with a solid grounding in your fundamentals. Things like employing good vision; knowing the correct positions on the bike to adopt; and knowing how to control your momentum (through braking or pedaling) are key before any useful technique can be acquired.
The learning has to be done progressively, on technical terrain that is suitable for your current skill level. Train on trails that approximate what you will face at Yak Ru. You need to be able to build up an arsenal of skills that allows you to negotiate trail features safely, consistently, and with confidence over multiple racing days.
Be willing to enlist the help of others - cycling buddies/friends who are more skillful than yourself, a willing mountain bike guide, or a professional skills instructor (such as MTBSkills.com.sg). Relying on external input, feedback, and possibly professional guidance is probably the greatest favour you can do yourself - it encourages an analytical approach to riding, greatly reduces wasted time spent on 'trial and error', and cuts out the forming of bad riding habits.
Lastly, it is important to understand the difference between technique and skill. An attentive rider can learn a bunch of great technique in a short time (such as during guided riding trips or lessons), but has to learn when to apply 'the correct technique at the correct time on any trail' - and this combination - skill - comes only through a longer period of riding practice.
Essentially, technique x time = skill
So now that you know what needs to be done, take those important first steps to becoming a better pilot of your machine. The race is 8 months away, so take advantage of having time on your side to go ride, ride and ride some more!
Wilson Low completed the inaugural Yak Ru Annapurna Challenge in 2014. A self-professed outdoor endurance junkie, his past competition experiences have included the Cape Epic; qualification and completion of the Ironman, 70.3, XTERRA, and Multisport World Championships; and several expedition-length and multi-stage adventure races. Wilson is based in sea-level Singapore, and works as a professional mountain bike skills instructor with MTBSkills Singapore as well as a triathlon coach with Athlete Lab.
www.mtbskills.com.sg , www.athlete-lab.com