So I decided to do one more round this year, this one was not on the schedule. Round 17 - Jason Raines' Riding School.
The Jason Raines course is easily the best money I ever spent on bikes, aside from the bike itself. I learned more in 2 days than the whole last 4 years of riding put together. Some of the stuff he had us do, I was like, no way. But by the end of the drill or exercise, it was no big deal. He's a fantastic instructor, and his course and the way he organizes it and his overall approach to teaching is incredibly effective.
I did stuff on my bike this weekend that I never thought possible, or that only a professional could do. But once you know the technique, and build upon it in small increments, but progressing to ever harder but fundamentally the same situations, it wasn't long before he had us in real-world gnarly situations, doing stuff I never thought I'd be doing in a million years.
The highlight stunt for me was probably the giant log crossing - it took two attempts but I made it over a log that was at least as high as my handlebars are tall. That log was actually optional, the stuff we did over and over were somewhat smaller, but still bigger than any logs I'd ever crossed before. The giant log was more of an "Anyone want to have a go at it?" on the way in for lunch after finishing up the regular log drills, which still included some pretty darn big logs. Of the 9 people in our class, only 3 attempted it, and of the 3, only 2 actually made it. I'm proud to say that I was one of them, the feeling was pretty incredible. I actually lost it on the other side, I think it surprised me that on that second attempt, I actually made up on top of the log pretty easily and in an instant, ok - now what? It took me a little by surprise and I ended up riding the front wheel a little ways on the other side due to being a little out of position and too far forward. Unfortunately, there was a tree only a few feet away and I had to drop the bike otherwise hit the tree. But I asked him - that counted right? He said darn right - if that had been a race, you would just pick up your bike and keep going, you wouldn't still be stuck on the wrong side of the log.
I was thinking a 3rd attempt and I'd get it down perfect, but decided to leave well enough alone - I'll take it, I didn't do it perfectly, but it was respectable, it counted, and I was one of only 2 out of the 9 in the class to do it. And the log was freaking enormous. That's good enough for me. I'll take that.
There were tons of other techniques and drills, too, each building on the last. Big focus on fundamentals such as balance, clutch, brake, and throttle control, and body position, when to sit, when stand, how to transition from standing to sitting, the whys and why nots of it all. And then applying that to cornering, flat turns, rutted corners, logs, creeks, ditches, some mx including a few doubles, how to seat bounce a jump which I had never done before, some very steep hill climbs, very steep hill climbs with kickers at the top, whoops, effective techniques for water bars, etc, etc, etc. He packed so much into the 2 days and spent a lot of time on the morning work-out also, stressing how much of a role fitness plays and the proper way to train. The guy is hands down the most fit person I've ever met - absolutely incredible. If anyone is familiar with P90X, the morning work-out was similar to P90X but kicked up a notch with some even harder exercises thrown in. No kidding. It was some serious stuff. Of course, you didn't have to be able to do everything, but he teaches it all to you and teaches you how to work out, with big focus on warm up, stretching, working out in the proper heart rate zone, exercises for balance, core, shoulders, legs, finger strength, and on and one. I did as much as I could. It was very eye opening to realize the fitness these guys are in to compete at the national level. It is off the charts. But if want to be competitive at the top level, he teaches you exactly what it takes to get there.
But the course is really just the beginning, though. You could probably spend the rest of your life practicing the drills and building on that foundation. What he really does, is teach you *how* to train and improve and do it in a very targeted way to isolate the skills and focus on just a few things which results in rapid improvement. How much you apply it after the course is up to you of course.
One of the cool things he does so you can see that the stuff really works is that on day one, the first thing you do is a hot lap on about 2 minutes of single track that he has laid out. You first do it a few times to get to know the course, and then he sends you off on your hot lap while he times you with a stop watch. Everyone does a lap.
Then we go off for the first day of instruction. The focus on day one was balance, clutch, brake, and throttle control, wheelies with front-wheel-placement, hard braking (rear wheel coming up), lots of emphasis on the front brake and proper use of the rear brake in turns, flat turns, rutted corners, and some general bike skills such as how to flip your bike 180 degrees in the trail. He covered an immense amount. All the while, he's talking about why this stuff is important and relating it to real race situations. Every so often during the drills he'll tap his wrist indicting for you to check your heart rate with your heart rate monitor. I never rode with one before, and I was surprised at how high my heart rate got during riding. 175 was not uncommon for me. He would again stress that you need to train at the heart rate you see during the race. If you race at 175 but train at 150, you're not training effectively for the race.
So at the end of day one after a bunch of drills and cornering exercises, body position, etc, we went back and did another hot lap around the 2 minute course. He said be sure and don't lapse back into old habits, but use the new techniques we learned - when to stand, when to sit, clutch, brake, throttle control, line selection, smooth flowing turns. He warned us that it would feel slower, but trust him and just do it.
As students went off on their end-of-day lap, he did the math on the times as they were checked off the list. Everyone improved. Not a single person stayed the same or went backwards. Some more than others, but everyone had a positive outcome. Some only a few seconds, some 8 or 10 seconds. Which is pretty huge for such a short lap.
So when my turn came up, I was debating about whether to just go all out, ignoring the instruction of the day, and just falling back into my old familiar style. I was very tired from the full day of work-out and drills, and wresting my bike on the 180 and some of the more exertion intense drills. I wanted to show an improvement, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to follow the new techniques very well anyway. So I considered for a few fleeting seconds to ride like is familiar to me. I didn't want to be the only one that didn't show any improvement. This is what was going through my mind as my turn approached. But what am I doing here if I'm not going to follow the plan? Trust him, like he said, just do it. So I did. When my turn came up and he counted me down to start from 3, 2, 1 ... I did the techniques as best I could if even after only one day of practice. Stand most of the time, sit when necessary, go fast on the straights - that's low hanging fruit, hold the throttle open until late - you can almost stop on a dime using the front brake, so brake late, when you do sit - hit the seat hard into the turns, driving the front wheel down for traction, weight the pegs - inside to kick the rear out, outside to lock it in. Back on the pegs, weave smoothly through the trees, let the bike float under me at times, lock onto with my legs at others - know when to do one or the other. Ok, I'm doing it, I haven't wrecked, I'm able to keep it going and develop a little bit of flow, but man, I was going slow. All I kept thinking was I would be the only one that didn't improve, how depressing would that be. There's no way I could be going faster than my morning lap. Everything seemed to be going by so slowly. I could see every rock, tree, branch, pine cone, details I never pick up my old way. I had to be just crawling along.
But when I got back and he wrote down the time and subtracted, I prepared for the worst - half expecting to be asked if I wrecked mid-way through. But when he read the time, I was a whopping 13 seconds faster on a 2 minute loop. Anyone that has done timed intervals can attest that 13 seconds on a 2 minute loop is a near eternity. I couldn't believe it. I thought for sure I was going slower. But the stop watch doesn't lie. OK, I'm a believer. You definitely have my attention.
All the while during drills he's using a video camera to record us. As riders, we never really get to see how we actually look on the bike, so later that evening after class is done, we meet up and he shows the video from the day and again comments on the notables, reinforcing everything we learned that day. It was great to be able to see your own form and body position, none of my other buddies have helmet cams or anything, so I've never actually seen myself ride. I was actually expecting to look like a total spode in the video, but even to my own self-critical eye, I actually seemed to have pretty good form, and one of my class mates even said I could pass for a trials rider in the balance drills.
Another major point of emphasis is the use of a stop watch during your training. And nothing drove that point home like the end-of-day lap. Your perception on the bike is affected by many things and you can't accurately gage the passage of time as that exercise proved. I thought I was creeping along and going slower than the morning run, but actually I was 13 seconds faster. By contrast, on the very much slower lap, I *thought* I was going faster. So to even have a remote chance of knowing what works and what doesn't, you have to time yourself and measure it. Don't trust your internal clock for that. Failure to do this can result in you sticking with the old slow way because you "feel" faster. But in reality, you are actually slower and not pursuing the techniques that are actually faster. So get a stop watch and time yourself in sections, try different things, and learn what works and what doesn't that way.
So just to put that 13 seconds of improvement over the 2 minute lap in perspective, that's a 12% improvement. And that's only 1 day of practice of the drills. Even so, over a 2 hour race, that's 14.5 minutes! So it's really pretty huge. Just imagine what it could be after a solid month of effective practice and training.
So while the giant log crossing was a pretty cool parlor trick
, the real highlight of the weekend was the real improvements I saw in only one day of drills, plus all the additional work we did on day two, and tying it all together with the work-outs, explanations of the whys and why nots. It's sort of an epiphany moment when you bring it all together. An aha! moment, if you will.
In the end, don't worry about forgetting everything you learned. As part of the instruction, one of the takeaways are all the videos that he took of you doing the drills, all the while he is commenting on the audio portion as you're performing the drills, stressing the important parts. So you have a video record of all the drills so you can keep doing them and not forget anything. Also included is a training manual that documents all the exercises you did in the morning workout. Another is a nutrition guide with meal plans with actual food examples, and caloric calculator to determine your personalized required caloric intake for weight loss or to maintain. And also, to accompany the drill footage, detailed diagrams of all the drill course patterns for cone placement including distances so you can set these up at your own training area. Even excluding the instruction, IMO, all that is easily worth the price of the course itself - what a hugely valuable library of information.
So, like I said, easily the best money I've ever spent related to bikes.