Unlike some of the other sports I've done, mountain biking is one where taking some time prior to the race and checking out the course can make all the difference between winning, finishing and taking a major spill out. Marathons? It's nice to know where the hills are and if there are any sharp turns. But not knowing won't really affect the course. Road triathlons? Same thing - knowing the layout of transition area and finding something to sight off of when swimming straight into the sun is about all that's really important. Xterras and mountain biking? If I can get out on the course and ride a few laps, I'm doing it. I want to know as much as I can about the courses - the twists, turns, steep climbs and descents. The rock gardens and where I can easily drink or eat. The Palmer Park course for the Ascent Cycling Series is no different. I'm going to make sure I get out there a few times and check it out. Even if it's a few laps in the middle of a longer ride, I still want to see what's in store for me there.
Its also good to ride a few different lines in the technical sections. Knowing the good line is great - but what happens when someone wipes out infront of you on the good line? If you've practiced a few options through the rocks, then it's easy and still rideable. Being able to ride the technical sections and knowing that there's more then one line can save huge chunks of time in a race. It's much faster then getting off and getting tangled in traffic. It's also honestly quite the ego boost to be able to say "Rider back" and make it look good in front of the guys! Practicing the lines at close to race pace is also important The rocks come up a lot different and look a lot scaryier when riding fast! The timing and power output will be different when riding slow vs fast. That can make all the difference between being able to ride something and having to get off. And don't forget the basics! I've been working on simple skills like balance and track stands over the last few months and I've noticed a difference in my abillity to manuver through things.
I like pre-riding with a few people if possible. It's a fun time out on the trail, playing on the rocks. And different people approach the same obstacle in very different ways. Sessioning the technical sections with friends helps build skills, improve confidence and get different ideas as how to attack a problem. So if the thought of racing in Palmer Park is intimidating, grab some friends, a course map and go take some risks on the rocks. Chances are it won't feel as scary and you'll be raring to go come race day!