Question: I work four 10 hour days, Mon-Thursday, and find it hard to get good workouts in on my work days. How can I structure a training plan to get me race ready for XC and 50 miler races next season?
Answer: This question is a great extension of my last coaches column article: http://www.mtbracenews.com/2014/11/coachs-column-with-andy-applegate.html . You have 3 solid training days per week. I believe the best approach would be to do 2 days of focused intensity work followed by a long endurance type ride on the third day each week.
Even though you are on a time crunched schedule, it is still important to follow a periodized plan and focus on one energy system at a time for your workouts over the winter. The exception to this is the once weekly endurance ride which should be present most weeks.
For the endurance ride, shoot for about 2 hours minimum if possible and build from there. If you are stuck riding inside, between 2 and 3 hours might be the maximum you can deal with, and that is ok. If your long rides can only be in the 2 hour range, keep the intensity up at around 65% of threshold power or heart rate for most of the time. When you can get outside, gradually increase the duration of the long ride. Since you are shooting for a 50 miler, try to make your longest ride close to the time you expect to need complete that event (this works for 50 milers, but I don’t necessarily think you need to do this for 100 milers, where you can get away with hitting 70 to 80% of expected race time). This longest ride should be done 3 to 4 weeks before that event. For XC racers, usually between 3 to 4 hours as the longest rides is all that is required to develop the necessary endurance. One could argue that you can get away with even less for XC racing if you are getting excellent and specific intensity sessions in. Another idea to work on endurance fitness is: when you get to between 4 and 8 weeks before a long event, block 2 long days back to back. In this case for you, do one intensity specific day followed by 2 long days.
Lets talk a bit more about those specific intensity sessions. Again, it is important to focus on one type of effort at a time for a training block before moving on to a different type of workout. For example you might start with threshold training for a 3 or 4 week period, then move on to VO2max work for the next block. As a time constrained athlete, you probably don’t need to worry too much about recovery weeks…. since your training volume will be low, you should be getting plenty of recovery between 3 day training blocks. If you feel this is not the case, by all means throw a recovery week in where you feel it is needed. For a couple good ideas on how to progress through a threshold and VO2max training block, refer to that last article referenced above.
As you get close to race season, try to make the workouts as specific to your goal races as possible. For example, for XC racing starting about 4 weeks before the first big race of the season you might want to add in some race simulation efforts where you do 2 or 3 x 12 to 15 minutes near all out on an off road course. In this type of workout you will most likely be doing a variety of intensities and duration of efforts. At this point of your training season this is fine.
These are just some general ideas and guidelines. Of course you need to think about what your own personal limiters are and exactly what the courses of your goal races require for you to excel and fit workouts that will address these things into your early season training as well.