Coach’s Column: 7 Tips for Top Stage Race Training

 

The final topic in our series of ‘what ability to focus on for the various disciplines of racing’ will look at what ability is most needed for stage racing. Off road stage races come in many different varieties. From events just a few stages long to full week or longer. They also run over all kinds of terrain and at all possible elevations. Make sure you take the specific race demands into account while planning your training. To do well in stage racing you will need to have all the endurance and skills necessary for any single stage, but the one ability necessary that stands out is the need to compete day after day with very little recovery time between stages. Often the riders who excel in these events are not necessarily the fastest or strongest, but those who are able to recover best between stages.

Seen here at the Breck Epic stage race, Barry Wicks knows how to train for multi-day events as he wins stage 5 of the 2015 race.  - Photo by Eddie Clark

Seen here at the Breck Epic stage race, Barry Wicks knows how to train for multi-day events as he wins stage 5 of the 2015 race. – Photo by Eddie Clark

The ability to perform consistently well stage after stage is quite trainable.  The best way to do this is to mimic some of the demands of the event in training with back to back long difficult training sessions. Most riders have no trouble adding 2 long sessions into their schedule over a normal weekend, but in order to get your body used to racing day after day, including some extended blocks of training will help even more. Start by adding a hard session on a Friday before long back to back Saturday and Sunday rides. This will put you into the Saturday ride with “pre-fatigued” legs. Next, try to carve out a long weekend where you can get 3 or more long rides in. You could even extend this 3-day block with a hard ride on a Thursday (or Friday if you are doing the 3rd long day on a Monday). If you can work in a training camp where you have more back to back high volume days it would be optimal.

Here are a few guidelines for doing this kind of block training:

  1. If at all possible, riding on the type of terrain and at the elevation of your goal stage race is absolutely the best preparation.
  2. Don’t over do the intensity or duration on the first day of the block. If that first session is short, include some intensity, but if not, ease into the block with a comparatively moderate intensity and duration ride. You don’t want to have to cut rides short later in the block because of too much fatigue.
  3. Gradually increase the duration of the rides each day and have the last day of the block be the longest or nearly the longest day.
  4. Make sure you are well recovered going into the block of training, and add a significant amount of recovery time after you complete the block.
  5. Practice good nutrition while on the bike and immediately after each ride to optimize glycogen restoration. This means eating and drinking enough on the bike!
  6. Practice all of your recovery techniques post ride every day. This includes nutrition, trying to stay off your feet as much as possible, massage if available, and possibly most important, getting enough sleep!
  7. While doing 2 or 3 back to back days can be included in training often, doing a big block (more than 3 or 4 days) is best incorporated somewhere between 4 and 8 weeks prior to the goal race.

Also, be sure to read Sarah Kauffman’s great recent coach’s column article for other ideas about mountain bike stage race preparation.

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at www.trainright.com

Coach’s Column: Go Enduro with These Training Tips

Continuing in our series on what ability to focus on for the various racing disciplines, this week’s column will look at the most important ability to train on for racing enduro.

 

Enduro is a relatively new discipline in mountain biking. It encompasses a wide variety of events from huge mass start races that begin on the top of an alp, to small timed segments within stage or endurance races. The common thread between all these events is the fact that for the most part, the start of the enduro will be higher than the finish and you will have to traverse some tough terrain in between for a time.

What are the demands of this type of racing? First and foremost excellent bike handling skills will be necessary to do well. A solid amount of aerobic and anaerobic fitness will also be important. Many enduro courses include some serious climbing sections. These sections may not be long, but they can be steep and if you are not able to tackle them quickly precious time is wasted. Having a very strong core and upper body will also be important in order to control the bike over obstacles and serious terrain. Quickness of movement is an important ability in order to redirect, change lines or clear obstacles. Obviously if you are competing for an enduro classification within a stage race, you will need the fitness to complete the entire stage each day.

Skills practice is in an important part of enhancing your enduro finishes.

Skills practice is in an important part of enhancing your enduro finishes.

The answer to our “most important ability” question for this discipline is clear: handling skills should be a major priority of training. Let’s add a little to that though. Not only do you need the skills, but you also need to be able to execute skills while fatigued. Enduro courses can be very long. A skills mistake due to fatigue can wreck a run, or worse. Also, for some events, the course or enduro section of a course may be very difficult or impossible to pre-ride. Having the ability to read terrain quickly and choose a fast line is crucial. With these thoughts in mind, a couple suggestions to add into training would be:

Add an endurance aspect to skills practice. Doing multiple shuttle runs is great for getting lots of runs in, but make sure you ride the climb sometimes as well so you can get the feel of what it is like to hit the run while fatigued. Learn how fatigue affects your reaction time and how you handle the bike. Knowing how to adjust speed to compensate for fatigue can help keep your runs clean and consistently fast.

Constantly strive to find new and challenging terrain to ride. This may be difficult logistically for some, but having the ability to read unknown terrain quickly and pick a solid line is a skill that can be developed by seeing and riding all kinds of trails. You can certainly work on your skills by riding the same course many times, but seeing a variety of trail will help you work on that ability to quickly adapt.

Also to echo Travis Woodruff’s last column, don’t be afraid to work with a skills coach or do a skills specific MTB camp. Having good feedback on ways to improve skills can help speed and confidence tremendously.

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at www.trainright.com

Coach’s Column – This One Thing Will Make You Faster at Your Next Endurance Event

Question: What is the most important ability to work on for endurance racing?  What is the focus for training and why?

 

Answer: This is the second part of our discussion on important abilities to train for various mountain bike race disciplines. You might think the answer to this one is easy: just do long endurance rides. While this is true to a degree, there is a little more to it if you want to be competitive in long events. First, not all “endurance” MTB events are created equal. Cross country races lately have a relatively narrow definition from a duration perspective, generally they are around 2 hours long. Anything longer; marathon, 50 miler, 100K, 100 miler, and even longer distances (or timed events such as 6, 9, 12 and 24 hour races) all fall into what is considered the endurance race category. Training for a marathon race (maybe 3 to 4 hour duration) would be quite different from the training for, say, a 100 mile race. With this in mind, let’s talk about the specific demands of endurance racing in a very general sense.

We know that you will have to be able to stay on your bike for a long period of time. We know that the majority of the race will be performed well below your lactate threshold, although there will be times when you will need to do relatively short high power efforts on steep climbs and other sections. We know that pacing will be a big issue. We also know that nutrition and hydration strategies will play a big role in your result. There are plenty of other variables that come into play, like the amount of climbing, altitude, bike handling if the course is technical etc., but we need to paint a very general picture for our purposes here.

Obviously the longer the race, the slower the race pace needs to be. Why? Primarily two reasons. The first is fuel. The harder you ride, the more glycogen you burn. The slower you go, the more fat you are able to burn as a percentage of energy substrate used. You probably know that the body has a limited ability to store glycogen, but that our fat stores are vast. You probably also know that you are only able to process so many calories per hour and that you will be burning far more calories than you can digest. Correct pacing is essential in order to not run out of glycogen entirely and avoid bonking. The second pace limiter is fatigue. This includes both muscular and central nervous system fatigue.  While the mechanisms of fatigue are still not completely known, anyone who has done a cycling event knows that it is real and needs to be considered for race pacing as the events gets longer.

Just answer the question already! Ok, ok, So our initial thought was primarily correct. Working on the aerobic energy system as the primary focus is the answer. However, the aerobic training range (below threshold) is wide and where you train within that range is very important. We have found that spending large amounts of time high in the “endurance miles zone” or approximately 62 to 80 % of threshold power is very effective. 12 or 13 bpm below your lactate threshold heart rate will get you in this area. Note that this is NOT easy cruising pace. This is a step above what feels relatively easy on the perceived exertion scale. Also building in long blocks of tempo zone training is great to develop this high end aerobic fitness. Tempo zone is approximately 88-94% of threshold power or about 10bpm below LTHR. This type of training will help your body increase its ability to burn fat at endurance race pace and will help you deal with the build up of muscular and CNS fatigue.

Avoiding fatigue is key to any endurance event. Here Sam Sweetser finishes up after 6 hours and 80 miles in Frog Hollow. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

Avoiding fatigue is key to any endurance event. Here Sam Sweetser finishes up after 6 hours and 80 miles in Frog Hollow. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

If your goal is just to finish an endurance event, then building the duration of your long training rides up close to the expected duration of the event will get you across the finish line even if you train at low intensities.  However, if you want to be competitive, or if the cut off times out on the course require a faster pace, you will need to up the intensity of those long rides, pushing the pace for chunks of time above your comfort zone to get you ready to meet your goals. Note that for races 12 hours and longer there are other long ride strategies that can be employed such as back to back long ride days rather than trying to build up to a ride longer than 9 or 10 hours. Another good strategy would be to use other shorter distance/ timed events as training for the long goal event. For example doing a 6 or 9 hour race as part of the training build up to a 12 hour or longer event is a great plan.

If you have a training device that records heart rate and / or power data, you can download it and look at the time spent in the zones listed above. Try to increase the percentage of time in that high endurance miles zone as your training progresses. Also add tempo interval work starting with 4×8 minutes or 3×10 minutes at tempo (use 2:1 work to recovery times , so for example a 10 min effort would get a 5 min recovery ). Build the total amount of tempo up to well over 60 mins per session. You can also shorten the recovery between efforts to make sessions more difficult.

This certainly is not the only type of training you should do as you work toward an endurance event. There are many reasons why adding high intensity training would benefit endurance race performance, but if you put the primary training focus on aerobic fitness you will be heading in the right direction.

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at www.trainright.com 

Coach’s Column – Secrets to XC Racing

As mountain bike racing becomes more diversified it has become increasingly more difficult to excel at multiple disciplines throughout the course of a season. So we asked elite Carmichael Training Systems coach Andy Applegate to break down four of our favorite MTB racing disciplines – XC, Enduro, Ultra-Endurance, and Stage Racing – and give us the secrets to breaking through in each.

In this 4-part series Andy starts with XC racing.

Question: “What is the most important ability to work on for cross country racing?  What is the focus during training and why?”

Answer: The standard answer for this question as a coach is: it depends on where you are in the training season and how long you have until your goal races. These questions would be followed by a few statements like: You need to follow a periodized training plan, and work on different aspects of fitness at different times. You need to build from less specific to more specific training.. etc, etc. While this is all true, let’s strip that away for a moment and answer the question: what is the single ability to work on that will get you the best results in a cross country race?

To answer this, let’s look at the physical demands of a race. We know that most xc races are between 1.5 and 2 hours long. We know that the start is extremely important and explosive. We know that you will have to make repeated anaerobic efforts with minimal recovery. We know that you will need to be able to handle obstacles and maintain speed around the entire course.

Before the days of power meters, we primarily used heart rate to look at training and racing intensity. A heart rate data file from an xc race usually looks like a flat line about 5 bpm above lactate threshold heart rate. Sure, there are some undulations in heart rate throughout the race, but for the most part HR is very steady for the entire duration of the event. When we looked at these files, most coaches and athletes thought: “ok, so if this is what the race HR looks like, I should gear my training to that and do long steady efforts at or just above lactate threshold.” While this is an effective way to build general fitness, and raise power output at lactate threshold, it does not address the demands of cross country racing as specifically as we thought.

Enter the power meter. I remember the first time I saw a power file from a mountain bike race. I was blown away by the immense variability of power output throughout the event. Huge power spikes way above threshold power for very brief (seconds) to moderately long (several minute) durations with short periods of recovery. These facts let us answer the original question. Working on anaerobic, VO2max type intervals of durations between 1 minute and 3 or 4 minutes would be a prime area to focus on for xc racing. This type of interval work is quite specific to the demands of the event, training your body to be able to handle the repeated anaerobic work bouts with very little recovery between efforts.

I think that covers the the “what and why”, so let’s get to the “how” part. Here are some workout ideas.Start with doing 3×3 minutes of near-all-out intervals with 3 minute recoveries between efforts. Make sure you warm up well so you can hit that first effort hard.

For most intervals of this type a 1:1 work to rest ratio works well. The efforts should be done between 110-120% of threshold power or about 9 to 9.5 on a 1-10 perceived exertion scale. Heart rate is generally not a great way to gauge intensity for these efforts as it will not elevate above threshold until the interval is nearly complete.

Remember, the interval starts as soon as you put the power to the pedals. Do one or two 3×3 min workouts with at least a day of easier riding between, then start adding another 3 min effort as you feel like you are able to handle the workload. Eventually build up to a total of 6 or possibly 7 intervals per workout. Remember: these are very-near-all-out efforts, so if you feel like you could do more than 6 or 7 of these, you probably are not going hard enough!

Do 2 or 3 of these interval sessions per week and you will see some real improvements after a 3 week training block. I like to prescribe these workouts with one recovery day between interval days, however some coaches feel that doing 2 days in a row of efforts is worthwhile also. Try it, but if you feel like you are not able to hit the same intensity the 2nd day in a row, go back to putting an easier day between.

While the 3 minute efforts are very effective, it is also good to vary the effort durations (keeping a 1:1 work to rest ratio). Try doing a session of 7×2 min (2 min recoveries) or a 3-4 x 4 min session (4 min recoveries).

Another aspect to vary is how you are attacking each effort. One approach would be to nail it all out from the start and hang on as long as you can (called “peak and fade” ). Another way would be to try to hold a very steady effort throughout each interval. Both approaches are very effective at building fitness.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it is not a good idea to hit these types of workouts all year. Generally doing a 3 week block of VO2max, followed by recovery, then a block of focusing on a different aspect of fitness is best. I like to put VO2max work in between blocks of threshold work and again about 8 weeks before the beginning of the important part of the race season.

One last note. I mentioned that we were able to learn a lot about the demands of racing from power meters. However, while they are great tools, they are certainly not required for effective training or racing. Almost all types of workouts can be done very effectively using perceived exertion and/ or heart rate feedback.

Hard anaerobic efforts like VO2max intervals are very tough and painful, but the payoff from building them into your training is huge… and very specific to the needs of the cross country MTB racer.

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at www.trainright.com

Coach’s Column with Andy Applegate: Build a Training Plan Around Your Busy Work Schedule

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.

Coach’s Column with Andy Applegate: Trainer Workouts to Get You Through The Winter

Question: What trainer workouts can I do this winter to really work on increasing my overall power?

Answer: This is a very general question and we could write many words to cover all the possibilities. Ideally you would be able to periodize your trainer workouts over several training blocks. By this I mean, targeting specific types of intensity sessions to focus on one aspect of fitness for several weeks at a time before moving on to the a different focus. If you do have a couple months, I would suggest first doing a full block of steady state efforts (long efforts of approximately 95 to 99% of current lactate threshold, or about a 7.5 to 8 on a 1-10 intensity scale). An example of workout progression here would be building from a session of 5×5 mins up to 3×15 mins at steady state effort. Recovery time for these should be approximately 50% of the duration of the “work” interval. Do this type of session about 3 times a week for 3 weeks and you should see some significant gains. After a bit of an recovery block it would be time to move to the next focus: Vo2max.

Vo2max efforts, or what we call power intervals, are very intense, relatively short, efforts done nearly flat out. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say these efforts are enjoyable, but the return on the work investment can be huge. Start with just 3×3 mins of power intervals (remember the effort needs to be near all out or a 9 to 9.5 on a 1-10 intensity scale). Build the workouts until you can do 6×3 mins or about 18 mins of total work time in a single session. Recovery time should be the same as the work interval. Do this type of workout 2 to 3 times per week and after a 3 week block you should see a nice increase in your ability to put out a higher power per effort, an improved ability to recover between hard efforts and an increased capacity to endure some serious training pain. All of these fitness gains will translate directly to increased power on the bike outside.

There are of course other areas that you could target with specific trainer workouts, but those are two great areas to focus on over the winter. Here are a few other guidelines to consider for indoor training over the winter:

  1. Consistency is key. It would be better to do 4 or 5 sessions per week at a shorter duration than to try to do just a couple of longer sessions. You get more out of the training if you keep the frequency of workouts high.
  1. The less time or fewer sessions you can do , the more you need to focus on intensity. If you can only do 3 sessions per week, you would be best served to make all or most of those sessions very focused and intense. If you can do 5 or 6 sessions per week, you would split workouts between very intense, moderate and probably even a recovery ride a week.
  1. Focus on a specific fitness aspect or type of workout for an entire training block. By repeating similar types of sessions for several weeks, your body will respond to that repeated stress and give you improvements. This does not mean you can’t throw in different workouts from time to time, but keep a single general focus for each block.
  1. Something is always better than nothing. By this I mean that any time you get on the bike or do any type of exercise is, for the most part, going to benefit you in some way, even if you break every guideline you have ever heard.
  1. Group training sessions, crazy hard training videos, spin classes, online competitions, “kitchen sink” type workouts, and any other type of training all have a place and time. Even if you are focusing on a specific type of workout, doing a different type of session once a week can keep things fresh and help you maintain motivation.

As an aside, here are 2 workouts that I really like to prescribe for trainer sessions that can be thrown in the mix from time to time:

15-15 Speed Intervals:

Warm-up well and then do 3×10 minutes of 15 seconds “on”, 15 seconds “off”. “on ” segments should be 9.5 on 1-10 intensity scale…off segments are easy spinning (keep the legs moving!). Use perceived exertion as a guide rather than HR or power…3 mins recovery between each 10 min session.

Tempo + Bursts:

Warm up , then ride 30 to 50 mins steady in the tempo zone (88 -94% of lactate threshold HR or power, or 7 on a 1-10 scale of perceived exertion). During this tempo session, stand and do a near all out “burst” effort for 10 to 12 pedal revolutions once every 2 to 3 minutes.

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at www.trainright.com

Coach’s Column with Lynda Wallenfels: Taking Time Off vs. Enjoying Late Season Riding

Question: I want to take some time off the bike during this off-season, but I hate missing the nice fall weather since winter is right around the corner.  I also know I need to be back to a structured training program in December, January at the latest.  I don’t feel too burned out from the season.  Should I still take a break?  If so, how long of a break should I take and how should I time it? Also, should I be ‘lazy’ during the break or be active still doing other physical activities?

Answer:  There is no need to take any more than one week off the bike as an off-season break if you are healthy and don’t feel burned out from the season. Do take a longer break from structured training but stay active. In fact doing late fall rides are a great way to take advantage of all that hard earned fitness you built up during the race season. Get out and have fun on your bike!

Do take a minimum of a single very low key recovery week where you relax, get a massage and sleep a lot. After that, enjoy the late fall weather and do all those routes and rides you missed out on during the season when they didn’t fit perfectly into your training plan. Most mountain bike racers enjoy adventures on their bikes, so pack a lunch and go exploring with friends.

Stay active in November and set yourself up for higher performance in 2015 with some of the following:

  • Rehab any injuries.
  • Improve your technical ride skills with a class, lesson, camp or practice.
  • Cross train with other aerobic seasonal sports such as skate skiing.
  • Improve body composition and lose weight if you are more than 10 lbs over your optimum race weight for men or 7 lbs for women.
  • Strengthen any weaknesses.
  • Stretch any tight muscles and balance your body.
  • Learn a new skill that will help you once the season starts such as yoga or how to wrench on your bike.
  • Get any dental work done if needed.
  • Get any other medical issue that needs recovery time taken care of.
  • Take care of any physical labor or domestic chores you put off during the season.
  • Give extra time and attention to your support crew – you know the people who you depend on in-season.

Lynda Wallenfels is a Category 1 certified USA Cycling coach. She coaches mountain bike, cross country and endurance athletes to personal bests and national championships. Lynda has been coaching off-road athletes and racing for 18 years. Connect with her through her website for information on mountain bike training plans, coaching and consulting at LWCoaching.com.