Coach’s Column – Getting the Best Start to Your 2016 Training

Question: After having a couple months off from structured training, I now am starting to get back at it.  My season starts in April with mostly XC races and some endurance races later in the year.  What should my first few weeks back to training look like?  I’m a 35-year-old Cat 1/Open racer.

Answer: Now that the holidays are upon us we start to feel the urge to get back on the bike and back into a training routine.  The rest has been great but now it is time to start working towards the spring riding season.  After a month or so of no training, you can slowly start back into a very casual routine of riding.  By this I mean you should try and ride your bike 1-2 hours a day, maybe 4 days a week.  No structure at this point.  I’d keep the intensity low and the cadence between 90-100rpms.  You can ride on the flats or the hills.  If the HR goes up that’s fine but you don’t need to intentionally make the rides hard.  However, if your friends are doing a big hard mountain bike ride on the weekend you can definitely go with them.  Again the goal is to have fun and not feel like you’re “training” just yet.  The goal of this month is to spend time on the bike.   I would also start a strength training program, lifting 2-3 days a week.  You can still throw in hikes and trail runs 1-2 times a week if you’d like.  Anything aerobic is good.

After a month of getting reacquainted with your bike it is now time to get more serious about riding.  This next month should be all about endurance training or increasing your aerobic capacity.  This enlarges the heart, increases stroke volume and blood flow, and increases the capacity of your muscular system; all necessary to be a successful cross country racer.   Lots of rides at your recovery, endurance, and low tempo zones are great.    I would recommend riding 4-5 days a week with two of those days being structured workouts.  You can do a mix of 5-20 minute tempo intervals, muscle tension (same as tempo intervals but at 60rpms) and longer weekend rides with some intensity thrown in.

A focused plan now can help you get where you want to be this summer. Podium spots come with stacks of cash at the Intermountain Cup. Photo by Angie Harker

A focused plan now can help you get where you want to be this summer. Podium spots come with stacks of cash at the Intermountain Cup. Photo by Angie Harker

By late January/early February you will be ready to start your “Meat and potato” training.  This is the foundation for any higher end intensity you need for racing.  The next 6-8 weeks should be spent developing your power at threshold; lots of sweet spot (steady state) and lactate threshold intervals.  Painful and mentally exhausting but also the biggest bang for your buck.  These intervals will do more to improve your racing than anything else.  Spend a lot of time on these and do them well.

March and April are the months to focus on high end aerobic and anaerobic power.  Race pace intervals and race simulation workouts are a great way to get ready for your first race.  But only if you’ve done your homework over the winter.  If your foundation isn’t rock solid, all the fancy stuff you build on top of it will cause everything to just crumble into the basement.

The off-season is one of the most important times of the year for cyclists.  It gives us a chance to rest and recover from the long season.  It is also when you will build the foundation that determines how successful you’ll be next season.  The biggest thing to remember is patience.  Don’t rush back into training too fast and give yourself ample time to get ready for the race season.  Enjoy the process.  Remember, “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.”

Happy trails!

Alison

Alison competed in two Olympic Games, won the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, the UCI World Cup Overall, and is the holder of thirteen US National Championships in road, MTB, and cyclocross.  Since retiring in 2005 Alison has been working full-time coaching cyclists and running skills camps and clinics. She is a USA Cycling Level I coach, a certified Professional Mountain Bike Instructor out of Whistler, BC, a Wilderness First Responder, and a very proud mom to her 5-yr-old son, Emmett.  Alison is a Colorado native and lives in Colorado Springs with her family.  For more information please visit www.alisondunlap.com

Coach’s Column – Maintain Fitness Over Short Winter Days

Question: I’m a Cat1, 40+ racer.  Now that it is the off-season and daylight is dwindling, what is the ‘minimum’ amount of riding/training, I can do in a week without suffering too much fitness loss?  Should I still be doing intervals right now?

Answer: Thanks for sending in the question. It’s one that many riders have this time of the year with shorter days, colder temps, and perhaps waning motivation after a full season of racing.

Know where you’re at

The type and amount of training that you’re doing now should correlate with the phase of training that you’re currently in. Most riders stand to improve their overall training quality by organizing their year into various segments. Having a plan in place for the full scope of your season will help you prioritize your training goals each month.

If you just recently entered your off-season, first and foremost give yourself a break. Ride for fun, skip the intervals and allow yourself a chance to recharge mentally and physically. Even if you loose a little fitness, you’ll certainly gain it back in good time. Sometimes you need to take a step back in order to make two steps forward.

If your off-season break has already been going for some time, you might be ready to start some training for next season. Knowing that the off-season is the single biggest chunk of time to improve your fitness, perhaps you’re motivated and ready to step things up.

 

How to start for next season

Realize that in order to improve it’s helpful to vary your training goals throughout the season. If you’re in the very early stages of next season’s build up, be willing to forfeit a little of your top end fitness in exchange for accomplishing the early season goals that you set.

Consider how much you’re able to ride each week now, versus what you’ve done in the past six weeks. If your training time is comparatively limited, then including more intensity can help. However, if you’re already training more now, then continue building and don’t stress on including the high intensity training.

 

Focus on developing your aerobic system

Focusing to improve your aerobic fitness works great for your base or foundation phase. Depending on how much time you’ve got each week, including some intervals could help you optimize your weekly workload. If deemed necessary, one or two interval sessions per week ought to be plenty as you get started.

The specific amount of training required to maintain fitness depends highly upon how fit you happen to be now, relative to the best that you’ve been at this year. Include some interval work if you’re time limited and need the additional workload. If you have the training time available, focus more on aerobic development and bank a few extra hours each week without starting up the more intense interval training quite yet.

While your primary focus is aerobic development, there’s supplemental training that can benefit you as well. Consider options such as skills work, form drills, and strength training that can have you more prepared to accomplish your goals.  Have fun with the rides as you start building the base of what will be a great season ahead!

Travis Woodruff is a USAC Level I (elite) certified coach who holds a B.S. in Kinesiology with emphasis in Exercise Science. He’s coached riders to five MTB National Championship wins and has over 15 years of personal racing experience. Since 2005 he’s competed as a pro mountain biker and has coached full-time. His business, Momentum Endurance LLC, is based out of Prescott, Arizona.

Coach’s Column – Off-Season Recovery: What you need to know

Question: Now that it’s the off season, I’m thinking about what changes I can make to have a better race season next year and not just in terms of specific interval training.  I found that I am getting fatigued too quickly and taking too long to recover post-race or hard training days.  Do you have any suggestions? I have been a Cat 1/open cross country racer for several years and do some endurance races each season.

Answer: This is a great question and something that is really common. Many people make a steady progression for the first couple/few years of training and racing and then plateau or, worse, decline. You probably started with very open riding, then began adding some structure and more intensity, volume and racing. This is really well tolerated at first but eventually it begins to catch up with you and it’s not sustainable. Unfortunately, most people assume that in order to turn this around, they need to continue adding volume and intensity to their training. Instead, now that you have a couple years of base under you, you probably need more rest.

It’s really important to take at least one, two week break completely off the bike per year (stress on ‘at least’ here). And that means that you truly do not touch your bike for two weeks. You can do some light exercise off the bike but the emphasis should be on recovery. I recommend other modalities that are more restorative in nature; yoga, swimming and mellow hiking are all great examples. That said, if you have to choose between exercise and a nap, choose the nap! It’s time to focus on recovery.

Once you have had a solid break, you can get back on your bike to do some base training. But I recommend continuing with plenty of off-the-bike work through the remaining winter months. The bulk of your training should be at endurance pace or zone 2, where you can easily hold a conversation. After several weeks of zone 2, you can ramp up and include some zone 3 or tempo efforts. Tempo is great for base building as you utilize the same systems as threshold work (the intensity you do most XC racing at). But because tempo is a lower intensity, you can tolerate a larger volume of training without eliciting a significant stress response. As you get closer to race season, your training will also include threshold, VO2, and anaerobic efforts. But this year, I recommend you include more rest. Maybe ride five days instead of six per week or add a recovery ride where you would have done a longer/harder ride. With several years of riding in your legs, you have enough base to carry you through.

You don’t mention what your off-the-bike life is like but it is important to remember that we do not train in a vacuum. When you have periods of high stress with your family, your job, etc., and/or travel, you need to consider that and cut the volume and intensity of your training. Along the same lines, if you aren’t getting enough quality sleep, you need to modify your training to account for that as well. Use the two week break from your bike to make some other lifestyle modifications that will further improve your recovery this year. Some examples might include creating the habit of a big weekly cook so you have healthy food ready to go all week; starting a meditation practice (I recommend the app ‘Headspace’ to get started); or developing a daily stretching/ foam rolling routine. Integrating these regular practices when you begin hard training again will improve your ability to recover. Remember the catchphrase, ‘rest as hard as you train,’ and use that to make this your best season yet!

Sarah Kaufmann is a USAC Level II coach under the PLAN7 Endurance Coaching brand. She is a member of the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team and has been racing mountain bikes at the professional level since 2008.  Sarah is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

Coach’s Column – MTB Training with Power

Question: I want to start training and racing with a power meter on my mountain bike.  What do you recommend for a power meter and how do I establish my training zones using the power meter?  Will I need a separate power meter for my road bike if I train on both, especially since my road bike will be my ‘trainer bike’ for the winter?

Answer: Planning and pacing your training with a power meter is a huge advantage. There are many power meters on the market. Read through DC Rainmakers 2015 power meter buyers guide for a detailed review of every known option. Not all of these power meters work for mountain bikes due to compatibility or durability issues. We need a power meter that can take a beating. The most popular mountain bike power meters with proven durability off-road are Stages, PowerTap Hub, SRM and Power2Max. One of the new products on the market is the 4iiii’s power meter however they currently support aluminum cranks only so anybody with carbon cranks is out of luck.

It is possible to have one power meter that you move back and forth between bikes but it is inconvenient to switch these often. The power meters are located in the crank arms (Stages, SRM and Power2Max) or rear wheel (PowerTap hub). If these parts are compatible between your MTB and road bike you can do the switch with a little wrenching to change the crank or rear wheel.

Alex digs deep at the Mount St. Anne world cup

You’ll find most MTB pros like Alex Grant train and race with power meters. Here Alex digs deep at the Mount St. Anne world cup

If you are adding a power meter to only one bike, the bike to choose is the one you ride the most. This will maximize the use you get out of the power meter. If this is equal, put it on your mountain bike. The best option is to have a power meter on every bike.

Once you have your power meter installed, read the manual to understand the calibration and zeroing requirements. Some power meters will auto zero and/or calibrate and others you need to do manually before each ride to maintain accuracy.

To establish your power training levels, warm up very well then do a 20 min all-out, non-stop time trial effort on a flat road or up a continuous gradual climb. Enter your average 20 min power from this time trial to our LW Coaching Power Level and Heart Rate Training Zone Calculator to calculate your power training levels.

Now you are ready to start pedaling in watts and producing TSS (Training Stress Score).

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 20 years. Contact her through her website for information on mountain bike training plans, coaching and consulting at LWCoaching.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 Sarah Kaufmann – Training for 50 Milers

Question:  “A month out from the beginning of my race season as an expert/open rider focusing mostly on XC and some 50miler/100k races, what should I be aiming to achieve in my workouts?” 

 

Answer:  Sounds like you are in for a fun season! Your goals one month out from your first XC and endurance races will depend on what you have been doing through the winter and up to now. Assuming you did a solid winter of training to develop your aerobic base, beginning at steady state endurance work, followed by a large volume of tempo training, and some threshold and surge work on top of that, one month out you should be adding some race-specific top end that will allow you to dig deep to go hard at the start, attack other riders, cover attacks, and make the decisive move when the time is right and other riders are pinned.

There are a few different workouts I recommend to address these goals. A fast start is more important in an XC race than an endurance race but in order to be competitive in your longer races, you will need a fast start for these as well. This is especially true if the course funnels into singletrack quickly or if the course causes some initial splintering of the group that will require you to be near the front to avoid getting caught out when a split occurs. 

There are two main components to improving your starts; first is the simple act of getting quickly clipped into your pedals and powering off the line, second is being able to ride at a maximal effort, then drop to VO2/threshold effort and maintain, without recovery. To address these goals, perform the following workout. Warm up by spining easy for 10 minutes, then ramping up to tempo from minute 10-12, back to easy spinning for one minute, then up to threshold for two minutes. Do a couple of 10” jumps then spin easy for another two minutes and begin the following intervals; start with one foot on the ground and one foot clipped in, like a race start. Clip in and sprint off the line, riding as hard as you can for 2-4 minutes, then settling into threshold effort for 8-10 minutes. The best way to do this workout is to find a course that mimics a race course, i.e. beginning the interval on pavement or dirt road and funneling into a singletrack climb within a couple of minutes. Use visualization during this workout; imagine other riders around you and the mad dash for singletrack. You may get some relief at the singletrack but you will still need to hang on and push the pace. Do a total of two of these intervals per workout, then finish the remainder of your ride at endurance pace. Do this workout once per week for 2-3 weeks starting 3-4 weeks out from your first goal event. 

You will want to improve your anaerobic capacity to cover surges and short climbs. For AC intervals, I like 2-3 sets of 1:30 – 3 minutes at AC with 5 minutes recovery between intervals and 10 minutes recovery between sets. Anaerobic capacity should feel like a 9 out of 10 for your Rate of Perceived Exertion. Unlike the Starts workout above, you should control your effort for these intervals so that you do not have to back off at the end and you can keep the intensity even and high through the interval. Cool down with at least 15 minutes of easy spinning. Do this workout once per week for 2-3 weeks starting 3-4 weeks out.

To put the final touches on your top end, you will want to do a few sprint workouts. You can do these on flat ground or on hills and I suggest doing some of them starting with one foot clipped in, one foot on the ground (like a race start) and some from speed. You should start with 6-8 reps of 30” all out and work up to 8-12. Take at least 4:30 recovery of light spinning between reps and cool down for at least 15 minutes after the workout. Do this workout 1-2 times per week for 2 weeks starting 2-3 weeks out.

These workouts will set you up nicely to head into your season fast and ready to mix it up!

Sarah Kaufmann is a USAC Level II coach under the PLAN7 Endurance Coaching brand. She is a member of the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team and has been racing mountain bikes at the professional level since 2008.  Sarah is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

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 Travis Woodruff: Improve Your Climbing Wherever You Live

Question: I live in a very flat area and often get killed on climbs in racing. How do I get better at climbing without having to drive really far to train on hills?

Answer: Like any cycling skill, improvement comes with specific training so it is helpful to understand what it takes to climb faster. Let’s consider what will help you get you up the hills faster so you won’t be getting dropped in your next race.

Power to Weight Ratio

This is the single most important metric summarizing your ability to climb. Improving your sustainable power and/or decreasing your body weight will have you better prepared for the fight against gravity. Producing more power over the long haul and/or having less mass to carry with you will directly equate to faster climbing.  It is entirely possible to improve your fitness and decrease your body weight even if you’re only riding the flatlands.  As along as you’re training and building fitness, your climbing will improve.

How the Effort is Produced

When climbing, your intensity (power) is often achieved with a lower cadence when compared to a similar intensity on the flats. Most riders will self-select a lower cadence when climbing and sometimes you’ll be forced to go with a lower cadence if you’re out of smaller gears. Riding with a lower cadence requires that you apply a higher force to the pedals with each revolution. While it’s natural to spin a higher cadence along the flats, you will want to include some riding with a lower cadence to replicate the pedaling force that climbs require. It can be especially helpful to do some of your harder, steady efforts with a lower cadence to mimic the demands of climbing. Equally intense efforts can be done with a high pedaling force and lower cadence or with a lesser pedaling force and a higher cadence. Both can build fitness, just be sure to include some of the former to improve your climbing.

Make a Trip

If you’re training for a race with some major climbing and you’ve never ridden such big climbs, it would be wise to do a training camp early in the season. If you can visit the same venue where you’ll be racing that’s great, but anything similar can do the trick. Testing yourself on the big climbs is an experience that cannot be over-valued. The better you know what you’re up against, the better you can prepare for it.

The recipe for faster climbing isn’t a complicated one, but it will require some focused training. Have fun with the rides and best of luck as you prepare for the 2015 season!

Travis Woodruff is a USAC Level I (elite) certified coach who holds a B.S. in Kinesiology with emphasis in Exercise Science. He’s coached riders to five MTB National Championship wins and has over 15 years of personal racing experience. Since 2005 he’s competed as a pro mountain biker and has coached full-time. His business, Momentum Endurance LLC, is based out of Prescott, Arizona.

Coach’s Column with Sarah Kaufmann: Returning To The Bike After Injury? Here’s How It’s Done

Question: I broke my leg in a bad crash late this summer and am just starting to ride again.  How do I start getting back into race shape?  I’d like to do endurance races again next season but don’t know if that’s an unrealistic goal.

Answer: First, endurance racing next season is not unrealistic! You actually picked a great time to break your leg (only half kidding). If there is ever a good time for an injury, it is late in the race season. I normally recommend that my athletes take two to four weeks off the bike when the season comes to a close. Your forced rest works this in and once you are cleared to ride again, you can begin base training through the winter. Depending on when your first goal events are next year (and what your winter climate is like), November/December is a great time to begin riding again and ease back into some structured training.

Once you are cleared to ride, you should begin with very light steady riding. You may want to do this on the road. Stick mainly to endurance pace or lower, which is about a 4 or 5 out of a 10 for your rate of perceived effort. Be honest with yourself about this and resist the urge to push harder. If you train with power or heart rate, be aware that HR will be spiky and high in general and your pre-injury power zones are going to be too high for the moment, as well. This may also mean that you need to avoid riding with your friends who insist they will ride easy but always hammer – we all have those friends! After several weeks of unstructured endurance pace training, move into some steady state higher effort endurance pace efforts; i.e. instead of just cruising with endurance pace as your ceiling, try holding middle to upper endurance for 20-60 minute efforts (building these up over time).

Your timeline for building back an endurance base will depend a lot on your level of fitness at the time of your injury and what, if any, activity you were able to do during your recovery. But more than likely, after three to five weeks of structured training at mainly endurance pace, followed by a week of lighter riding and active recovery, you can begin adding back in some tempo and low-end threshold efforts.

As your goal is returning to endurance racing, tempo work will be your best bet for redeveloping your aerobic base. Tempo work results in many of the same physiological adaptations as threshold training but because it is at a lower intensity, you can train at tempo with significantly higher volume than threshold. Tempo efforts should feel like a 6 or 7 out of 10 RPE. Benefits of tempo training include increased plasma and stroke volume, increased mitochondrial density (mitochondria are the part of cells that create energy from fuel), improved lactate buffering (resulting in improved lactate threshold), and increased muscle capillarization (resulting in more blood flow to working muscles), among others. As with any periodized training plan, as you get closer to your event, your training should include more threshold, VO2, and anaerobic efforts. But in the initial phase after your return from injury, your focus should be on aerobic base building, so tempo work should make up the majority of your hard training..

Tempo workouts could include rolling terrain-based efforts of five to ten minutes, with equal or longer recovery at endurance pace. Keep total time at tempo to 40 minutes initially, working up to an hour. You can also do more structured intervals working up to a total of an hour at tempo (i.e. 6 x 10’; 4 x 15’; 3 x 20’). Despite the fact that tempo work can be done at a higher volume than threshold, it is still very demanding training. Make sure you are well rested and adequately fueled and hydrated for these workouts. You can begin with one to two tempo workouts per week, working up to three to four over time.

Because my approach to training and racing is a holistic one, it feels like an omission not to cover points regarding nutrition, core exercises, and the mental aspects of returning from injury. Without too much detail on those points, here are a few basics…

Sometimes a focus on nutrition slips when we can’t train. It is easy to self-medicate with treats. But remember that your body needs the highest quality building blocks to create new bone. Even after you have been cleared to ride, bone growth is still occurring. Homemade bone broth is one of the best things you can give yourself to support bone growth. I like this recipe. Aside from that, whole foods; fruits, vegetables, high quality animal protein and healthy fats will be the most supportive in recovery. Keep your focus on nutrient density.

Rebuilding some core strength will serve you well as you transition back into regular bike training. After all of the time off, the muscles that support bike posture will be weakened. If your fracture is healed enough that you are riding regularly, you should have no problem getting back to a regular core strength routine. Make sure you listen to your body and if certain movements give you pain at your fracture site, wait on those.

In addition to the physical stress of injury, it is important to acknowledge and respect the mental strain and other peripheral damage. While an injury does provide some forced rest, your body has been through a major trauma. My explanation above, indicating that the forced rest is convenient, is also simplistic. Though you were off the bike, your body wasn’t really resting during your down time. Healing broken bones is demanding and exhausting work. You may be frustrated at the fitness you have lost when you begin riding again. Let it ride (pun intended). It will come around. Be patient and try to enjoy the process of getting your fitness back.

Trauma like broken bones can also have a strong psychological impact. It may feel like a personal violation to be damaged by a severe injury. Respect the emotional pain caused by your injury. Personal story; I was hit by a car a couple of years ago and sustained several broken bones. About a month after the accident, a good friend told me to remember these things, ‘be patient with yourself and kind to yourself.’ I began crying. Do not discount the pent up frustration and expectations. They are there bubbling under the surface and acknowledging them is a crucial part of the healing process.
Good luck with your recovery and with your season next year – you can come back stronger!

Sarah Kaufmann is a USAC Level II coach under the PLAN7 Endurance Coaching brand. She is a member of the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team and has been racing mountain bikes at the professional level since 2008. Sarah is based in Park City, UT.

Coaching Column with Alison Dunlap: What Age Should Children Start Training?

Question: At what age do you think it’s ok to start really structured training and racing?  What would you focus on for a young teenager or pre-teen?

Answer: Cycling is a challenging sport as we all know.  The emphasis with young kids should be on the pure joy of riding and the fun that can be had cruising up and down the alleys around your neighborhood.  Go on an “urban assault” with your kids and show them all of the obstacles that can be ridden on a bike.  During these younger years it is important that kids be exposed to many kinds of activities, not just cycling.  This will help develop coordination, balance, movement and cognitive skills.  The emphasis should not be on structure, but the fun and enjoyment of being active with friends and family.  It is not appropriate to ask a young child (pre-puberty) to “train”.  Kids at this age should be allowed to play for the sake of enjoyment and not have to follow the rules and regimens of adult level sport rules. [1]

Once a child reaches puberty she can start engaging in more specialized opportunities with an emphasis on organized and personalized training.   Kids should learn how to train properly in this phase with the focus on development, not outcome.[2]   Competition can be introduced but it is not the main objective.  A child’s love of sport and her internal motivation to participate become stronger and more developed during this phase.   Help your child experience the joy and fun of cycling while giving them a healthy understanding of how to train.

Make cycling a social activity.  Friends are everything to kids at this age.   Remember it is all about the process, not the results.  You are trying to develop a lifelong love of the sport that will keep your child active well into her adult years.

The amount of time spent in this development stage isn’t determined by a specific age.  It will vary with every child and depends on maturity and interest level.[3]  Kids that fail to develop a strong intrinsic drive during this time period will usually quit the sport before reaching the elite ranks.  So don’t rush it or convince your child he/she may be the next cycling superstar at the ripe age of 17.

We want our children to love to ride.  And we want them to carry that passion with them until they are too old to get out of bed.

For more information I highly recommend Kristen Dieffenbach’s book Bike Racing for Juniors; A Guide for Riders, Parents, and Coaches.

Happy Trails!

Alison

[1] Kristen Dieffenbach, Bike Racing for Juniors: A guide for riders, parents, and coaches (Boulder, CO: Velo Press 2008) p.72.

[2] Dieffenbach 2008 p.73

[3] Dieffenbach 2008 p.74

Alison Dunlap is a superstar in the sport of cycling.  She competed in two Olympic Games, won the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, the UCI World Cup Overall, and is the holder of thirteen US National Championships in road, MTB, and cyclocross.  Since retiring in 2005 Alison has been working full-time coaching cyclists and running skills camps and clinics. She is a USA Cycling Level I coach, a certified Professional Mountain Bike Instructor out of Whistler, BC, a Wilderness First Responder, and a very proud mom to her 4-yr-old son, Emmett.  Alison is a Colorado native and lives in Colorado Springs with her family.