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: Pre-riding like a pro

Question: I notice the pros spend a lot of time pre-riding courses for really important races.  What are you thinking about or focusing on as you pre-ride the course?”

Answer: Pre-riding the course at a big race is an important part of your race prep and can be the difference between a top ten and a podium finish.  If done incorrectly it can also wreck your legs and end up making for a miserable weekend.

 

There are two ways to pre ride a course.  The first is to do a mellow reconnaissance of the course at an endurance pace.  This gives you your first look at the course and what you’ll be faced with on race day.  This is an important lap and should not be done as a “social” ride with a large group of friends.  Here are the things I do on my first lap:

  1. On this first easy lap you need to carefully analyze all technical sections.  If you can’t ride something now is the time to stop and practice.  Get these sections dialed and make sure you can ride them.  And if you can’t, figure out the fastest way to walk/run and the best place to get back on your bike without losing any momentum.  Remember it isn’t who can ride everything; it is who is fastest through everything whether that is on or off the bike.
  2. Look at the climbs.  How long are they, how steep, are they technical and slow or smooth and fast?  How will you attack each climb?  Ask yourself if you have the correct gearing on your bike for the climbs.  Make a mental note of where each climb begins so that in the race you are ready and in good position before each hill.
  3. Analyze the terrain and trail conditions.  If it is super muddy and slick will you need to change tires?  Is it super loose and rocky?  Hard packed and fast?  This might also determine the type of bike you ride on race day.  If you know the course is going to be a total mud fest with lots of running you may choose to use a lighter hard tail with narrow tires then your full suspension.
  4. Check out the first kilometer of the lap.  You need to know exactly when the first singletrack sections begins after the start/finish and is this first section slow and technical or fast and smooth.  Do you anticipate a big bottleneck getting into the singletrack section?  If so you need to figure out where you want to move up and in what position you go into that first singletrack.
  5. Check out the last kilometer of the lap.  How does the course come into the finish line?  If you are finishing the race in a small group how will you outsprint your competitors?  Where will you make your big move?
  6. Know where the feed zone is,  how long is it, how rough is the terrain, and figure out how many bottles you need to grab per lap.

Now you’re ready for a second lap of the course.  I call this the “hot lap” and now is the time to start putting things together.  The second lap should be done at a higher speed and intensity; maybe not true race pace but definitely a hard effort.   You want to know how the course flows, what the corners are like and how the technical sections ride at speed.  I like to go hard on my second lap because I want to see and feel what it is like to ride the lap with a high heart rate.   Riding over a 3 foot drop is a heck of a lot harder when you are at race pace then when you are doing your casual reconnaissance lap.    I don’t like to stop on my second lap, but if there is something that is giving you a lot of grief, stop and quickly work out a better line, practice once or twice, and then continue with your hot lap.

If the laps are really short, maybe 20-25 minutes, you can do your first lap easy, the second lap at tempo, and make your third lap your hot lap.  And if the laps are really long and you can only realistically do one lap, then ride the first third easy, the middle third at tempo and the last third at race pace. This can be tricky because you don’t get to see the entire lap at a slow speed to work out any technical challenges.

The biggest drawback to pre riding the course is it can make you tired.  Be careful and strategic with how and when you pre ride the course.  Don’t do three hot laps on the course the day before the race because you feel amazing and you love the course and you’re just having too much fun.  Come race day your legs will be trashed.  Also don’t spend a ton of time trying to ride every technical section perfectly.  If you have a long lap and you’re doing a slow pre ride, you could be out there over three hours.  Sure you’ll know how to ride everything, but you’ll be so tired by race day it won’t matter.   Pre ride the course just enough to learn the major technical sections, get a feel for the terrain, and figure out the best tires and tire pressure to use.  That’s it.  Be confident in your abilities and trust yourself that you’ll know what to do out on the course.  Creating stress and anxiety over a course won’t do you any good and just leads to a miserable 24 hours before the race.

After every pre ride of the course I like to have a recovery drink as soon as I finish.  I will write down important items before I forget them; tire choice, tire pressure, gearing, and bike choice.  If you’re lucky enough to have a mechanic helping you, talk to him right away and let him know your thoughts on the course and what you’d like to do to your bike for the race.  Then clean up, get some food, get out of the venue and get some rest.  Race day is fast approaching!

Do your homework by pre riding the course, put together a solid race plan, and then relax and have fun.  And then ride your bike like you stole it!

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, a Colorado College graduate, 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: Fuel Your Fitness: Getting the most from your body on race day

Question: I have a hard time fueling adequately in cross country races since they are so intense.  It is hard to get enough water and calorie intake.  How can I work on this?  Is it ok to go into deficit a bit in a 2-hour race?

Answer: This is a great question and having an event-specific nutrition and hydration strategy is important. The high intensity of cross country racing will factor into your race day nutrition and hydration planning. Arriving to the start line with glycogen stores topped off and properly hydrated is the first priority. Doing things right during the race won’t correct poor nutrition or hydration prior to the start, so be sure to keep the big picture in mind too.

Going into deficit

Caloric deficit during a cross country race is 100% expected. It would be ill-advised to attempt replacing all of the energy that you are expending during the race. The gut simply cannot process carbohydrates at the same rate that you’re able to expend them during intense exercise.  A 2.5 hour XC race will often require you to empty the tank, whereas the faster paced, but shorter 1.5 hour XCO races typically do not. A two-hour cross country won’t quite fully deplete your body’s glycogen stores, but there won’t be a whole lot left in the tank at the finish line either. A well execute nutrition strategy will allow you to finish strong despite seriously depleted energy reserves.

Science-based recommendations

Asker Jeukendrup is a leader in endurance sports nutrition and he’s got some excellent science-based resources on his website, mysportscience.com. For events lasting 1-2 hours, 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour will help to improve performance. Even though your body has adequate stores for this duration taking in additional carbohydrates will offer you greater performance. If you’re looking at 2-3 hours of racing you might want to consider 60g/hour.

The body can only absorb so many carbohydrates per hour and ingesting more does not mean that you’ll find greater benefit. Further intake comes with the risk of upsetting your GI system, so you’ll want to know what you can get away with.

It is possible to increase the absorptive capacity of the gut. You can train yourself to process an increased rate of carbohydrate intake which is especially useful for longer races where you might want to take on 60 or more grams per hour.

Practice the race day strategy

Practice your race nutrition in training so that you know how your body responds to various food options and at various intensities. What works great on endurance rides might not be the best option when the intensity is high. For cross country events most racers will prefer simple fuel sources such as energy gels or Clif Bloks. These options are easy to get down and your body can convert them to useable energy rapidly.

Conditions make a big difference in hydration needs. Desert riding like here at the 2014 Moab Rocks stage race requires more intake. Photo by Townsend Bessent/Moab Rocks

Conditions make a big difference in hydration needs. Desert riding like here at the 2014 Moab Rocks stage race requires more intake. Photo by Townsend Bessent/Moab Rocks

Hydration planning

As for hydration concerns, the environmental conditions will play a considerable role in what’s best for race day.  Drinking to thirst works for some, but it’s best to have a hydration plan that you’re confident in. Losing a few pounds due to fluid loss is acceptable, but too much fluid loss can lead to reduced performance. In hot conditions, keeping hydrated will help you keep cool too, so fluids are especially important in those situations.

Most riders will benefit from including some carbohydrates in their drink to speed up the rate at which it’s absorbed, effectively hydrating you faster than water alone. A carbohydrate solution of 4-5% works best for most riders. Intensity, humidity, air temperature, and elevation are all factors that affect your fluid requirements. Plan to have enough fluids available given the scenario you’re likely face.

Go for it!

While cross country races might not deplete the body like marathon distances do, ingesting carbohydrates and keeping hydrated are still very important in these high intensity races. Knowing what your stomach tolerates and what keeps you appropriately hydrated will allow you to have the best results possible.  Having practiced your nutrition and hydration in training, you’ll have fewer “what ifs” floating through your head on race morning. The precise requirements of each race will be slightly different, but experience will help you along the way.

If you don’t know where to start or can’t seem to sort out the best solution, be sure to talk with your coach or work with a sports nutrition expert on these topics. When you’re fueled properly you’ll have the most fun.

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 – Stage Race Prep: What you should be doing but probably aren’t

Question: I am going to do my first 5-day stage race this year.  Aside from actual bike training, what other preparations should I be focusing on to make it through the 5 days of racing?

Answer: That is super exciting, welcome to a whole new world of bike racing adventure! As your question indicates, I will assume your training is on track and dialed and you will enter the race, fit, tapered and peaked.

I have heard stage racing described as a race to recover each day between stages. Much of your planning around the race should be to give yourself the best possible recovery opportunity each day. That means preparing everything you can to avoid a scramble on any given day. Stage races really vary in their set up and what that means for your ability to recover. For example, if you are staying in the same place each night and you have a house-type set up with a full kitchen and the same bed to sleep in, your recovery outlook will be more optimistic than if you are camping and/or moving every day. Your question does not indicate which of these will be the case. But keep that in mind. Aside from training, your main goal leading up to the race is doing as much research as you can to avoid any surprises.

Tent city for the first 3 days of the race.

Tent city for the first 3 days of the race.

Some race websites have a thorough list or packing guide, which will take into account course-specific details, weather conditions and event-specific information that even the most experienced stage racer may not know. Some races also require you to carry certain safety items. A whistle, bear spray and safety blanket are all examples of items I have been required to carry at various races.

In stage racing or any event where the hours will stack up to double digits; it’s not a question of if things will go wrong but what things will go wrong. Now that the training is done and you are approaching race time, you will want to focus on how you can most effectively prepare for the inevitable. You should plan to carry more with you during stages than you would in a typical XC race. Depending on what you usually carry for tools, you probably want a bigger multi-tool; definitely something with a chain tool built in. I would recommend carrying a derailleur hanger and an extra CO2 or pump. You might also consider carrying more as you get deeper into the race and positions solidify, i.e. you have more to lose. Or, to the contrary, carry less if you are in a close fight, want to go super light and lay all your cards on the table. Your tactical approach to results/position is your own decision of course!

It would be a great idea to reach out to a local rider where the race takes place and get some intel regarding what the terrain is like, especially for the specific time of year that you will be racing. Ask about each stage as well. Some stages may be mild terrain where you will be better served with bottles; while some stages may be more technical and a hydration pack would allow you keep your hands on the bars. These are helpful things to know before race day so you can pack everything you need. You can also pick their brain for tire and other equipment recommendations. Take the time to test out new equipment. Get your bike serviced with a couple of weeks to go so you can ride it and let any cables, brake pads, etc., wear in.

Dial in your nutrition options. Will you be relying on aid station faire? Check the race website to see what they will be serving at aid stations and make sure you try some of those nutrition and hydration products in training to be sure that your gut handles them and they fuel you well. If you will have support at the race, make sure they know how to access aid stations and carry out feeds. Check the rules for specific support protocol. Some races allow equipment swaps and/or outside support but some do not.

Stage racing should be a great time and proper preparation will ensure you have the best experience possible. Moab Rocks Stage Race Photo by: Raven Eye Photo

Stage racing should be a great time and proper preparation will ensure you have the best experience possible. Moab Rocks Stage Race Photo by: Raven Eye Photo

If you have multiple bikes to choose from, you will want to decide which one you will use for the race and spend most of your remaining time on that bike. If you are traveling to a foreign country with limited shops and unique parts available, I would recommend using a hardtail, regardless of the terrain. Dualies are great for taking the edge off and keeping you comfortable for long days but there is more to break and proprietary suspension parts are notoriously difficult to track down in a pinch.

That’s the quick and dirty on preparation. The truth is, with all endurance racing there are so many details to manage, this list could go on indefinitely. Managing all those details and executing the race well are half the fun of stage racing. Keep your head on straight and roll with the punches, there are sure to be many!

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 – Start Fast and Win at Your Next Ultra Endurance Race

Question: I plan on adding a few ultra-endurance races to my calendar this year – two 100 milers and a 100k race.  I have only raced XC races as a Cat 1 racer.  I have heard that many of the endurance races start fast to get good position in early singletrack.  How do I work on my pacing to have a podium finish in the ultra-endurance races?

 

Answer: 100 km and 100-mile mountain bike races do start fast! To achieve your goal of a podium placement you do need to be able to start at a pace higher than is sustainable then be able to recover and continue at a sustainable race pace. It is exactly the same scenario as a cross-country race, just with the need to keep going longer after the fast start. This means you cannot dig as deep in an endurance race as a cross-country race at the start. Pacing is crucial.

Course design will dictate the optimal start strategy. In order to burn energy riding over a sustainable pace there must be a significant pay-back for that energy investment. Getting through an early bottleneck in front of a traffic jam is one significant reason. Staying with the lead pack and drafting on a long open section is another strategy that will give you a positive return on your investment.

One of the nation's top ultra-endurance racers, Josh Tostado knows how to start fast and stay strong to the finish. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

One of the nation’s top ultra-endurance racers, Josh Tostado knows how to start fast and stay strong to the finish. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

Training:

From cross-country racing you will already have good VO2max and threshold power and know how to start a race fast. First, what you need to add into your training is longer rides at an aerobic base pace of 56-86% of threshold power or heart rate zones 2-3 and then second, longer rides at race pace. Start with a 4 hour ride at aerobic base pace on the weekend while maintaining your typical cross-country training routine of race start practice, sprints, VO2max and threshold power work during the week. After getting a couple of 4-hour aerobic base pace rides under your belt, increase the pace of these longer rides and reduce your cross-country specific training to avoid becoming over-trained. A key training session is to warm up, ride a 4-6 minute VO2max pace effort, then drop into 100 miler race pace of 56 – 90% of threshold power. End this ride with a threshold power interval. If you have the energy left at the end of a 4 to 6 hour ride to put in an 8 to 10-minute effort at threshold power, you are race-ready for your podium hundie.

Pacing on race day:

Your goal at the start of an endurance race is to maximize strategic advantages and minimize the amount of time spent pacing above your sustainable race pace of 56-90% of threshold power. Every minute spent above 90% of threshold power at the start, reduces the opportunity for a strong finish. Ideally, stage as near to the front as possible and draft off the leaders for as long as possible. Save energy wherever you can. The length of time you should spend above 90% threshold power depends on your recent training, fatigue levels and personal abilities. It is never limited by motivation at the start of the race so watch your power meter and keep a lid on it! Pacing above 90% of threshold power at the start of a race when motivation is high and legs are fresh will feel easy so don’t trust your perceived exertion. Keep the amount of time above 90% of threshold power to less than 5 minutes in the first 30 minutes of the race. Spend this time wisely by ensuring you have a good return on your investment and are pedaling this hard for a tactical gain.

Once you have made it through the first course bottleneck or made the selection for the lead pack, settle into your race pace and focus on calorie, electrolyte and fluid intake to keep energy levels high. Keep cadence on the high side of your comfortable range in the first half of the race to put the work on your cardiovascular system and save your muscles for the second half for the race. Always save a little in reserve for a strong finish.

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 for 18 years and racing for 20 years. Contact her through her website for information on mountain bike training plans, coaching and consulting at LWCoaching.com

Travel Wise to be Your Best on Race Day

Question: My race season this year is going to entail a lot of travel with overnight stays.  What suggestions do you have regarding preparations for all the travel to be able to be at my best for race day?

Answer: Traveling can be one of the trickiest things to deal with when racing, especially if you have many events over the course of a season.  Travel disrupts our normal routine, makes it hard to get the right foods, changes our sleep patterns, and puts us in an environment we’re not used to.  But there are many good techniques that will help lessen the negative effects of travel on your race.

  1. When flying, try and travel mid-morning.  Having a flight at 6am is brutal on the sleep schedule and can take 2-3 days to recover from.  I suggest booking a flight between 10am and noon.  You can still get to your destination before it gets too late.
  2. I also suggest booking a non-stop flight if possible.  The shortest travel time is always the easiest.
  3. While on the plane do some simple leg stretches in your seat.  Getting up and walking around is always good, especially if you’re flying to Europe.
  4. If you are driving, get out of the car every two hours and run around and get the blood flowing in the legs.  Do some quick stretches.  Eat and drink.
  5. After you arrive at your destination it is super important that you do some kind of ride. It can be a 30 minute spin on the trainer in your hotel room or a 90 minute spin on the road or trails.  Get those legs moving after a long day of travel.
  6. Pack your own food.  I always bring a full lunch with plenty of snacks.  Don’t rely on airport food or convenience stores.  It is expensive and might not be what you want or need.  Also bring plenty to drink on the plane.  A big mistake athletes make is not drinking enough and getting dehydrated on their travel day.  This makes you more susceptible to germs and getting sick.
  7. I’m a germaphobe when I travel.  Bring a little bottle of hand sanitizer and use it a lot.  I don’t know if those things truly work but it is better than nothing.
  8. When flying, bring your helmet, shoes and pedals in your carry-on.  If your bike doesn’t make it you’ll be able to borrow one and get in the ride you need to do for the race if you have these three items with you.
  9. When you lay out your training for the week leading up to your travel day, it is best to have a recovery or endurance ride on the day you travel.   You don’t want to do an interval workout in the morning and then jump on a plane in the afternoon.   Bad for the legs.   Doing a really hard ride the day before you travel can also be less than ideal.  Make your last hard workout two days before your trip.  If you want to do openers for your race on the same day you travel, do them after you get to your destination.
  10. After you get to your hotel room and you’ve done your ride, stretch, eat, work on getting hydrated, and then put your legs up on a wall and relax.
  11. If you have any say in your travel schedule, try and arrive to the race two days before your event.  This gives you one day to deal with all the stress of travel and then have a full day to either pre ride the course, do openers, or just relax in your room.
  12. Stress is something you want to avoid.  Plan your travel with the least stressful itinerary as possible.  Give yourself more time than you think you need to get places.  Do your research.  Have maps ready to go.  Know exactly how to get to the race venue or the race hotel.  Have phone numbers of your team manager, family, friends, or race staff to help you if things get ugly.  The more prepared you are, the less stress you’ll have to deal with.
A good travel plan goes a long way in avoiding possible pitfalls

A good travel plan goes a long way in avoiding possible pitfalls

Getting to travel to races is both exciting and challenging.  If done right, travel is just a minor blip in the day.  If done wrong, travel can wreck your week, your race, and your season.   Plan ahead and be prepared.  And most importantly, have a good attitude, be ready to deal with anything, and be willing to make changes on the fly.  And like everything else, the more you do it the better you get.

Good luck and 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, a Colorado College graduate, 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 – Ditch the Trainer and Get Outside This Winter

Question: I absolutely hate riding a trainer and I don’t own a fat bike yet. Where I live where there usually are at least 4-5 weeks over the winter that I can’t get any riding in.  Do you have any suggestions for how I can still train aerobically for biking?

Answer: In my last post, I wrote about the importance of taking some time off the bike. In this case, the weather just forces the issue! The timing may not be ideal if you are forced off your bike in January, but some time off is a great idea and can really balance us. And many times, if it pushes your peak form a little further back into the season, you’ll be hitting your stride in July when everyone else is burning out.

There are so many outdoor activities that are WAY more fun to do in the winter than cycling! It is great to take advantage of them; snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, running, hiking, indoor swimming, and backcountry skiing are just a few. As with any new activity, make sure you give yourself a couple weeks at a zone 2 or endurance pace to let your body adjust. Then you can incorporate the same types of intervals that you would do on your bike to improve aerobic endurance. I like rolling zone 3 or tempo intervals for this time of year, i.e. on climbs let your HR get up to zone 3/ tempo and stick to endurance or zone 2 the rest of the time. Swimming or walking are great activities for your recovery days.

This would also be a great time to incorporate some strength training. You could do 2-3 days per week of strength training alone and 1-2 days of strength training in addition to one of the above endurance activities. Some of the programs I like best are Core Performance by Mark Verstegen; Weight Training for Triathlon: The Ultimate Guide (yes, I know it says Triathlon) by Ben Greenfield; and Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline. You can also include alpine skiing or snowboarding as strength workouts, though I would recommend using them in conjunction with a dedicated strength program. CrossFit or similar HIIT style workout classes are another good option 2-3 days per week.

Coach Sarah getting in some miles on the white stuff

Coach Sarah getting in some miles on the white stuff

With a little planning you should be able to create a periodized plan incorporating some intensity days like CrossFit, running or Nordic skiing; some volume days like snowshoeing, Nordic or backcountry skiing, running or hiking; recovery days like swimming or walking; outdoor strength work like alpine skiing or snowboarding; and indoor strength work in the gym.

If you get the occasional day of mild weather, take the opportunity to get out on your bike; even a quick turn of the pedals will help maintain the neuromuscular connection. I would also add, I know from personal experience how miserable it is to ride a trainer and I went for years avoiding them. But for the last couple of winters, I have taught PLAN7 House of Watts computrainer spin classes. Improved technology makes a big difference, as does a group setting. But more than that, a variable workout with frequently changing intervals and lots to pay attention to can make the time go by much quicker. For most of my athletes this time of year, I ask them to be on their bike 3-4 times per week and doing off-the-bike endurance training 3-4 times per week. To accomplish the days on the bike, I maintain a library of trainer workouts. Most are 1 hour to 1:15 in duration and the intervals are short and variable to make them tolerable. I have found that even the most staunchly opposed to the trainer can usually make them happen, at least a couple of times a week. A coach should recognize the risk of burnout in asking you to sit for monotonous hours on the trainer.

Another note, I hear a lot of people say they can tolerate the cold on their bikes…except for their hands and feet. Here are a couple of tips to help with that; for the hands: Bar Mitts. barmitts.com– nothing better. I ride in my summer gloves in Bar Mitts in 20° weather so you could definitely tolerate colder with thicker gloves. You can also use latex or dish gloves under your winter gloves. For the feet: layers; plastic bag, wool socks, shoes (with a wool insole), two pairs of shoe covers. I don’t use winter specific shoes but I do use a (euro) size larger shoe so my toes have plenty of room to wiggle and keep circulation with the extra layers in there. I have Raynaud’s disease so my toes go numb very easily and this seems to get me through rides in the 20°s for a couple of hours. You can also just run flat pedals and winter boots. Ride your MTB or the heaviest, slowest bike you have. *Note: latex gloves and plastic bags on your hands and feet – yes, it gets incredibly sweaty and gross. But that sweat is warm. The goal is staying warm, I never said it didn’t come at a price…

Sarah's winter weather warmth system with plastic bag, wool socks, insoles, and double shoe covers

Sarah’s winter weather warmth system with plastic bag, wool socks, insoles, and double shoe covers

So there’s the rundown; some off-the-bike ideas and some question-skirting answers to get you on the bike here and there too!

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 – Boost Your Fitness with a Power Meter

Question: In your last column, you gave advice on buying a power meter to use for training on the mountain bike as well as how to set up training zones.  Is training with a power meter similar to training with a heart rate monitor?  What are your favorite workouts using the power meter for your average cross country racer?  Does heart rate still factor into the training?
Answer:

Is Training with a Power Meter Similar to Training with a Heart Rate Monitor?

Training changes significantly on both the micro and macro level once an athlete has switched over from using heart rate as their primary training metric, to power. Power is a direct measure of exercise whereas heart rate is a response to exercise plus many other factors such as fatigue, dehydration, heat, adrenaline, caffeine, altitude and more. These “other” factors make interpreting heart rate data and creating training decisions based on it complicated and rife with guessing. Training with power is clear, precise and has no guessing. You put the power into the pedals and produce the work or you do not. You hit the power target and workout goal or go home to bank recovery. It is an easy decision leading to accurate training.

Many top pros incorporate power training into their training plans. Alex Grant's team Scalpel with SRM power meter just before the 2015 world championships.

Many top pros incorporate power training into their training plans. Alex Grant’s team Scalpel with SRM power meter just before the 2015 world championships.

What are Your Favorite Workouts Using the Power Meter for Your Average Cross Country Racer?

The classic workouts that produce fast cross country racing are still my favorite. The difference when training with power is in the accurate pacing and execution of each workout.

10 x 1 min at power L6 with 3 min recovery

6 x 3 mins in power L5 with 3 min recovery

3 x 20 min off-road at cross country race pace with 10 min recovery

Pacing intervals with power vs heart rate:

The biggest difference when pacing intervals, is the lack of time-lag with power that is present with heart rate. Power feedback is immediate. Heart rate feedback has a time-lag. When pacing intervals with power, at the start of each interval, an athlete can dial up immediately to the target power and maintain it for the duration of the interval. When training with heart rate there is a time-lag of 30 – 45 seconds between putting power to the pedals and heart rate rising into the target zone. This time-lag duration leaves you guessing how hard to pedal until heart rate rises and settles into the target zone. Training with heart rate often encourages over-powering the beginning of intervals when trying to get heart rate up quickly into the target zone. Overshooting the target heart rate after starting too quickly leads to under-pacing the end of an interval in order to get the heart rate back down into the target range. The net is a large proportion of the interval duration is spent outside the target range. Training with power takes the guesswork out of pacing intervals and increases the pedaling time on target, increasing training quality. Training with power is like hitting the bullseye every time.

1 minute intervals:

For intervals less than one minute in duration, heart rate does not have time to respond, resulting in both a lack of pacing accuracy and training data to be analyzed. Pacing intervals of less than one minute with power is accurate and produces valuable data to analyze and compare future and past workouts with.

Training with heart rate and fatigue:

Fatigue will depress heart rate. Endurance MTB racers will at times be training while fatigued due to the combination of speed training and long endurance sessions needed to be a successful MTB endurance racer. An athlete can be tricked into training too hard when trying to push a depressed heart rate up into a target training zone. This can lead to over-training. Training with power will increase pacing accuracy producing better results and reducing the risk of over-pacing and over-training.

Track and analyze your season:

One of the most powerful uses of a power meter is to track total training load for both a single workout and over time using the training stress score (TSS) metric generated with power data. TSS takes into account both exercise intensity and duration.

A single ride TSS is like looking at a single tree in a forest. You get a nice picture of that tree but don’t know where it sits in the forest. That is where the Performance Manager Chart (PMC) comes in. The PMC tallies up TSS over time using an exponentially weighted rolling average to give a bird’s eye view of the forest – or your entire season. The PMC can be used retroactively to look at data during times you had personal best performances and during times you thought you should have but didn’t. It can be used for forward planning to target peak form and to perfect peak timing to nail the race of your life.

 

Does Heart Rate Still Factor Into the Training?

Yes, absolutely, heart rate is still a valuable metric to track. Comparing power and heart rate is useful to gauge the physiological strain of a workout and the depth of fatigue an athlete is carrying. It can also pinpoint dehydration when a rising heart rate is seen with decreasing power during a long ride or race. Resting heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) are two useful heart rate metrics to track health and training readiness.

Heart rate variability:

Tracking Heart rate variability (HRV) is a valuable use of heart rate data to assess the status of an athlete and their training readiness. More info on HRV tracking here.

Training with power data is a real advantage over heart rate only. Training with both heart rate and power data tracking capabilities is optimal to get a complete picture to work with.

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 – 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 – 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