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Coach's Column with Eric Orton

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |December 14, 2010 9:59 PM

This week we hear from Eric Orton of Eric is an elite-level coach who trains some of the top MTB racers in the U.S. Eric is the former Director of Fitness and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, a certified Functional Training Specialist, a Certified Sports Hypnotist, and holds coaching certifications from both USA Triathlon and USA Cycling.

Question: You coach Amanda Carey, who has great success racing in cross country, cyclocross, and ultra endurance MTB races. How does she train to be successful at such varied racing distances in the same year?

Every December, Amanda Carey and I meet at the local coffee shop for our yearly chat. We discuss how the past year went, perceived strengths and weaknesses, what worked and more importantly what didn’t. You know, all the usual coach and athlete stuff. Once we start to hammer out the seasonal race and training plan, the inevitable question always surfaces, "So, what are we going to focus on this year, cross country races or marathon-endurance races?” And for the last four years, the answer has been – both.

As we pull out the calendar and dive into planning the specific races for the season, Amanda always gets very excited and sometimes I need to remind her why we prioritize races and have purposeful training. I tell her, the goal in training is to improve your raw ability or power, and not just continue to enhance your ability to sustain your race pace. The latter usually comes in the form of building an endurance base first and then applying some intensity to this base. The key to Amanda’s success at both cross country distance and the marathon distance races - and now cyclo cross races - is to employ just the opposite approach. This means we have to continually build and improve her engine at the start of each year. So instead of long rides in January to improve the engine, she is pumping out intervals to help improve her power at VO2max (pVO2max), neuromuscular power, and economy.

The pVO2max reveals both the magnitude of aerobic capability and the efficiency with which power is applied to the pedals, and it is one of the most powerful predictors of endurance capabilities. Neuromuscular power works in tandem with Amanda’s pVO2max training to improve her maximal velocity and economy. Once we established this training effect, I apply this improved power, efficiency, and maximal speed to her cross-country specific endurance training phase. This way she is faster, more powerful, and more efficient during the most important training phase as she prepares for the cross- country race season. Her specific cross-country training and races then, in effect, continue to improve her strength endurance and threshold simply by the nature of the energy systems at work during the races. 

As Amanda nears the end of her high priority cross-country races, we shift gears and spend about 6-8 weeks focusing on specific endurance training for her 100ers. Now that she is extremely fit from the cross-country race circuit and early season power development, she has the ability to ride with more power and speed. Our next key chore is to train in a manner that maximally extends the time over which she can sustain that fast riding. The overall principle is to apply her improved power and strength from the early season to her specific race pace endurance training rides. This creates a faster race pace and an improved tolerance for holding this pace. It's no longer enough for her to ride long miles and focus only on her aerobic development . In fact, it never was enough.

Whether I am preparing Amanda for cross country, marathon, or cyclo cross races or Cary Smith for his second place finish at the World’s 24 Hour Championship, the good news is that power factors can be improved by all level of riders. By training in the early season to improve power in a progressive and systematic way and then applying these gains to race specific training, eventually anaerobic and aerobic characteristics should fuse to produce the best-possible race times - from short course all the way up to the ultra distances.

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