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Coach's Column with Travis Woodruff

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |January 26, 2011 7:17 AM

Question: Most of my racing is over the summer months. When should I start my training for the upcoming season?

Answer: There are two potential answers to this question, 1) right now or 2) it depends. Cycling specific training to prepare for racing ought to start up at least three months prior the racing season in order to race well.  Prior to beginning your specific training itís important to have a fair amount of general fitness established.  Jumping right into high intensity bike rides typically doesnít work well without first establishing a solid foundation or base to build from. This can be done on the bike or with cross training.

Most of us mountain bike racers enjoy having an off-season because itís a chance to pursue other winter sports and interests that effectively serve as a means to maintain our general fitness.  Itís completely possible to keep equally active during the winter months by skiing, snowshoeing, skating, hiking or otherwise making the most of opportunities to be outside and active.   If you tend to hibernate during the winter months rather than keeping active then itíll be best if you start some training right now.  Get out there and enjoy some cross training or start putting in some time on the bike.  If you already keep an active cross-training schedule throughout the winter then the real question is when to transition into bike-specific training so that you best prepare for those summer time races.  Weíll focus on this scenario since most of us already keep plenty active with cross training. 

Consider Three Factors 

To what degree do you want to improve relative to last summerís results?  How much cross training are you currently doing and how might this allow you to transition into bike specific training? When is your first high-priority race? 

If you want to achieve similar results to last summer, then itís simple enough to refer to your training log in order to know what type of training will be required.  Most of us like a good challenge and are always looking for ways to improve our riding; so rather than running the same plan as last year, it might be beneficial to begin bike-specific training sooner or perhaps by maintaining some cycling focus even throughout the winter months by doing a few weekly trainer workouts.  The more youíre looking to improve your racing, then the more focus and work youíll have to dedicate to on the bike training.  Cross training will keep you generally fit, but it certainly wonít keep you fast on the bike. 

How well your winter regimen might transfer into your bike training needs to be considered. Transitioning from a couple days of strength training and some weekend skiing right into five or six days per week on the bike likely wonít go all that well if such a change is made in a single week. Gradually build in more rides, even if that might mean some time on the trainer to get things started off.

And finally, knowing when you want to be going strong on the bike will help you to plan accordingly. Having a specific race in mind is great, but not entirely necessary.  Knowing approximately when youíll want to be going strong can work well enough and this way you can select those high priority events once the season draws nearer.  Working backwards from the start of your race season is a great way to organize your preparations.

The Three Month Approach

 The final month prior to your race season youíll want to be doing plenty of fast riding both on and off road. Workouts that replicate the intensity of your racing will be a must and rides ought to be long enough so that youíll be well prepared for the distances that youíll be racing. Incorporating fast group rides can be a great way to challenge yourself while simulating a race environment. MTB rides will allow you to dial in your bike handling skills so that youíre ready for fast racing on the trails. 

Two months before your race season is a great time to bolster your maximum sustainable pace or power output.  Much of the training can and should be dedicated to improving your threshold power.  Longer weekend rides will help to reinforce your endurance while also providing a chance to dial in your riding skills. Seek out long climbs and/or aim to improve your power on the flats.  

Three months before race season it is wise to finalize your transition into bike specific training if you havenít already done so.  Replacing the cross training workouts with rides and steadily increasing your workload on the bike is the goal.  Getting used to the challenges of day in, day out bike focused training can take some time and this month is your chance to improve the consistency of your workouts.  Rides that include cadence specific drills and also plenty of tempo paced rides can be great ways to build back into things. 

This three month approach will certainly have you prepared for the summer season though it should be adjusted according to your goals and previous training experiences.  Each pre-season is a fantastic opportunity to work hard and refine your training strategy.  Write down your goals, put in the hard work, and see how it affects your riding.  If youíre having fun and going fast then itís likely a great combination that youíve created. 

See you at the races this summer! 

Travis Woodruff is a USAC Level I (elite) certified coach who holds a B.S. in Kinesiology with emphasis in Exercise Science. Heís coached riders to five MTB National Championship wins and has over 10 years of personal racing experience. Since 2005 heís competed as a pro mountain biker and has coached full-time. His business, Momentum Endurance LLC, is based out of Tucson, Arizona where he hosts wintertime training camps.

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