This week we hear
from Eric Orton of TrainWithEric.com. 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 at 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.
training for long endurance events of 4 hours or more, how do I train to keep
my intensity high for that entire time. And how hard can I push myself during
such a long event?
Answer: The majority
of cyclists training for marathon events lasting 4 hours or longer have no
trouble getting in miles or long rides. This is the most intuitive and specific
training that usually occurs. But many riders will take this to the extreme,
riding too long and too easy, thinking this will provide drastic improvements
in their race performance. Long training rides are important, but what tends to
be missing from marathon riders training repertoire is attacking the
neuromuscular system to ‘improve’ the riders race pace endurance.
When a muscle becomes
stronger in response to traditional endurance training, the gain in strength is
usually attributed to an improvement in the size or quality of the muscle. The
truth, however, is that strength upgrades can occur without any change in the
muscle at all. Many upswings in strength are actually the result of alterations
in the way the muscle is controlled by the NERVOUS SYSTEM. And this can lead to
great gains in race performance at the marathon and ultra distances, not just
in short, explosive events.
nervous system can do a better job of recruiting muscle fibers and are more
accomplished at stimulating muscles which aid the primary muscle in carrying
out force production during a long endurance race, thus producing more forceful
movements more efficiently, causing less fatigue. While this by itself does not
upgrade force production, it allows forces to develop more rapidly, converting
strength into power. To put it another way, if you are a strong 100 mile
cyclist and your nerves learn to activate your leg muscles more quickly, you
would have not only improved your strength to scale the various climbs on the
race course but also the power to climb those hills and mountains very quickly.
The nervous system
can also learn to activate motor units in a way which will produce not only the
desired level of strength and power for your long endurance event but also the
most energy-efficient production of strength and power. The nervous system
enhances coordination (skill and efficiency during technical singletrack), thus
conserving energy and allowing competitive levels of effort to be tolerated and
sustained for longer periods of time, which is ultimately the goal for long
neuromuscular efforts are very hard intervals ranging from 8-15 seconds in
duration either done on hills and/or flat terrain. I like to take this concept
and design workouts that are specific to marathon or ultra distance events,
helping the cyclist improve race pace endurance and to give the rider an
understanding of what an appropriate race pace is for their ability at their
Here is a great back
to back workout for a Saturday/Sunday ride I like to assign during the Specific
Training phase of the riders I coach, or during the 6-8 weeks leading up to the
Saturday: After a
good warm-up of 30-50 minutes, perform 10 X 30 second hill repeats where you
increase your pace as you go, nearing a max effort by the end of the 30 seconds.
Take plenty of recovery after each, 2-3 minutes in length. Once you have
completed this set, ride 60-90 minutes at a self-perceived steady race pace,
adding a 10-15 second very hard effort every 8-10 minutes. After completing
this race pace effort, finish the ride with 10 X 15 second very hard efforts
with the odd numbered on hills and even numbered on flats. Again, with 2-3
minute recovery between each. Then start your warm down.
Sunday: After a good
warm-up that includes several short pick-ups. Ride easy for one – three hours
and then finish the ride with a 20 minute steady effort at faster than
self-perceived race pace.
It is important to
monitor your effort by HR and perceived exertion during your race pace effort
on both days, in an effort to gain valuable knowledge to establish what is an
appropriate pace for you come race day and to evaluate fueling needs.
I hope this detailed
explanations peaks your interest to start training your neuromuscular system.