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Coach's Column with Travis Woodruff

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |June 8, 2010 10:26 PM

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.


I am a terrible starter. In the first 10 minutes of a race the leaders are just pulling away from me and I can't go any faster. Then I start to pull them back but it takes a huge effort. How can I train to be faster in those first 10 minutes without blowing myself up?


The question of pacing strategy and just how hard to start is one that all racers will have.  Itís a fine line between knowing how fast you can go versus understanding how hard is too hard.  Course design, the level of competition, and your fitness should all affect your strategy for the start of the race.  Assuming youíve got a feel for the strategy based upon the course and competition youíll be up against, weíll focus on what it takes to get physically stronger for those first 10 minutes.

It should be mentioned that if youíre able to regain contact with the leaders sometime after the first ten minutes of racing, your pacing strategy is likely working quite well for you.  A steady effort done over a longer duration will leave you with less fatigue than would a harder effort that tapers off over the same duration.  So if you get dropped, but can routinely catch back on, there isnít much reason for undue concern.  If this is the case chances are good that youíre pacing the effort better (more steady) than those who youíre regaining contact with.

When a rider loses contact with the leaders within the first ten minutes of racing, odds of regaining contact later are slim at best. The effort that a racer is able to sustain for 10 minutes correlates strongly with the intensity that can be sustained for the entire race when a racer is well conditioned.  If you canít match the effort for ten minutes, itíll be a tall order to match it for two hours.  Both durations (ten minutes and two hours) are highly dependent upon your maximum sustainable power Ė the balancing point where youíre riding hard and any harder would create an undue amount of fatigue.  The average intensity of a xc race hovers right around this threshold.  Racers with a higher threshold or a greater maximum sustainable power will start faster and place higher when all other factors are considered equal.

In order to improve the maximum sustainable power that youíre capable of producing, itís important to do training that specifically replicates this intensity. I might suggest doing 3-5 repeats that each last 8-12 minutes. For example, doing 4x10 minute repeats will allow you to accumulate 40 minutes of workload that closely mimics the intensity of a race start.  Do your best to make each 10 minute effort of equal intensity. As you accumulate training time spent at this intensity, youíll be creating the overload thatís required in order for improvements to occur.  By doing this type of training approximately twice per week for a span of 2-4 weeks, youíre bound to see improvements, provided you recover well and have fun with the workouts along the way.

With improved threshold fitness youíll be better prepared to hang with the leaders throughout the first ten minutes of the race and beyond.  Plan some specific training that fits with your schedule, work hard, recover well, and enjoy the faster (not easier) starts that youíll have as a result.  If you can hang with the leaders for ten minutes youíre that much closer to hanging in there for the full duration of the race.  Go for it! 



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