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Coach's Column with Lynda Wallenfels

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |June 15, 2010 8:14 PM

Lynda Wallenfels is a USA Cycling Cat 1 certified cycling coach and pro mountain bike racer. She is owner of

Question:  How long do you need to recover from an ultra-endurance race? How many can I plan into my race schedule in one season?

The USA Cycling Rule Book defines ultra-endurance events as:

6A19. Ultra-Endurance Events: A term used to describe the following types of events lasting more than 4 hours: Marathon, ultra-marathon, 6/ 12/ 24 (etc) hour racing.

The first thing to note is that recovery from a 4 hour race is significantly faster than from a 24 hour solo race.

Race duration or distance is one of numerous variables affecting recovery speed. Many of these variables are under the control of an athlete.

  • ·      How rested you were at the start of the race
  • ·      How well prepared you were for the specific race effort
  • ·      How well you fueled and hydrated during the event
  • ·      How much sleep deprivation you accumulated
  • ·      How deep you dug during the race: Did you pace to finish comfortably or did you empty the tank for a personal record time?
  • ·      How diligent you were with post race recovery practices: recovery nutrition, sleep, stress management, time to rest, massage.

Two variables are not under the control of the athlete.

  • ·      Age. Recovery slows as we age. A 25 year old will recover faster than a 55 year old given equal recovery practices.
  • ·      Personal differences. Some athletes have a phenomenal recovery rate and some simply do not. The athletes on the slower end of the recovery bell curve should be more careful about how closely they space ultra-endurance races on their race schedule.

As a generalization, given the impact of the above variables, here are the recovery times an athlete can expect after an ultra-endurance mountain bike event:

  • ·      Mountain bike races lasting 6 or less hours take 1-2 weeks for recovery and can be scheduled twice per month. 
  • ·      100 mile mountain bike races last anywhere from 7-13 hours and take 2-3 weeks for full recovery. 12 hour solo races are in the same recovery zone. Scheduling one per month is reasonable.
  • ·      Recovery speed from a 24 hour solo race depends largely on how well an athlete executed the race. A personal record (PR) level 24-hour solo, perfectly executed, non-stop 24 hours on the gas with no sleep that an athlete started well tapered, peaked and rested will take 4-5 weeks to fully recover.
  • PR level 24 hour solo mountain bike races take a lot of real estate in an athlete’s race schedule with 3 weeks to taper for, and 4-5 weeks for recovery. Scheduling one 24-PR level solo per season is ideal.
  • ·      24-hour solo races paced at a finisher level effort where an athlete stops for rests, meals and sleep during the race will take 1-3 weeks for recovery. 24 hour solo races executed on this level can be scheduled 3-4 times per season. 
  • ·      Mountain bike stage races such as Trans Rockies, BC bike race and Breck Epic are similar to 24-hour solo races in that recovery rate is highly dependent on the manner in which the athlete raced. Generally, 7 day stage races fall in the 3 week recovery time frame. Scheduling 1-2 stage races per season is reasonable for most athletes. 
  • ·      At the top end of the ultra-endurance racing category are the multi-day, self-supported events such as Colorado Trail Race, Arizona Trail Race and Tour Divide. The clock runs on these races non-stop, day and night, start to end. These events can take 4-40 days to finish. 

Full recovery from these races can take 2-6 months! Volume of sleep deprivation is a large part of the fatigue accumulated. A loose rule of thumb is to start with 2-4 weeks for recovery then add one additional day to recovery time for every hour of sleep missed during the event.

Sc  Scheduling one multi-day self-supported race per season is reasonable. Racing more than one of these events per season puts you in the manic category ;-) I do know a few of those guys…


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