Coach’s Column – Stage Race Prep: What you should be doing but probably aren’t

Question: I am going to do my first 5-day stage race this year.  Aside from actual bike training, what other preparations should I be focusing on to make it through the 5 days of racing?

Answer: That is super exciting, welcome to a whole new world of bike racing adventure! As your question indicates, I will assume your training is on track and dialed and you will enter the race, fit, tapered and peaked.

I have heard stage racing described as a race to recover each day between stages. Much of your planning around the race should be to give yourself the best possible recovery opportunity each day. That means preparing everything you can to avoid a scramble on any given day. Stage races really vary in their set up and what that means for your ability to recover. For example, if you are staying in the same place each night and you have a house-type set up with a full kitchen and the same bed to sleep in, your recovery outlook will be more optimistic than if you are camping and/or moving every day. Your question does not indicate which of these will be the case. But keep that in mind. Aside from training, your main goal leading up to the race is doing as much research as you can to avoid any surprises.

Tent city for the first 3 days of the race.

Tent city for the first 3 days of the race.

Some race websites have a thorough list or packing guide, which will take into account course-specific details, weather conditions and event-specific information that even the most experienced stage racer may not know. Some races also require you to carry certain safety items. A whistle, bear spray and safety blanket are all examples of items I have been required to carry at various races.

In stage racing or any event where the hours will stack up to double digits; it’s not a question of if things will go wrong but what things will go wrong. Now that the training is done and you are approaching race time, you will want to focus on how you can most effectively prepare for the inevitable. You should plan to carry more with you during stages than you would in a typical XC race. Depending on what you usually carry for tools, you probably want a bigger multi-tool; definitely something with a chain tool built in. I would recommend carrying a derailleur hanger and an extra CO2 or pump. You might also consider carrying more as you get deeper into the race and positions solidify, i.e. you have more to lose. Or, to the contrary, carry less if you are in a close fight, want to go super light and lay all your cards on the table. Your tactical approach to results/position is your own decision of course!

It would be a great idea to reach out to a local rider where the race takes place and get some intel regarding what the terrain is like, especially for the specific time of year that you will be racing. Ask about each stage as well. Some stages may be mild terrain where you will be better served with bottles; while some stages may be more technical and a hydration pack would allow you keep your hands on the bars. These are helpful things to know before race day so you can pack everything you need. You can also pick their brain for tire and other equipment recommendations. Take the time to test out new equipment. Get your bike serviced with a couple of weeks to go so you can ride it and let any cables, brake pads, etc., wear in.

Dial in your nutrition options. Will you be relying on aid station faire? Check the race website to see what they will be serving at aid stations and make sure you try some of those nutrition and hydration products in training to be sure that your gut handles them and they fuel you well. If you will have support at the race, make sure they know how to access aid stations and carry out feeds. Check the rules for specific support protocol. Some races allow equipment swaps and/or outside support but some do not.

Stage racing should be a great time and proper preparation will ensure you have the best experience possible. Moab Rocks Stage Race Photo by: Raven Eye Photo

Stage racing should be a great time and proper preparation will ensure you have the best experience possible. Moab Rocks Stage Race Photo by: Raven Eye Photo

If you have multiple bikes to choose from, you will want to decide which one you will use for the race and spend most of your remaining time on that bike. If you are traveling to a foreign country with limited shops and unique parts available, I would recommend using a hardtail, regardless of the terrain. Dualies are great for taking the edge off and keeping you comfortable for long days but there is more to break and proprietary suspension parts are notoriously difficult to track down in a pinch.

That’s the quick and dirty on preparation. The truth is, with all endurance racing there are so many details to manage, this list could go on indefinitely. Managing all those details and executing the race well are half the fun of stage racing. Keep your head on straight and roll with the punches, there are sure to be many!

Sarah Kaufmann is a USAC Level II coach under the PLAN7 Endurance Coaching brand. She is a member of the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team and has been racing mountain bikes at the professional level since 2008.  Sarah is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

Coach’s Column – Ditch the Trainer and Get Outside This Winter

Question: I absolutely hate riding a trainer and I don’t own a fat bike yet. Where I live where there usually are at least 4-5 weeks over the winter that I can’t get any riding in.  Do you have any suggestions for how I can still train aerobically for biking?

Answer: In my last post, I wrote about the importance of taking some time off the bike. In this case, the weather just forces the issue! The timing may not be ideal if you are forced off your bike in January, but some time off is a great idea and can really balance us. And many times, if it pushes your peak form a little further back into the season, you’ll be hitting your stride in July when everyone else is burning out.

There are so many outdoor activities that are WAY more fun to do in the winter than cycling! It is great to take advantage of them; snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, running, hiking, indoor swimming, and backcountry skiing are just a few. As with any new activity, make sure you give yourself a couple weeks at a zone 2 or endurance pace to let your body adjust. Then you can incorporate the same types of intervals that you would do on your bike to improve aerobic endurance. I like rolling zone 3 or tempo intervals for this time of year, i.e. on climbs let your HR get up to zone 3/ tempo and stick to endurance or zone 2 the rest of the time. Swimming or walking are great activities for your recovery days.

This would also be a great time to incorporate some strength training. You could do 2-3 days per week of strength training alone and 1-2 days of strength training in addition to one of the above endurance activities. Some of the programs I like best are Core Performance by Mark Verstegen; Weight Training for Triathlon: The Ultimate Guide (yes, I know it says Triathlon) by Ben Greenfield; and Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline. You can also include alpine skiing or snowboarding as strength workouts, though I would recommend using them in conjunction with a dedicated strength program. CrossFit or similar HIIT style workout classes are another good option 2-3 days per week.

Coach Sarah getting in some miles on the white stuff

Coach Sarah getting in some miles on the white stuff

With a little planning you should be able to create a periodized plan incorporating some intensity days like CrossFit, running or Nordic skiing; some volume days like snowshoeing, Nordic or backcountry skiing, running or hiking; recovery days like swimming or walking; outdoor strength work like alpine skiing or snowboarding; and indoor strength work in the gym.

If you get the occasional day of mild weather, take the opportunity to get out on your bike; even a quick turn of the pedals will help maintain the neuromuscular connection. I would also add, I know from personal experience how miserable it is to ride a trainer and I went for years avoiding them. But for the last couple of winters, I have taught PLAN7 House of Watts computrainer spin classes. Improved technology makes a big difference, as does a group setting. But more than that, a variable workout with frequently changing intervals and lots to pay attention to can make the time go by much quicker. For most of my athletes this time of year, I ask them to be on their bike 3-4 times per week and doing off-the-bike endurance training 3-4 times per week. To accomplish the days on the bike, I maintain a library of trainer workouts. Most are 1 hour to 1:15 in duration and the intervals are short and variable to make them tolerable. I have found that even the most staunchly opposed to the trainer can usually make them happen, at least a couple of times a week. A coach should recognize the risk of burnout in asking you to sit for monotonous hours on the trainer.

Another note, I hear a lot of people say they can tolerate the cold on their bikes…except for their hands and feet. Here are a couple of tips to help with that; for the hands: Bar Mitts.– nothing better. I ride in my summer gloves in Bar Mitts in 20° weather so you could definitely tolerate colder with thicker gloves. You can also use latex or dish gloves under your winter gloves. For the feet: layers; plastic bag, wool socks, shoes (with a wool insole), two pairs of shoe covers. I don’t use winter specific shoes but I do use a (euro) size larger shoe so my toes have plenty of room to wiggle and keep circulation with the extra layers in there. I have Raynaud’s disease so my toes go numb very easily and this seems to get me through rides in the 20°s for a couple of hours. You can also just run flat pedals and winter boots. Ride your MTB or the heaviest, slowest bike you have. *Note: latex gloves and plastic bags on your hands and feet – yes, it gets incredibly sweaty and gross. But that sweat is warm. The goal is staying warm, I never said it didn’t come at a price…

Sarah's winter weather warmth system with plastic bag, wool socks, insoles, and double shoe covers

Sarah’s winter weather warmth system with plastic bag, wool socks, insoles, and double shoe covers

So there’s the rundown; some off-the-bike ideas and some question-skirting answers to get you on the bike here and there too!

Sarah Kaufmann is a USAC Level II coach under the PLAN7 Endurance Coaching brand. She is a member of the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team and has been racing mountain bikes at the professional level since 2008.  Sarah is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

Coach’s Column – Off-Season Recovery: What you need to know

Question: Now that it’s the off season, I’m thinking about what changes I can make to have a better race season next year and not just in terms of specific interval training.  I found that I am getting fatigued too quickly and taking too long to recover post-race or hard training days.  Do you have any suggestions? I have been a Cat 1/open cross country racer for several years and do some endurance races each season.

Answer: This is a great question and something that is really common. Many people make a steady progression for the first couple/few years of training and racing and then plateau or, worse, decline. You probably started with very open riding, then began adding some structure and more intensity, volume and racing. This is really well tolerated at first but eventually it begins to catch up with you and it’s not sustainable. Unfortunately, most people assume that in order to turn this around, they need to continue adding volume and intensity to their training. Instead, now that you have a couple years of base under you, you probably need more rest.

It’s really important to take at least one, two week break completely off the bike per year (stress on ‘at least’ here). And that means that you truly do not touch your bike for two weeks. You can do some light exercise off the bike but the emphasis should be on recovery. I recommend other modalities that are more restorative in nature; yoga, swimming and mellow hiking are all great examples. That said, if you have to choose between exercise and a nap, choose the nap! It’s time to focus on recovery.

Once you have had a solid break, you can get back on your bike to do some base training. But I recommend continuing with plenty of off-the-bike work through the remaining winter months. The bulk of your training should be at endurance pace or zone 2, where you can easily hold a conversation. After several weeks of zone 2, you can ramp up and include some zone 3 or tempo efforts. Tempo is great for base building as you utilize the same systems as threshold work (the intensity you do most XC racing at). But because tempo is a lower intensity, you can tolerate a larger volume of training without eliciting a significant stress response. As you get closer to race season, your training will also include threshold, VO2, and anaerobic efforts. But this year, I recommend you include more rest. Maybe ride five days instead of six per week or add a recovery ride where you would have done a longer/harder ride. With several years of riding in your legs, you have enough base to carry you through.

You don’t mention what your off-the-bike life is like but it is important to remember that we do not train in a vacuum. When you have periods of high stress with your family, your job, etc., and/or travel, you need to consider that and cut the volume and intensity of your training. Along the same lines, if you aren’t getting enough quality sleep, you need to modify your training to account for that as well. Use the two week break from your bike to make some other lifestyle modifications that will further improve your recovery this year. Some examples might include creating the habit of a big weekly cook so you have healthy food ready to go all week; starting a meditation practice (I recommend the app ‘Headspace’ to get started); or developing a daily stretching/ foam rolling routine. Integrating these regular practices when you begin hard training again will improve your ability to recover. Remember the catchphrase, ‘rest as hard as you train,’ and use that to make this your best season yet!

Sarah Kaufmann is a USAC Level II coach under the PLAN7 Endurance Coaching brand. She is a member of the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team and has been racing mountain bikes at the professional level since 2008.  Sarah is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

Coach’s Column with Sarah Kaufmann – Training for 50 Milers

Question:  “A month out from the beginning of my race season as an expert/open rider focusing mostly on XC and some 50miler/100k races, what should I be aiming to achieve in my workouts?” 


Answer:  Sounds like you are in for a fun season! Your goals one month out from your first XC and endurance races will depend on what you have been doing through the winter and up to now. Assuming you did a solid winter of training to develop your aerobic base, beginning at steady state endurance work, followed by a large volume of tempo training, and some threshold and surge work on top of that, one month out you should be adding some race-specific top end that will allow you to dig deep to go hard at the start, attack other riders, cover attacks, and make the decisive move when the time is right and other riders are pinned.

There are a few different workouts I recommend to address these goals. A fast start is more important in an XC race than an endurance race but in order to be competitive in your longer races, you will need a fast start for these as well. This is especially true if the course funnels into singletrack quickly or if the course causes some initial splintering of the group that will require you to be near the front to avoid getting caught out when a split occurs. 

There are two main components to improving your starts; first is the simple act of getting quickly clipped into your pedals and powering off the line, second is being able to ride at a maximal effort, then drop to VO2/threshold effort and maintain, without recovery. To address these goals, perform the following workout. Warm up by spining easy for 10 minutes, then ramping up to tempo from minute 10-12, back to easy spinning for one minute, then up to threshold for two minutes. Do a couple of 10” jumps then spin easy for another two minutes and begin the following intervals; start with one foot on the ground and one foot clipped in, like a race start. Clip in and sprint off the line, riding as hard as you can for 2-4 minutes, then settling into threshold effort for 8-10 minutes. The best way to do this workout is to find a course that mimics a race course, i.e. beginning the interval on pavement or dirt road and funneling into a singletrack climb within a couple of minutes. Use visualization during this workout; imagine other riders around you and the mad dash for singletrack. You may get some relief at the singletrack but you will still need to hang on and push the pace. Do a total of two of these intervals per workout, then finish the remainder of your ride at endurance pace. Do this workout once per week for 2-3 weeks starting 3-4 weeks out from your first goal event. 

You will want to improve your anaerobic capacity to cover surges and short climbs. For AC intervals, I like 2-3 sets of 1:30 – 3 minutes at AC with 5 minutes recovery between intervals and 10 minutes recovery between sets. Anaerobic capacity should feel like a 9 out of 10 for your Rate of Perceived Exertion. Unlike the Starts workout above, you should control your effort for these intervals so that you do not have to back off at the end and you can keep the intensity even and high through the interval. Cool down with at least 15 minutes of easy spinning. Do this workout once per week for 2-3 weeks starting 3-4 weeks out.

To put the final touches on your top end, you will want to do a few sprint workouts. You can do these on flat ground or on hills and I suggest doing some of them starting with one foot clipped in, one foot on the ground (like a race start) and some from speed. You should start with 6-8 reps of 30” all out and work up to 8-12. Take at least 4:30 recovery of light spinning between reps and cool down for at least 15 minutes after the workout. Do this workout 1-2 times per week for 2 weeks starting 2-3 weeks out.

These workouts will set you up nicely to head into your season fast and ready to mix it up!

Sarah Kaufmann is a USAC Level II coach under the PLAN7 Endurance Coaching brand. She is a member of the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team and has been racing mountain bikes at the professional level since 2008.  Sarah is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

Coach’s Column with Sarah Kaufmann: Returning To The Bike After Injury? Here’s How It’s Done

Question: I broke my leg in a bad crash late this summer and am just starting to ride again.  How do I start getting back into race shape?  I’d like to do endurance races again next season but don’t know if that’s an unrealistic goal.

Answer: First, endurance racing next season is not unrealistic! You actually picked a great time to break your leg (only half kidding). If there is ever a good time for an injury, it is late in the race season. I normally recommend that my athletes take two to four weeks off the bike when the season comes to a close. Your forced rest works this in and once you are cleared to ride again, you can begin base training through the winter. Depending on when your first goal events are next year (and what your winter climate is like), November/December is a great time to begin riding again and ease back into some structured training.

Once you are cleared to ride, you should begin with very light steady riding. You may want to do this on the road. Stick mainly to endurance pace or lower, which is about a 4 or 5 out of a 10 for your rate of perceived effort. Be honest with yourself about this and resist the urge to push harder. If you train with power or heart rate, be aware that HR will be spiky and high in general and your pre-injury power zones are going to be too high for the moment, as well. This may also mean that you need to avoid riding with your friends who insist they will ride easy but always hammer – we all have those friends! After several weeks of unstructured endurance pace training, move into some steady state higher effort endurance pace efforts; i.e. instead of just cruising with endurance pace as your ceiling, try holding middle to upper endurance for 20-60 minute efforts (building these up over time).

Your timeline for building back an endurance base will depend a lot on your level of fitness at the time of your injury and what, if any, activity you were able to do during your recovery. But more than likely, after three to five weeks of structured training at mainly endurance pace, followed by a week of lighter riding and active recovery, you can begin adding back in some tempo and low-end threshold efforts.

As your goal is returning to endurance racing, tempo work will be your best bet for redeveloping your aerobic base. Tempo work results in many of the same physiological adaptations as threshold training but because it is at a lower intensity, you can train at tempo with significantly higher volume than threshold. Tempo efforts should feel like a 6 or 7 out of 10 RPE. Benefits of tempo training include increased plasma and stroke volume, increased mitochondrial density (mitochondria are the part of cells that create energy from fuel), improved lactate buffering (resulting in improved lactate threshold), and increased muscle capillarization (resulting in more blood flow to working muscles), among others. As with any periodized training plan, as you get closer to your event, your training should include more threshold, VO2, and anaerobic efforts. But in the initial phase after your return from injury, your focus should be on aerobic base building, so tempo work should make up the majority of your hard training..

Tempo workouts could include rolling terrain-based efforts of five to ten minutes, with equal or longer recovery at endurance pace. Keep total time at tempo to 40 minutes initially, working up to an hour. You can also do more structured intervals working up to a total of an hour at tempo (i.e. 6 x 10’; 4 x 15’; 3 x 20’). Despite the fact that tempo work can be done at a higher volume than threshold, it is still very demanding training. Make sure you are well rested and adequately fueled and hydrated for these workouts. You can begin with one to two tempo workouts per week, working up to three to four over time.

Because my approach to training and racing is a holistic one, it feels like an omission not to cover points regarding nutrition, core exercises, and the mental aspects of returning from injury. Without too much detail on those points, here are a few basics…

Sometimes a focus on nutrition slips when we can’t train. It is easy to self-medicate with treats. But remember that your body needs the highest quality building blocks to create new bone. Even after you have been cleared to ride, bone growth is still occurring. Homemade bone broth is one of the best things you can give yourself to support bone growth. I like this recipe. Aside from that, whole foods; fruits, vegetables, high quality animal protein and healthy fats will be the most supportive in recovery. Keep your focus on nutrient density.

Rebuilding some core strength will serve you well as you transition back into regular bike training. After all of the time off, the muscles that support bike posture will be weakened. If your fracture is healed enough that you are riding regularly, you should have no problem getting back to a regular core strength routine. Make sure you listen to your body and if certain movements give you pain at your fracture site, wait on those.

In addition to the physical stress of injury, it is important to acknowledge and respect the mental strain and other peripheral damage. While an injury does provide some forced rest, your body has been through a major trauma. My explanation above, indicating that the forced rest is convenient, is also simplistic. Though you were off the bike, your body wasn’t really resting during your down time. Healing broken bones is demanding and exhausting work. You may be frustrated at the fitness you have lost when you begin riding again. Let it ride (pun intended). It will come around. Be patient and try to enjoy the process of getting your fitness back.

Trauma like broken bones can also have a strong psychological impact. It may feel like a personal violation to be damaged by a severe injury. Respect the emotional pain caused by your injury. Personal story; I was hit by a car a couple of years ago and sustained several broken bones. About a month after the accident, a good friend told me to remember these things, ‘be patient with yourself and kind to yourself.’ I began crying. Do not discount the pent up frustration and expectations. They are there bubbling under the surface and acknowledging them is a crucial part of the healing process.
Good luck with your recovery and with your season next year – you can come back stronger!

Sarah Kaufmann is a USAC Level II coach under the PLAN7 Endurance Coaching brand. She is a member of the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team and has been racing mountain bikes at the professional level since 2008. Sarah is based in Park City, UT.