How Much Does a Professional Train?

April

The first race of the season, and Ernie;s first professional mountain bike race was April 9th and 10th. He started strong and was 6th in the time trial. Unfortunately he flatted in his first cross country race. Dang.

We bumped up the training volume and intensity (threshold intervals, accumulated threshold time during mountain bike riding and power intervals up to 60 seconds) following that first race weekend to respond to the lack of racing volume and intensity. The biggest training week in this month was 11:15 and occurred three weeks prior to the next race.

Notice I said "power intervals" in the previous paragraph. Ernie did not train with a power meter, but that doesn't mean power training was eliminated. Power output was based on rating of perceived exertion (RPE).

The Pro XCT race the last day of April in Austin, Texas was Ernie's first Pro XCT race and his first experience traveling to an event that involved airlines. He asked me if I thought it was a good idea to try a Pro XCT race in his first season as a professional. A lot of discussion went into this decision; but, my primary reason for thinking it was a good idea is because I believed, and still believe, in his ability as an athlete.

With no UCI points and a low ranking as a professional with USA Cycling, Ernie started in the back. Waaaay back, around 80th position.

As all mountain bike racers know, it is not easy to battle your way through a field on single track. In spite of high race day temperatures and a terrible start position, he rode his way to roughly 25th position. Riding fast and assertively, he was feeling good about his position...until the flat tire.

In order to not be pulled from the race, he needed to get the flat changed and be within 80 percent of the leader's lap time. Through determination and athletic ability, he made the cut off time and finished his first race that offered UCI points. Unfortunately at 44th, he was just short of the cut-off for gaining UCI points. Though a disappointing final finish position, the positive aspects of his performance at the event overshadowed the negatives.

Weekly training volume: 3:30 to 11:15

May

This month began with strep throat. The stress of travel, racing and school took its toll. We were told that strep throat was running wild on the university campus, so it was easy for him to pick up the illness when his immune system was stressed. To recover, Ernie did only aerobic training. The low intensity and low volume conveniently coincided with finals week and helped reduce the school-related stress.

Mid-May to the end of May was spent rebuilding some lost fitness. We returned to the miracle intervals because they seem to give Ernie, and others, the most fitness gains for the least fatigue. Limited lactate threshold work was included so he could be ready to use the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic as a training event.

When Iron Horse race day arrived, though he had limited fitness, he had a solid race day in a strong field finishing 14th overall. Just a week after Iron Horse, he raced MSC #4 and earned his first podium spot as a professional rider.

In this period, training intensity was limited so he could go into the races with fresh legs. We knew fitness depth was lacking and that was just a result of illness and school demands earlier in the month. One takeaway lesson here is not to binge on volume and intensity immediately following illness or injury in an attempt to make up for lost time.

Weekly training volume: 5:08 to 12:15

June and July

There were a few weeks in late May and early June where Ernie didn't have classes. After that small reprieve, he had two summer classes lasting mid-June to early August. Though the school load was less, he wasn't free of obligations outside of training and racing.

These months included more threshold workouts and threshold intervals combined with high power output intervals. The power intervals were RPE-based and were 60 seconds, or less, in length with long recovery intervals lasting four minutes or more. The power intervals typically came before the threshold segments in any training days where the two were combined.

The majority of the time when threshold intervals were part of a workout, work interval time was less than 20 minutes long in order to keep average power output high. In other words, there were no threshold workouts (popular with many coaches and athletes) consisting of 2 to 3 x 20 minutes at threshold heart rate.

June and early July included two more MSC races, with successful finishes all in the top ten. After a disappointing start, Ernie was now moving his way up the overall points ranking for the MSC series.

Mid-July was USA Cycling Pro Nationals. Start position at Nationals depends on UCI points. Again, lacking any UCI points he had a horrible starting position at 61st. After several laps he raced his way to 23rd before a rear flat derailed him. Not to be shut out, he ran his bike backwards on the course to the tech zone to grab a new wheel. With a will to win he fought his way back through the field a second time and managed to salvage 30th place finish.

The effort at Nationals, travel for MSC races and the pressures of school accumulated and he got sick for the third time in the season. This was a brief illness that was healed with a few days of low intensity and rest.

After he recovered from the illness, criss-cross workouts and structured Zone 5b intervals were introduced into the workout plan for the first time.

More: Criss-Cross Workout to Improve Lactate Threshold Speed

Weekly training volume: 8:52 to 14:50

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