How to Train for a Long-Distance Mountain Biking Event

Long-distance mountain bike races are gaining popularity at a fast rate. In fact, for any of the most popular races that take entrants on a first-come, first-serve basis, the first step in your training needs to be fine-tuning your speedy internet skills. You've got to have your credit card ready and, when possible, have all of the online forms filled out before the magic time that entry opens. Ready, set...press send!

Once you've made that VISA commitment, the next question is how do you train for a long-distance mountain biking event?

The Basics

In a previous column, I wrote about key training elements involved to train for the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. Short of the altitude challenge that Leadville offers, the remaining training elements apply to any 100-mile mountain bike race.

You need foundation aerobic fitness; a high power-to-weight ratio; the ability to recover from short efforts at lactate threshold (LT) and limited efforts above LT;  good bike handling skills; and finally a good nutrition and hydration plan that has been tested in training.

The Level I Rider

For this column, let's focus on what I call a Level I rider. You are riding consistently and train five to six hours each week. Before embarking on your training journey for the race, your long ride is around the two-hour mark and includes some hill work. At least one of your other rides during the week contains some faster riding. That ride can be an indoor cycling class or an outdoor ride.

You're a busy person and need two days off each week. You can only train five days per week and weekday training time is very limited. In fact, most of the time you only have an hour to spare for weekday workouts.

Beginning with a six-hour training week and the biggest training week at some 13 to 14 hours, you can be ready to do the race in about 16 weeks. The goal is "comfortable completion." You'll save fast performances for a later race.

The Long Training Day

Beginning with your baseline two-hour ride, build your long ride by about 30 minutes each week for two or three weeks in a row. Then reduce training volume and take a recovery week to absorb training and prepare for the next block of training. Keep repeating this pattern until you build the long ride to around six or seven hours.

Depending on your training history and experience, some of these long days can also include some faster riding or intensity above an aerobic level.

The Two-Day Block

I like a second moderately long training day to fall next to the long training day. I've found that putting two days together builds overall race endurance, while keeping speed and power output high. For most Level I riders, the race will likely take some 11 to 13 hours. Make your two-day block total workout time build until the total is between nine and 11 hours. This strategy will give you plenty of endurance.

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