When any mountain bike rider wants to improve performance, there are several key areas I look at when designing a plan. In this column are five of those key considerations.
More: How to Finish a 100-Mile Mountain Bike Race
Training Days are Based on Estimated Race Time1 of 6
It seems like common sense to design training based on race distance. However, it is all too common for riders to train too long or too short for goal events. Riders aiming for events that take five hours or more need several single-day long rides or a series of moderately long ride days placed back-to-back.
If your race is less than two hours long, your longest ride should be in the two- to three-hour range to build overall race endurance. Shorter rides are where you need to keep intensity levels high. If your legs are always wrecked from big training volume and little recovery, you will never develop the power levels necessary to do well at traditional cross-country type events.
Use the Road Bike to Train Steady Endurance2 of 6
Riders that do nearly all training on a mountain bike and on technical courses often have limited ability to ride steady at tempo or threshold pace. This is most obvious when mountain bike riders show up to a group road ride (on a road bike) and they have a hard time keeping up with the group.
The difficulty comes from the fact that these riders are accustomed to big effort, recover, big effort, recover, repeat. In many cases these riders stop at the top of each technical section when riding the mountain bike. They may be fantastic technical riders; but if all their rides include putting in big efforts less than two minutes long and recovering after every effort, they will not have strong endurance or the ability to hold high, steady intensity for low, aerobic metabolic cost.
Any mountain bike race demands the ability to hold a steady, relatively high pace for the entire event. Of course that pace is different for each individual and each race distance.
Design Training Based on Course Profile3 of 6
Events held in ski areas or high mountains often have long climbs that take 20 to 60 minutes, or more, to complete. These events require strong muscular endurance or time-trial-type efforts. If you plan to race an event that has this kind of profile, but your local mountain biking venue lacks long climbs, you need to do muscular endurance training on the road bike.
If your goal race has short, steep climbs followed by technical downhill sections, doing well at this type of event typically requires the ability to put out a strong, effort that is above lactate threshold. That high effort is followed by the ability to descend while keeping intensity levels high. In other words, the downhill sections are not used for recovery.
These strong efforts that range from one to three minutes long can be trained on the road or on the mountain bike—at least initially. As race day gets closer, this kind of training needs to be done on a mountain bike and should include clearing obstacles that are similar to the race course technical sections if possible.
Evaluate Obstacle Cost Versus Return or Potential Return4 of 6
If your goal is to reach the finish line in the least amount of time, you need to evaluate obstacles based on cost. What that means is you may be a fantastic technical rider; but if you expend large amounts of energy riding every technical section in a race that takes over six hours to complete, you might be better off walking a few of those sections. A short hike up an extremely gnarly section can save your legs for a strong race finish.
Some people live for the technical sections on a descent. It is impressive to see these riders dance through a section of rocks, roots and drops and make it look easy. Those people still risk a potential end-o, but due to skills the risk rate may be very low. Other riders that are not as skilled are better off walking these sections, saving equipment and body from a high risk of potential damage. It takes much more time to recover and begin rolling again after a crash than it does to hike-a-bike and keep rolling.
Train to Go All-Out5 of 6
Riders that have a mass start in an open area that narrows to single track need the ability to ride all-out for 30 to 90 seconds. If your race has this kind of World Cup start, you must include these efforts in training.
As you head into the race season, make sure your training is designed to meet the demands of your key races. Be aware of areas where your current skills or preferences limit your race day performance and intentionally put workouts into your training that address these issues. When possible, pre-ride the course several weeks in advance of the race so you can address any training issues in the weeks between pre-ride and race day.
With thoughtful planning and training, you can have a new level of self-confidence on race day that translates into results.