If there is one thing that can take your mountain bike training to the next level, it is getting specific to the races you are getting ready for. Whether you are a Marathon mountain bike racer, 100 mile endurance mountain bike racer, weekend warrior or a Cross Country mountain bike racer, adjusting your training plan to meet the demands of the race(s) you are getting is critical to your success.
In this article I will give you a few helpful pointers on how to get more specific to meet the demands of your race(s), explain the timing of when this should occur, and explain how you might go about implementing that into your training program.
For starters, what does specificity mean. Simply put, it means get specific to the course and it's specific demands that the mountain bike course might require. For example, if your cross country race is at the Bonelli Pro XCT, then you should expect numerous 1-2 minute super steep climbs throughout the 20-30 minute loop. However, if you are racing The True Grit 100, then you are dealing with an entire different set of terrain.....you are dealing with 100 miles of a mix of super technical punchy-terrain, fast flowy singletrack, and 8-15 minute fireroad climbs. Just thinking about it, it is obvious that those two drastically different courses will require two different types of mountain bike training plans to optimize your performance. Yes, you could race both races, train one way, and do ok in one, and very good in the other, but ultimately this article is set out to get you to your top notch shape so you can destroy your competition and finish our most important race(s) with a smile on your face!
Specificity and program setup:
1) Evaluate your race course: find a topo map if possible, watch youtube videos, and ask other people who have raced it for details. Things to ask: how long are the climbs, how steep are the climbs, is the course technical, does the course have a lot of fireroad, how long does the race take or how long will it take me?
Example: when I trained for the True Grit 100 in 2014, I knew the course was full of longer, steady climbs in the range of 8-15 minutes mixed in with technical terrain. I was already good at technical terrain, but was weak on the long steady climbs. Also, being at the beginning of the season I needed my legs to get their muscular endurance back and ready for a 7-8 hour race (my predicted race finish time). So, every week I put in two 3-5 hour rides with steady 10-20 minute climbs working at my expected "race pace" for The True Grit 100. On top of that, I added in one longer 4-6 hour ride a week aimed at the expected total vertical climbing, ascending, I was expecting. I built this up to 8-12,000 feet over a 4-6 week time frame. Every week I challenged myself, and on race day I came out strong and took the win! Evaluate the course, figure out what you need the most work on to be ready for that specific race, and implement it into the routine. For me I had the technical part down, but needed to work on my muscular endurance and long climbs.
2) Training plan: start implementing your race course evaluation into your training. A general rule of thumb is to start getting more and more race specific as your race approaches. Typically starting this race specific work 1 time a week 6-8 months out and then moving to 2-3 times a week 2-4 weeks out will have your body primed for race day.
Example: If you are expecting a 1 hour race, with lots of 1-2 minute climbs, then simulate this in training. One specific workout could be a Time Trial on a local XC course that takes about 20 minutes to complete, has similar terrain and similar steepness/length of climbs. That would be an ideal setup that you could start implementing 6-8 weeks out from your race, and then increase more and more as the race gets closer. If you don't have an exact course, like the majority of athletes I work with, then a great alternative would be to tackle all the specific demands in a mixed weekly fashion: i.e. Tuesday do 1-2 minute intervals on similar climbs on the road or mtn bike, Thursday, work on your technical skills on similar terrain, and Saturday go to the trails and do Time Trials to work on your threshold and speed on the trails. This is only generally speaking, so don't take this 100% to heart. Evaluate your course, figure out what you have to work with, and do the best you can with the given situation.
3) Race bike setup: get your equipment race day ready, get your body use to your race bike, and ride it more and more as race day comes! This will have you and your bike dialed in as ONE. More power, more precise control, and less mechanicals. Figure out what tires you want to run, and ride them all the time. Dial in your suspension setups, oil your chain, throw on new equipment if needed (or wanted!), and dial in your "cockpit". As race day gets closer, ride your race bike more and more. The more specific you get to your actual race day terrain and bike, the more power your legs and power can put through the pedals. On top of that, by working more and more on your race specific bike, you might have small details such as lower back pain, and hand numbness prior to race day. Riding your race bike starting 6-8 months out from your race will allow you to make the important changes needed to avoid those power zapping pains, and also give your body and muscles more time to adapt to that race specific bike.
Example: Going back to the True Grit 100 in 2014, I rode my race bike on training wheels every time I did the longer steady climbs I mentioned in the first example. I also rode very similarly to my racing style. I.E. I like to climb out of the saddle more then most riders on race day, so I rode out of the saddle a lot. The result; my out of the saddle power transfer and efficiency increased, I was dialed in more so then ever to my race bike, and I had one of the best results of my career.
Getting specific can have more of an effect on your racing then most people account. Taking the time and effort to review the course(s) you are getting ready for, adjusting your training plan approproately, and dialing in your body with your race bike will help YOU take your performance to the next level for mountain bike racing in 2016.
Good luck with your racing!
Coach Drew Edsall