“Stop…please don’t do that! If you can just hold on for a few more minutes we will get ice cream after this!”
Sound familiar? If you are a parent or even an aunt/uncle you probably have said this at one point in your life. In contrast if you have ever started to cramp at the end of a race while being pushed above your limit you probably have had an inner dialogue similar to this as well! Attempting to race harder than you train is a common mistake we all have made at some point, and is also known as the “bonk”. For many beginner to intermediate riders the only intensity they may see is on race day. The question becomes this: How do you “expect” your body to perform vs how do you “train” it to perform? Now don’t prescribe to pain cave sessions only…. training and riding for fun can be integrated. If you read the last Dirt Diary then you know I am a believer in this practice. If not then go read it I will wait……..ok ready?
Not every ride should be intervals and exercises time management or as I like to call them “time creation sessions”. That said it if you are a category 2 racer who is talented enough to hang in the top 5 off pure raw talent, but want to move up to the podium. Then integrating some structure is definitely your ticket!
SPECIFICITY! The word alone sums it up and if you are a coaching client of mine then you know all about it. For those that aren’t though let me shed some light on this powerful word. What is it that you specifically need to be able to do in order to achieve your goals. It all starts with the basics and builds.
For this lets use an example that fits the mold of the vast majority of 30-40something racers.We will call her Lucy and she is a category 2 rider. Lucy has endurance but lacks the top end power to jump away and stay away. She currently finishes in the top 5 but has never stepped onto the podium. Her life is busy as a working mother of two, but with her husband’s help she manages to ride four days a week for 1-3hrs depending on the day. Weekends comprise most of her trail time. Her routine typically involves a fun lap with friends Tues/Thurs mostly social and just riding 2 laps. Then Saturday she sneaks a ride in early in the morning for 3-4laps steady endurance pace. Sunday’s she tries to make a ride happen after church but occasionally misses it. When she does make it it’s a long ride with a solid group of mostly guys usually 4-5laps at steady pace usually she is breathing noticeably hard but sustainable.
Now that we have some currrent ride history let’s break down the basics of her goal to step on the podium in a category 2 (sport) race. Based of this her basic training goal first is the following.
-Be able to ride 3laps of the local course (since we have her history we know she can complete as many as 5laps)
That’s the first requirement for her goal, which we know she can do. Now how do we make that more specific? We know that the local hotshot that wins her race averages 45min/lap….with the 3rd place finisher usually averaging 46min a lap. Her fastest lap to date is just over 46min. SO specificity implies the next training goal.
-Be able to ride between 45-46min/lap for 3laps.
HOW: Start by trying to complete just one lap at goal pace to see what effort that demands. Then look at current fitness and assess the gap to goal fitness. Are your expectations reasonable and attainable in the time frame you are allowing yourself? If you discover that that one lap demanded you to maintain a heart rate value of 165-170bpm for an hour then that is your training zone for your “threshold” intervals building from say a 4x10min session to a 3x20min session for more advanced riders. If you track your fitness with a powermeter then it gets even more specific and training becomes very clear cut, but we can dive into that another time. As you can see this “dialing of specificity” can continue on and on. If you have data from another rider from Strava, Garmin Connect, Training Peaks (online training logs commonly used) look at their output relative to yours *noting body composition/size/gender*. Example would be looking at average speed in sections of the course and matching that or looking at fade lap to lap via lap times…etc.
I say all of the above to point to a common mistake I see many riders make both on and off road make. You can’t expect your body to perform at “X” level if you have been riding/training at “Y” level. So many riders get upset with a result when it doesn’t meet their expectations. The reality is that if they looked at their preparation and recent riding history (both intensity and duration) comparing it to the race they just finished many would say….” oh well I never rode at that intensity in my riding/training that’s why I exploded on the……”- last lap, at the start, end of first lap…..etc. That said it’s ok to push past your training to a degree on race day but you can’t expect to have a 400hp engine if you’ve been building a 200hp engine, make sense? The flip side of this is that if you enjoy the competition but really just enjoy the trails and riding without performance goals that’s awesome too. Just be sure that your output on race day with your friends matches the input from your riding during the week or weekends or you may find yourself blowing a head gasket come race day!