Unfortunately doing well at any endurance race is not as simple as simply training for hours and hours. This is especially true for the grueling, Leadville 100-mile MTB race, which takes place at over 10,000 feet of elevation for almost the whole race and involves a lot of climbing.
Luckily most of us are limited in how much we could ever pedal in a week so the fact that success at these races involves something more than training for hours is a GOOD THING. Our fitness is a big part of the equation but what FITNESS is and how we apply our fitness through preparation, equipment, position and other methods will determine how well our big day goes.
My focus in this article is largely on everything BUT pedaling or fitness (although I do make plans to help you with that), because to me, the regular ‘desk’ athlete with kids, a job, 2 dogs and a mortgage likely has a different event to take on then the pro who can perform a month of high-volume training, on top of a mountain and do quite well.
Be A Student of the Race
The Leadville 100 MTB Trail race or other Endurance Bike Races tend to have huge followings and so there is a lot of content out there. When I signed up in 2011, I was looking for every resource (Leadville Pictures, Leadville video, race stories, Studies) to help guide my preparation. Now, this may seem weird, as I am a supposed to be a Pro MTB racer and a coach with a university degree, but the fact that Leadville is a different event remains true and my lack of Leadville, or even 100-miler, experience had me scared. Experience the race before you get there via media and then by simulating terrain.
Get Better at Riding Fast Down Hills
Leadville has 12,000-14,000 feet of climbing … Yes, you should be light and fit to get up those hills, but dragging your brakes down 14,000 feet of downhill is costing you time too. Practice on technical trails and also on event-specific double track, ATV trail and gravel road and your average speed will go up considerably. Being comfortable on technical trails will make the Leadville double track and road much easier to do while fatigued. Check out Bike Skills Project videos on ready position and/or attack position (basically standing up on the bike)are key places to start.
Get Ready for the Altitude, But Don’t Freak Out
If you can go to a few camps to simulate your race pace at even moderate altitude, that will help. If you accept that it will be a bit harder and not exactly the same as home, it is part of the challenge and many people do no altitude adaptation and do fine thanks to good fitness and great pacing.
Altitude tents and devices such as SpiroTiger can be an asset in maximizing your adaptation to altitude and enhancing your respiratory system to help you be more comfortable with the increased breathing requirements at altitude, and while racing/riding/existing. Both devices can be rented from many companies.
I also like getting clients to practice breathing through their noses during their day and while on rides (start slow and breathe deep with BELLY). You should find you can eventually build your wattage while nose breathing towards ‘tempo’ (about Leadville pace) AND (in my opinion) this first experience with restricted breathing helps you be psychologically ready in Leadville.
Beta-Alanine and Sodium Phosphate-loading are two potentially beneficial supplements to help maximize Oxygen-dependent performance (under ‘threshold’), which is important at altitude. Ensure you have used both appropriately in training prior to Leadville and make sure you take care of all the (CHEAPER) basics first, such as fueling, sleep, mobility and bike skills. A special tip is to try to stay lower then Leadville the week off. There are many cool towns at slightly lower elevation and I think it is worth getting better sleep, with a few rides in Leadville vs. Being in Leadville all week.
Eat Enough, But Not Too Much
Minimize the digestive work your stomach has to do. Save that energy for pedaling. Many athletes make the mistake of eating too many solids and overwhelming their stomachs with foods/fuel that they have not game played over distances, at specific intensities and/or while not at altitude. We may not be able to test/Game Play any or all of these, BUT we can take notes from experienced athletes and the averages. Generally, focus on more liquid sources of calories at 2-300kcal/hr.
Maltodextrin-based mixes/gels seem to be most digestible, possibly with some fructose or simple sugar. Solids earlier in the race are used by some to break up the fueling strategy and avoid overloading on a certain sugar or component. Many distance athletes (e.g. RAAM and 24 hour Solo) will use products like Ensure to get a digestible calorie source; at Leadville, having an Ensure at top or bottom of Columbine could work well. I have also always liked Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) and typically will ride/race with them in my bottles with some electrolyte to help with energy and focus.
As always, you should be practicing race day nutrition long before your race. ( Nutrition basics with The Bike Skills Project here )
Hone Your Mechanical Skill
Many a race is ruined, if not lost, based on little fixes on the trail. You should be able to take your bike apart on the course and reassemble. Make a list and start practicing. A good and patient local coach or friend should be able to help you through sticking points. Bike Skills Projects on Mechanics HERE
Do. Not. Stop.
It is very important that, within reason, we never go 0 km/hr. Leadville and many similar races are about average speed. Keep rolling steady. You should not stop in the feed-zone, or to eat or to transition to a hike-a-bike. Situations may arise, such as nature breaks (although some may find ways to do this one bike) but generally, try to plan and train for minimal stops to preserve that goal pace. The feed bag pickup is a place I messed up in 2011 and actually fell (so pro!)
… Again, these are the little things we forget when out doing 4 hours hard, and a couple Game-Plays with the feed bag could have saved me minutes, if not gotten me a podium spot. Bike Skills Projects on Dismounts / Mounts.
Pacing is Imperative
While on our bikes, we can add benefit to our training by making sure we learn what a sustainable pace is and how to hold it over varying terrain. I believe HR is still relevant to optimal pace even at altitude, but we also need to use our brains and experiences to inform when it is time to go or if HR won’t be used on a given day. My goal during my 2011 prep at sea level was to see my pace on hilly terrain (Miles/HR) come up to 1 mile faster/hour then my goal Leadville pace (14.7mph for ~7hrs over 103mi ). ( Posts from Smart Athlete / Train With Peter on Pacing )
Be Able to Function Off Your Bike and Avoid Cramps/Tightness/Back Pain
Be able to walk/hike uphill efficiently and dismount/remount easily, even uphill. Walking can be optimal pacing strategy. Be efficient in mount/dismount and walking/jogging. Avoid getting stopped at zero miles per hour pace. Plan spots you will likely walk (top of Columbine and power-line on the return for many). Have a daily mobility practice including standing often and walking a ton (i.e. on breaks at work and before-after meals). Bike fit and mobility are big causes of time off-bike so make sure these items are very well Game Played before the race. ( Smart Athlete Posts on Mobility ) ( Also check out the MobilityWod on Youtube)
Maximize Aerodynamics, Position, Efficiency
Leadville is a mountain bike race but a lot of time can be saved by drafting and having a reasonable position on the bike (that you can pedal well in). Looking to optimize clothing (i.e. no garbage bag coats) and spend some time on the road in an aero position of some type (narrow hand position and maybe forearms on the bar). Elite Leadville times are becoming so fast that much effort is put into Aero (see 2016 winner’s bike/gear here) There are many sites out there proving being aero is worth thinking about, such as here. Recently, a bike company tested hair styles and found that braided hair was more efficient than a bun or ponytail and also found some interesting gains from shaved legs and arms (but not face!). So there are some little wins you can get for low cost or a bit of skill practice.
While these concepts may sound basic and optimistic at times, I do believe that there is a ton of time to be gained for almost anyone looking at Leadville and similar races without even touching on fitness. We want to maximize the work we can do (fitness) and minimize the work we have to do with preparation, planning, health, nutrition, and equipment creating our best performance on THE big day.
I would love to hear your feedback on these ideas, any questions they might spark or suggestions on ways to squeeze every last second out of your next big Endurance Race.
Want these tips scheduled to fit 100% for your schedule, YOUR ability, and YOUR goals? The Smart Athlete 100% MADE FOR YOU 3-Month Plans will prepare you for Leadville or any other big adventures you have planned.
As I come off a couple days where I have been forced off bike and forced to modify my training plan I thought it was worth discussing how I deal with these days personally and how I have helped clients be ready to react to these inevitable changes to the plan.
THE PLAN SHOULD CHANGE
One of the concepts that I try and instill in coaching clients is to use the training plan as a ROUGH PLAN. This is the direction we are heading, the rough progression of intervals/volume/workout types that will move us towards our goal but on any given day we might do less/more or completely different workouts. Embracing this concept helps us avoid over-training and also under-training and the frustration caused by both.
WHEN THE PLAN CHANGES – PICK A FOCUS
Once we have our working confines for the day then we need to be ready to focus on 1 or 2 key things and do a fantastic job practicing them. As an example if you decided to go with a classic 5 x 2 minute hill interval set then you might focus on maintaining a strong posture for the intervals and perhaps on pushing a little extra at the point our mind/body/legs want us to stop or back off to edge ourselves towards a bit more performance. On the flip side, if we decide that today is an off day due to injury/illness we might focus on doing several short sessions of meditation, mobility and/or getting a massage. We could do some work on our bike, we could do annoying phone admin work like hotel booking and insurance selection and focus on being ready for the next day. Selecting 1 or 2 ways we can achieve a daily goal and make progress, just like we do on our training days, makes these off days part of our journey towards our goal rather then a step away from it.
FOCUS ON RECOVERY
On training days and on off-days try to program and set goals around a recovery technique. Sleep, Mobility and Walking are two key ones I focus on. For sleep ensuring we fit in naps, especially if not getting >8 hours or not a ‘great’ sleeper. Bedroom should be quiet, pitch-black, cool and free of screens/electronic/lights. Try to include some meditation/mobility/quiet time before trying to sleep. Mobility is a broad term that can include stretching, yoga, gymnastics, calesthenics, walking, playing with your kids, gentle swimming, massage and several other kooky practices. Basically keep your body moving through the ranges of motion you were given before you decided to be an adult/athlete. A good, very broad, direction to start is to spend time daily squatting low, lunging to at least 90 degrees at both knees with upright torso and putting your arms over your head–you decide how/where you do it. Finally walking is something I have done a ton of and I find the more I do the better everything else in my life goes. Walking serves to help open up tight hips, gets us out moving outside of our ‘workouts’ to get blood moving and add to our daily activity and also can serve as a quiet time, technology free time, family/relationship time. There is very little downside to adding walking to any person’s daily routine. For my business-people clients adding walking meetings and calls to their daily routine has been huge. Getting outside for walks on those days you are feeling tired, tight, sick can be a game changer–gentle movement and sun rarely does harm.
ADJUST THE PLAN
On these days you are off training this is a great place to start adjusting the rough, long-term plan again. Give yourself sufficient time to get back riding and be patient, usually 1-2 days more off/easy after we feel ready to go is wise so build these into the rough plan. Having this rough plan as an evolving map of where you are now and where you want to go will serve to keep you motivated and invested in the process.
If you are having issues with your fit, bike-skills or mobility please feel free to email to see if a consult might help.
*this is from the weekly Smart Athlete Newsletter, Signup Here to ensure you get this weekly update
When we are not moving as well as we would like or in pain it can be quite frustrating for the athlete and also for the coach/therapist.
The important thing is always to stay positive and SOLUTION FOCUSED. What can we try or change that might help?
Often we develop habits that do not help our situation. When in doubt try doing things differently or adding variety.
Some ideas for your mobility and movement
1) Move frequently.
=> Many (most?) of us move often enough and in a variable fashion.
=> How could you sit/type/stand differently ? Can you ride your bike standing & sitting ?
=> If you are a cyclist & work at a desk could you incorporate yoga and/or hiking and/or strength training for variety ? (without being sore for a week?)
2) If/When You Can’t Move Frequently.
=> Focus on avoiding poor positions (slouching, weird sleeping postures, optimize driving posture) to minimize damage & mobilizing you need.
=> Mobilize to help overcome the effects of being in compromised positions (sitting, cycling, or anything in excess)
=> ‘Mobility Wod’ is a great resource. ***Easy way to access the free/older videos via Youtube
3) How to Mobilize.
=> Don’t do too much at once, keep it simple and focused on your 1-3 main trouble areas.
=> 5- 20min , 1-3 areas/movements , minimum 2min per area, go slow and BREATHE = if you rush/cram it is not worth doing.
=> focus on improving a position you want to get into (ie. cycling position, bottom of squat, arms overhead, standing with hips open)
=> Rolling, Contract/Relax and oscillating in and out of the ‘end point’ of the stretch are preferable to traditional static stretch in most cases.
=> rolling each glute (butt cheek) for 5min each and then moving in and out of a lunge stretch (back foot up or down) for 2-3 min each is good place to start.
4) More Free Info !
=>Below is a free chapter to Crossfit Endurance’s book “Power, Speed, Endurance”(buy here) by Kelly Starett of Mobility Wod
=> This is a 1-2 hour circuit you can do 1-2 x a week and get great results. Doing this whole routine will really help you isolate your ‘big 2 or 3 movements’
=> Free Mobility Chapter is Here in .PdF
5) Even More Info!!
=> A more slowed down and systematic explanation may be Network Fitness / Jeff Alexander.
6) Get Help.
=> A Great way to learn about mobility and work on your limiter areas is to get a Kinesiology assessment. Book Yours Now.
=> I am always looking for small groups and locations to spread the movement and mobility word. If you have a space and a few friends. Let’s do a group session.
Smart Athlete Newsletters Archive: LINK
A New Project has come from many different influences, suggestions and inspirations.
The Goal of the Blog ? 365 days of Bike Skills Ideas to augment your ‘Training’
We (cyclists in general) spend way to much time ‘training’ and forget about all the little things that go into actual performance. The ‘training’ matters and I love it but we need to ‘up our game’ and spend more time on all the other important stuff that goes into game day performance.
The other important stuff ?
Anything that is going to improve Your Bike skill. Mostly on bike skills but look for lots of influence from Nutrition, Mobility, Bike Mechanics, Cross Training, strength training and Coach/Athlete interviews.
The Characters ? Anyone I can get on camera with me, sharing ideas and their angle
The Mission Each Day : Find a Bit more Safety, Confidence and Speed on the Bike
And So It Begins …
*Please spread the word*
In regards to this older post, I got the following question. Please let me know your thoughts.
hey i was just googling duck feet and IT band problems when running. I run as well, and throughout High school, the IT band was always stiff and i had to stretch it a lot. my knee hurts mostly my right and I sat down with my legs hanging down like you demonstrated and my right one goes outward more than the other. My HS Coach told me to try and stand straight as often as possible. how can i fix this problem?
Hey, Eric Thanks for the question and visiting the site.
*** here are some places to start looking if I had ITB issues, I would recommend you see your local kinesiologist and/or physio-chiro-osteo to get a more focused idea of what is most tight and causing your ITB pain … this will help maximize your time spent mobilizing ***
WHAT IS ITB?
Remember the IT band is a fairly stiff (not elastic) structure connecting bones/muscles. Since it is not a muscle it is not really the focus of our stretching/rolling(smr). So the issue tends to be tight hip flexor/glutes or issues at ankle/knee or even low back NOT SOMETHING ON SIDE OF LEG TO BE STRETCHED AND ROLLED EXCESSIVELY.
DAMN RIGHT LEGS
Right legs tend to be commonly affected and I think a lot of this has to do with our seated postures through the day. Most easy to implicate would be our driving posture where we sit more on our right glute(butt cheek) and use our right leg (ankle/knee/hip flexion-extension) to push/release the gas/brake pedals.
So obvious things to try to minimize and/or change are your seated posture.
– avoid being the driver if you can.
– take frequent breaks from driving
– modify position frequently
– try to sit more square on seat (both butt cheeks) … some cars are tougher due to offset of steering wheel/pedals.
– use cruise control whenever possible to limit contractions in the right leg.
– in general, minimize seated postures, use standing workstations.
WHAT TO DO WITH PAIN NOW:
-> get out your roller (ideally TP therapy products and/or lacrosse or hard tennis balls) and roll butt cheeks/hamstrings and quads. Don’t ignore the quads, making sure to roll inside, middle and outside the quad.
-> ensure your bike allows for your feet to sit in their natural way (ie. for you toe out / duck footed) as this could cause stress on ITB.
-> try to roll before any activity to help ‘loosen’ things up
→ lower bike seat slightly for a bit to decrease strain a bit further.
→ make stretching post ride and/or during the day ( many of my athletes do as a separate workout) this should be full body and looking always for change/improvement from the stretch/smr.
→ try to avoid painful ranges/sports/movements but also try to push the range of moment you can function in with rolling/stretching/movement.
-> watch knee dropping in during pedaling, walking, running, box jumping etc. keep those knees out! mobilitywod video discussing this knees out in stair climbing
Keep me posted and best of luck