Do you get nervous on the start line of your big endurance races and events? Maybe you even get nervous training with friends or for the local group ride. Below are a few resources that will help you train yourself for those ‘critical moments’ when we need to be ready to perform. The more you train for those tough moments, the better they will go and the more familiar they will be.
Listen to this Episode of the Consummate Athlete Podcast on Race Day Nerves – Lots of Great Questions from Listeners.
One of my latest articles on MapMyRide/MyFitnessPal is on race nerves and how to optimize your ‘excitement’ for race day.
It goes through visualization techniques, avoiding common mistakes that ‘back of the pack’ riders make, developing a routine and training for Race demands.
Remember the goal is not to avoid being nervous but to focus your energy on the elements you can control and reduce the number of things you have left to chance or that you are unfamiliar with by preparing for the event and its demands.
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 raceor 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 asSpiroTiger 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 likedBranched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)and typically will ride/race with them in my bottles with some electrolyte to help with energy and focus.
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 onDismounts / 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 ashere. 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.
The time has come, almost irregardless of where you live in the world the weather is changing and some modification to your habits, expectations and preparations must occur. This transitional time of year–say September to December– is always a tough time of year as athletes come of the highs of final races and memories of sunny days and dry roads. To help you in this transitional time here are a few ideas that will help us get into off-season mode.
1) Habits and Preparations
Get your clean ‘road’ bike setup for the trainer. A good trainer tire helps make the trainer feel much nicer and every year the trainer/roller technology is advancing to have a better, more road-like feel (less muscular). The more we can be prepared the day before workouts, and ideally in the weeks before resuming training after some time off, the better we will transition. Athletes should spend time easing into cross-training before the weather gets really bad (e.g. 20min run a couple mornings a week in late August/September). Being ready to cross-train gives us options to add to our indoor training, which ideally we will also set up so that we can easily get on bike and not use setup as an excuse. Similarly, having your gear for riding and cross-training setup in a clean and organized fashion makes starting each training session much easier. Similarly, signing up for classes, such as these ones at Active Life, can help commit you to completing training. For many athletes a head-lamp and warm, ‘rain/cold proof’ coat can help make early-morning and evening workouts easier by allowing runs to be mixed in with trainer workouts or as standalone workouts. Strength Training, such as these 5 cyclo-cross movements, can be a great way to mix up your winter training too!
Setup an Amazing training environment that you can just put your leg over and spin – Every little bit helps
It won’t be warm and riding outside won’t be the same as summer. Indoor riding and cross-training are a big part of off-season so we must embrace it and find things to enjoy about these activities. Many athletes embrace the time of year to watch TV series seasons, listen to new albums and/or watch movies. I have always enjoyed the chance to explore the forest without concern for trails while snowshoeing and back-country skiing. For riding outside we must not expect that our intervals will be doable, that we will be comfortable or that we will be able to have all our usual data. It can be helpful to think about outdoor winter riding as more of a cross-training activity, like skiing, so that we avoid comparing rides and data to summer rides. One of my favorite things last winter was to put on trail runners and ride my ‘beater’ MTB around town with flat pedals. I could work pretty hard but also got to work on drifting corners, bunny-hopping on flat pedals and developing pedal stroke on snowy trails. Often I will combine many activities, with very quick pre-setup transitions, to make a long workout. Something like 30min trainer/90min back-country ski/60min trainer to get 3 hour endurance day in.
Be Prepared for bike cleaning – local car washes can be a big help for condo-dwellers!
XC skiing can be a huge boost to a cyclist’s training regimen
The advantage of this time of year is that we are able to focus on several components of our performance. Even without power we can setup a reliable speed/cadence sensor and track or daily workouts fairly reliably. We can work on getting that cadence up and building our fitness with specific intervals uninhibited by traffic, weather or group rides. Cross-training and off-season training are important components of many successful athletes (avoid typical off-season mistakes) . The change in training stimulus helps keep your fitness improving by stressing your body differently (ie. skiing uses more musculature and is potentially more challenging to a cyclists cardiovascular system) . This variation in training load and type is an important, albeit often forgotten, part of periodization.
I hope this helps you get rolling with your Winter Training . Enjoy the Weather
P.S. If you are preparing for an event and looking for some training guidance Smart Athlete Training Plans might be the perfect thing for you *new event specific plans up now*