A mountain bike training plan for stage races needs to consider many factors in the overall training plan.The heart rate based training program is definitely the core of the entire plan. But that alone will not be enough for success. The race conditions, duration, distances and physical stresses need to be simulated to assist both mind and body to be successful.
The two most daunting aspects of a multi day stage race is the long distance covered everyday and the repetition over consecutive days. The longer the distances and the more days there are the greater the challenge. Following a suitable training program will without a doubt build the fitness for this challenge. However it is most often the mind that needs the most training to overcome these two obstacles. Everyone starts out not really believing that it is possible to complete such a challenging event. This is why it is important to complement a training program by including some additional training elements. The overall training plan should prepare you mentally and condition your body to deal with the long distances and repetitive days. It is not really necessary to simulate the entire event, but simulating some key elements will do wonders for confidence.
Long Distance Rides
The best way and the only way to prove something and to believe, is to see it for yourself. You need to believe and even better know that you can go the distance. Find and design the hardest ride that you can think of simulating the hardest expected of the event. Maybe just make it that little bit harder or longer.
For our first Epic 2005 one of the challenges was to be prepared for Day 2 144km 2700m of ascent. We had to know what we would feel like after riding this distance and could do it? So we put together the toughest day that we could think of. It was 160km and 2110m of ascent. We really did not know what to expect and were quite prepared not to make it back. So we had a backup in place, just a phone call away. We set out first thing in the morning and made good progress and felt good at our turning point. With about 90km done we started the tar climb up Hekpoort. And it was the middle of the day. It was slow hot and we were getting tired, but we made it up. It was however the last 20km of flats that seemed never ending. We had pains that we had never felt before, both my feet felt like they were on fire and I was completely drained. We never gave up and made it back in under 8 hours eventually, we were shattered! The recovery after a ride like this was a learning in itself. We did this ride another two times before the event. On the third time we finished it 30 min faster than the first time. There was a noticeable improvement, our heart rates were lower and we felt much better and recovered quicker. So I went into the 2005 event knowing that there is no day that I cannot finish. Mentally I had been there and physically I knew what it would feel like. So when I felt it I knew what it was, why I was feeling it and how to deal with it. I had gone the distance before.
Multi day Rides and Training Camps
Riding day in and day out is also a daunting prospect if you have never done it before. Riding and recovering from a one day race can be tough, it makes the prospect of riding the very next day seem almost impossible. Once again simulation and practice to prepare your mind and body for the continuous riding is critical.
I had always done one day races, with one of the rewards being that after the race I could just rest for a few days. Especially the next day when you could sleep in and take it easy. But with multi day events you have to get up and do it all again. So I started to ride the very next day after any race event that I did. The biggest challenge was the mental one, to get up the next morning with a sore body and tired legs and go for a ride. However once I had done it a few times I started to realise that it was actually fine. There were pains but somehow you just get on with the job of pedalling and once you are warmed its all fine.
The next challenge was to go the distance for several days in a row and that is where training camps come in. We put together our first training camp by ourselves, over a long weekend in December we planned 4 days of riding. Again we tried to put together the toughest days that we could and so we included our Big Ride as one of the days. The experience of having ridden the day before and then surviving the Big Ride, made me start to believe that this 8 day challenge was possible.
We also attended an organised training camp in Dullstroom with other riders. Here we got the chance to do some good climbing training and to meet some of the other riders to compare notes. It was a valuable experience, as we could measure our progress against other riders. This experience again built some more confidence and we started to feel comfortable that we were going to make the 800+ Km of riding for our first Cape Epic.
Climb like a mountain goat
Mountain biking really is all about climbing and descending, especially in a stage race like the Cape Epic with big mountain ranges to cross. Spending a couple of hours pedalling and walking to get to the top is not uncommon. The climbing on a typical Cape Epic day is often double that of an average one day marathon race. These long climbs take their toll on your legs and they mean more time in the saddle.
The ability to climb comfortably and consistently is a real benefit in completing the tough long days. The secret is to be able to get over the climbs without spending too much time above 80% of max heart rate. If you can do this then you will have enough energy left to complete the days comfortably without cramps or very sore and stiff legs. This should be trained for by adjusting climbing speed so that you climb at a comfortable and controlled heart rate. It takes discipline and patience to climb like this, resist the temptation to get over fast with lots of power. As you continue to practice this technique you will find it becomes easier as your fitness increases.
Every year as we prepared for the Cape Epic we applied these training guidelines. In addition to our heart rate training program we did some really Big Rides, attended training camps and did lots of long tough climbs. It is a recipe that proved itself time and time again.
If you have specific questions, comments or other advise then please leave a comment below and checkout the Cape Epic Training Guide.