When you commit to an event like the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, you’re not just committing to that distance on that course on that day in August. You are also committing to an even more daunting (but equally or perhaps more rewarding) endeavor: training for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
I’ve always thought that the training was the best part and that the actual race is just the cherry on top. But for the race to seem like a cherry, you had better be physically prepared for it and that training needs to start now. This is also a great time to begin laying out some of the high points of your schedule leading up to the LT100 MTB on August 9.
A key element and common thread that runs through successful training regiments is consistency. If there is a time to be inconsistent with your training, you just left it behind. Many athletes let themselves go a little bit starting in late fall/early winter and through the holidays and into January. I think this is okay as long as you get back to training before slipping too far. It can be hard to get back to consistent training, but the longer you wait, the more you’ll pay for it down the road. So right now, commit to consistency in your training. Do something quality five or six days a week.
Many riders wrestle with how much to ride and how to ride if they live in a wintry place. There is a school of thought that you should essentially ride your bike year round or you’ll risk losing ground that you’ll never be able to make up. This approach usually consists of putting in “base miles” (higher volume, lower intensity riding). This is no problem if you live in a temperate place but presents a real challenge if you live in a four-season climate.
I tend to shy away from the idea of riding year round and am an avid supporter of cross-training — cross-training that may not include any bike riding at all. I’m not saying that riding all the time isn’t a good way to train (it’s great if that’s what works for you), but I know that riding bikes year round makes some of us grumpy and stale. Plus, it’s very hard to keep riding your bike at a high level for months on end.
One of my favorite times of year is October into March, when I get to rack up about five months of cross-training. This is when I’m doing a variety of really fun stuff.
Here is what I’m up to right now:
Hockey begins in October, so for about a month and a half, I’ll ride mountain bikes during the day and play hockey at night. I started playing hockey about nine years ago and am totally addicted. I’m a very mediocre player but we have a great town league where my skillset is right at home. It’s absolutely a hoot and a cardio circus to boot. This fall, I also tried to get — and nearly had — running legs (I only wanted them so I could occasionally run with our boys, who were all out for cross-country). Same thing with the gym: I couldn’t quite hold on to the regular attendance that I was hoping to have. I keep threatening to give running and the gym another go but just can’t seem to find the time.
Moving on into December, once we get that snowfall that closes our trails, the bike gets put away for the winter because, chances are, the skiing is starting to get good. This year, I have been doing a good bit of skiing, including some skate skiing, backcountry touring and of course downhill at my favorite ski mountain anywhere, Crested Butte Mountain Resort. This winter I have also competed in four ski mountaineering races, which are much like cross-country mountain bike races. These are a blast, very hard, and I hope to do a few more in February and March.
Hockey will last until about the middle of March. Skiing may go on a few weeks longer than that but if we get some warmer temperatures and the roads are clear, I’ll probably begin riding again sometime in March. When I do, the first thing I notice is the lack of leg speed. There are few activities that match the cadence of pedaling a bicycle. Once April rolls around, it’s pretty much all bike riding from there on out. Our trails are opening up then and I’m able to mix up great road and mountain biking. No structure and no long rides, just lots of good quality riding, five or six days per week.
So during the entire winter, the only really consistent workouts will be hockey and skiing. Weight lifting and running will be just blips on the screen. Taken as a whole, this gives me a very solid base of fitness. From hockey I get intensity (12 to 15 reps per game; 45-second to one-minute intervals at 120%) and from skiing I get extended endurance, mixed with higher-intensity efforts going uphill and power work coming down. The best part is that my mind is really fresh and is actually eager and stoked to ride again.
Now it’s your turn.
If cross-training sounds interesting to you, get out your pen and pad and jot down all the different sports and physical activities you do, can do or would like to do, along with riding your bike. Here are some ideas, just for starters: skiing, racquet sports (such as tennis, handball, squash, racquetball, etc.), swimming, yoga/stretching, weightlifting, indoor soccer, walking, hiking, running, basketball, lacrosse and ice skating.
Not only are these sports good for fitness, they’re also really good for your head. I’m a firm believer that if you shift focus at certain times of the year, and maybe even compete in other sports, you could end up with better fitness, better morale and better results on the bike.
Also, while you still have your pen and pad out, think about whether or not you are interested in doing any other events, races, camps or rides leading up to the LT100 MTB. I like the motivation that these stepping-stone events offer, and it’s fun to have periodic tests for your body and your equipment.
Here is how my calendar is shaping up for 2014:
Like last year, I’m planning to do all of the Leadville Race Series races that I can including the Austin Rattler, the Wilmington Whiteface 100K, the Silver Rush 50 and the Tahoe Trail 100K. I’m also planning to do the Bailey Hundito, the Copper Triangle and the West Elk Bicycle Classic. The Austin Rattler is the last Saturday of March, which will be pretty early for me. It’s earlier than last year, and last year I felt pretty good for two laps. The trouble was, the race was four laps. I blew to the moon! I hope to not repeat that this year but, it doesn’t matter because the Rattler will be a training race. I hope to use it to have better fitness for all of those other events that take place in June, July and August.
I’ll also do both Leadville Race Series Camp of Champions sessions in early July in Leadville. Even though I’m one of the leaders of these camps, I still do the same riding as all of the participants and that riding alone improved my fitness a ton last year. This will be year three for the camps and while they’re hard and Rebecca, myself and the other leaders will push you, we have received nothing but great reviews about the camps. In addition to riding the entire course over two days, we will also cover race preparation, hydration and nutrition, talk training and equipment, work on descending, and discuss pacing and race-day strategies. Oh, yeah, and we have a heck of a lot of fun, too!
So get out there and ramp up that consistency, five to six days each week. Better to do something short and hard than to do nothing at all. I hope to see many of you at the Austin Rattler!
Photo credit: MillerPerspectives.com