Executing your first 24 solo, part 5 (training)

Part 5 addresses how to train for your first 24 solo effort.  The first 4 posts in this series are here.

Yuri:  Do you do any 24 hour simulations...or just go for it?? Dave, I really appreciate all of your input on these matters and putting up with my petty questions, I know that it will help me out as I prepare for Laguna Seca.

Dave:  Thanks Yuri for the questions - they are really well thought out.  They directly address aspects of racing I've been working on for a few years now...and I'm happy to help out fellow chronics!

Training for ultra MTB events in general is a passion of mine.  I've spent years thinking on the topic and used different tools to help understand what is happening, how to guage progress, and how to plan.  Sharing these thoughts is the #1 reason I started this blog.  In time I'll go into more depth on the whys, whats, & whens of what I've found to be effective, but for now, this will get you pointed in the right direction.  Of course, there are a million ways to skin a cat...so you may end up doing something entirely different based on your previous training experiences...

24 solo efforts are huge - physically, financially, emotionally, mentally.  It's always been my approach to come at them with the best possible fitness, because anything less is just going to hurt that much more and leave me dissatisfied.  We're always looking for optimal experiences, right? 

Time to stir the pot again.  There just isn't much info in the public domain on ultra mtb training.  I've been coached, used Friel's methods, and learned a lot for both scenarios.  However, neither filled the ultra gaps.  At issue is the demands of the event, balanced with a need for speed.  There's a basic paradox in ultra events:  you rarely if ever do sustained efforts at or above threshold power, but power at threshold is the primary determinent of endurance capacity.  That last part is key.  If you train by power, you know that you have an intrinsic power-duration curve.  For example, let's say you can do 600W for 1 min, 400 for 5m, 300 for 20m, 250 for 5 hours and so on.  These are points on your power-duration curve.  For long events, we're interested in raising that 5 hour point.  It is my observation that to do that, you must raise the shorter duration points - the 1, 5, and 20 minute points.

This isn't to say endurance rides aren't important - they are key!  Another aspect to consider is specificity.  24 solos are long...and the closer to an event, the more "race-like" you should be training.  So when I put these thoughts in a tumbler and shake'm up, I come up with a rough periodization plan that looks like this:

Endurance phase, tempo training
Top end training (power level 5, 6)
Threshold training (power level 4)
Big, a$$-kicking tempo blocks.

That's more or less reverse periodization in terms of intensity.  The general idea is to first raise threshold power as high as possible, then build the endurance required for the event.  The final big tempo blocks are key - and to get to your question - no there aren't any 24 hour sims in there.  I shoot for getting a ride in that is at least 8 hours, and not usually more than 10.  In the long rides of this period, I always try to pick it up towards the end.  It instills good PE/pacing practices & intuition.  This is based on power of course...the long rides are when you want to dial in your on-bike nutrition (300-400 cal/hour), pit stop actions, equipment, clothing...all the little details that add up to make or break performances. 

This is the most race-specific preparation of the plan - and part of the process is to learn your body's signals/requests.  During the race, you should always be thinking about what you need now, and what you need in the near future.  Is your calorie intake on target?  Is it digesting well?  How about electrolytes?  Are you getting cold?  Are your eyes getting worked over by dust?(!!!)  Out on a lap you are thinking of things you might request of your support either now or for the following lap.  The long rides of this period are a time to dial in this ability to plan ahead on the fly, listening keenly to your body's signals.  This is also a good time to dial in your night riding equipment and technique.

When to end that final tempo block and enter the taper depends on your base and race intentions.  If the goal is a good solid finish, you probably want to enter the taper about 2 weeks prior to the event.  If your intention is race domination, you'll want to end it 3 weeks prior, and after you freshen up (about a week) do a week's worth of higher intensity mtb stuff to bring on top end...but that is something I'd strongly recommend for a future event.  You need a huge base to pull that one off.  A 3 week taper will leave you flat (less fit) if your base isn't big enough.

Blah blah blah...a picture is worth a thousand words.  Cyclingpeaks is *the* software package for power meter users.  Here's a plot of some of my training metrics leading to Old Pueblo this year.  Higher intensity weeks occured in early Nov and mid-Dec, the low volume weeks.  Note the steady progression of volume each week through early Feb (except one easy week when I was torched, had to rest up for this week).  Long rides get a bit longer each week in this phase.  This was a very aggressive, experimental training block.  The result was my best 24 hour form to date.  This just goes to show that even folks with average genetic endowment can have their share of "pinch me" moments given smart, hard training.

Yuri, thanks again for the well-formed questions.  Good luck in your quest for an optimal experience, I know you'll rock it.

I'd really like to hear what others think about this and any of the other ideas I've expressed in this series, all thoughts are welcome. 

TeamDicky:  care to share any insights from the Viking point of view?  Don't worry, Yuri's a west coast guy ;)

Published Sunday, March 12, 2006 6:02 AM by Dave
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# @ Sunday, March 12, 2006 1:25 PM

Dave, These are some GREAT posts! I've done 3 Solo 24s and one 12 so far and I keep learning each race. The more info we can get out there the better. Thanks!


# @ Sunday, March 12, 2006 4:05 PM

These have been awesome! I'm ready to try a solo 24 after several epics and marathons, so your info is perfect.

Eric K.

# @ Sunday, March 12, 2006 4:52 PM

Dave, great info!! It is so hard to find good info on 24 hr racing, this was a great surprise. I have not tackled 24 solo yet but I have done a few on a team. I have struggled thru 3 12 hour solos. My question is what does your rides look like during the week?? I try to do 2 long rides per month, but during the week do I keep training like xc racing or what?? I am looking to try 24 hours of pisgah solo this year. Thanks for any help, good luck this season.


# @ Sunday, March 12, 2006 5:51 PM

Cool...glad you guys like the posts.

Drew: what I do during the week really depends what period of training I'm in. If it's intensity, I'll do as many as 5-7 high intensity workouts per week (some 2 a days in there as well as complete rest days). If it's a tempo block, I'll still do maybe one L5 workout and a L4 workout, along with 3 x L3 workouts each week.

Is that right for you? I can't say. This post is intentionally vague because it isn't a one size fits all solution. What a rider can and should do depends on their training history, goals, genetics and so on...

I'd strongly recommend checking out one of Lynda's training plans at https://www.trainingpeaks.com/trainingplans/lyndawallenfels/. We share ideas all the time and tend to think and train using similar methods.


# @ Sunday, March 12, 2006 8:30 PM

Thanks for posting back!!I had a coach a few years ago that truly believed in Quaility over Quanity. I would only do 1 long workout per week during the early base periods, and during the week was 5-6 w/outs. Mostly 45-75 mins of diff zone work. With 1-2 easy recovery rides of 30-40 mins. I had good success w/ this but at the XC level. Ultra racing I realize is different, but truly how different is it than XC race training?? I was told that if I keep intensity during the week and long rides on weekend this would be enough. The most hours I can get in a week is 12-15 with out sacrificing family time. I know this is not enough to truly excell at ultra racing, but I am perfectly comfortable finishing back in the pack. Its all about the expierence for me, seeing how far I can push myself. I have been thinking about getting one of lynda's plans. I have only read her plans she has posted on her site, what does her later weeks look like, more intensity or more duration?? Thanks


# @ Monday, March 13, 2006 7:07 AM

Drew, you can do a helluva lot with 12-15 hours. In your first comment you said 2 long rides/month - that is clearly not enough for ultra events and will limit your enjoyment of them...probably the largest change you'd make to your training would be adding tempo work in place of some of the quality work....but these are coaching questions...shoot Lynda an email with any questions about her plans. She's out of town for a week or so, but she'll answer any questions you have and then some.


# @ Monday, March 13, 2006 9:18 AM


Thanks for the great info!! I took the liberty of copying the 5 parts to a word file. With your permission I would like to post it on the local (Florida mtbr's) board.


Luis Calderon

# @ Monday, March 13, 2006 9:38 AM

Hi Luis,

Thanks for the kind words...I appreciate that you asked before reposting elsewhere. My preference would be that you supply a "teaser" and a link back here. One link is as good as another, right?

Another potential advantage of having readers come here is that I can respond to any questions they may have.

Thanks again,


# @ Monday, March 13, 2006 10:20 AM

You got it!


# @ Monday, March 13, 2006 11:23 AM

Dave, I bought Lynda's 12 hour plan today. Looks good, I know I can handle her week day workouts. What HR zone would you consider the most important to ride in for ultra races?? If I was to keep my hr low I would have to use my grannt gear more than usuaul. Is that a bad thing? I dont know, I live in East TN where there are very few roads or trails w/out hills. In the past I have been able to ride for long distances by using the granny gear more than the middle ring. I know this hurts me with speed but I feel better after hours on the bike using the granny gear.


# @ Monday, March 13, 2006 11:28 AM

I bought lyndas 12 hour plan today, looks good. What HR would you conider to race in the most imp...Z2,Z3?? I can not keep my hr low riding in the middle ring alot but I can cruise using the granny gear. I live in East TN where there are no flat roads or trails. I know I sacrifice speed w/ using the granny gear but for long hours does speed really matter??


# @ Monday, March 13, 2006 11:32 AM

Drew - hit me offline via the "contact me" link. Thanks.


# @ Wednesday, March 15, 2006 2:19 PM

Will there be at least a part 6 with a gear list? I'm almost commited to my first solo (18hours of fruita) in May and I don't want to forget anything critical.

Chris Plesko

# @ Thursday, March 16, 2006 10:10 AM

Chris - sure, I can post thoughts on a gear list. Fruita, eh? Sounds like a fun event, just a bit too close to KTR for my comfort level.


# @ Thursday, March 16, 2006 8:44 PM

Dave: This is fantastic information. Perhaps when you feel it's all "wrapped up" you might put it all in a link on your blog here for quick future referance. I'm not planning any 24hr events but alot of what you have written here is applicable to my situation. Thanks!

Guitar Ted

# @ Thursday, March 16, 2006 8:46 PM

Whoops! Just saw the side bar on the left! Sorry.

Guitar Ted

# @ Wednesday, March 29, 2006 6:27 AM

Dave this is great stuff. Doing my first 24 hour solo this year. Actually it's my first 24 hr race and I figure if I'g gonna be up all night I may as well be riding! This is really helpful. I've been researching everything I can so I can survive.




# @ Saturday, May 20, 2006 1:23 AM

Dave, I found your posts through Google (24 solo training) and they have been a huge help. I am doing my first solo this June (Mountain Mayhem in the UK) and you've really helped to answer a few questions. Thanks again.


Luke Moseley