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 ;)