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Ultra-Endurance racing: training to go the distance

Posted Feb 15 2010 11:28am

photo_sara_krauseUltra-Endurance racing: training to go the distance

Part 1: picking your race & starting your training plan

If you’ve read my bioyou know that my favorite cycling discipline is ultra-endurance mountain bikingwhich has gained a lot of popularity in recent years because of its fabled races and seemingly super-human athletes.  USA Cycling defines Ultra Endurance as an event lasting over 4 hourswhich includes the Marathon format (which is limited to 47-62 miles)ultra marathon and timed events such as 612and 24 hour racing.  This series of articles will focus on preparing you for long-distance mountain biking but the principles are applicable to long-distance road cycling events as well.

I will explain how to pick the right racehow to lay out a training planand how to strategize your race-down to some of the nitty gritty details you might not have thought about but can make or break your day.  Whether you are doing a set distance or a time-based raceand whether you are an experienced ultra racer or are brand-new to the disciplinethese articles will help you maximize your enjoyment of this sport discipline.

The very first thing you have to do is pick your targetandideallygive yourself a good 4-6 months to train for that target (thisof courseis dependent  on your fitness level and training history).  The great thing about ultra-endurance racing is that there are many events available such as  The Leadville 100The Cascade Creampuffany of the National Ultra Endurance Series racesand any of the USACycling Ultra Endurance calendar races.  There are also plenty of top-notch races that are promoted by other race companies such as the ever-popular 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo or 24 Hours of Rocky Hill. Check out adventure race promotion companies as they often feature ultra races as part of their yearly line up.

When you pick your target racethere are multiple considerations:

  • Cost of travel
  • Logistics- if you are traveling a long distancehow will you get all of the necessary equipment there? If you are doing a 12 or 24 hourwhat about a crew?
  • Reasonableness of the race course for your background

The first two are fairly obvious considerations and the last point is less-obvious.  If you are thinking about doing an ultra-endurance eventpick a course that is achievable to you! In other wordsdon’t over face yourself by racing at 10,000 feet if you live at sea-leveland don’t pick a course with thousands of feet of climbing if you don’t have access to hills on which to trainor if you have not done significant climbing in the past.  If you are a more experienced racer and have done some of these types of races in the pastthen you can pick a new challenge.  If you are new to the sportthe bottom line is: start with a race that you can complete and give yourself the confidence to progress to bigger personal challenges.

Once you’ve chosen your goal racestart setting up your training.

Creating an effective training plan takes a lot of experience and training knowledgeand is best done by a professional. Howeveryou  can follow a few simple steps to organize your training and set yourself up for success.

Start by pulling out the calendar and fill in your race date and any expected travel days to the race. Working backwards from your racedetermine the number of weeks you have to train. If you haven’t ever done a race like thisand you have any doubts that you’ve left yourself enough timetry to pick something further out.   For purposes of these articlesI’m going to use 6 months to the target race.   Now that you have a timelinefill in all of your familyworksocialand any other potential obligations during the 6 months.  Be honest: if you have a business trip or conferencefor examplemake sure that you don’t schedule a lot of training time (if any at all) during this period. Chances areyou won’t be able to do the workouts so it’s easier to plan the time off than to try to re-vamp your training.

Nextestablish the number of hours you have to train each week.  Againbe honest with yourself and remember your mantra is quality not quantity. If you find yourself thinking things like“wellif I skip little Johnny’s soccer on Tuesdayand ask my boss if I can leave at 3:30 every Thursday” then you’re not being realistic about your true time availability. Work with what you can reasonably achieve or your training will become a stressful obligation instead of enjoyable personal time. Immediately mark out or put an asterisk next to days that you suspect might be challenging for you each week. These are days on which you should not plan a key workout.

What you should now have is a clear idea of when you can trainand the amount of time you have to get to your goal race.  The next challenge is to discipline yourself to the quality principle as it applies to endurance racing: in order to be a good endurance rideryou must develop your speed on shorter distances. Understanding this principle will help you avoid the common pitfall of training long hoursbut never including all of the ingredients required to go the distance.

Think of it this way:  if the fastest that you can ride on a flat road for 1 hour is 20 miles per hourthen every distance you do that is longer than one hour will be a proportion of that speed.  Thereforethe  ability to go fast necessarily erodes the longer the distance.  If you worked on raising that speed to 23 miles per hourthen you would be slightly faster at all distances longer than 1 hour.  In other wordsat every given intensityyou have a capacity to do work. That means that as your capacity to do work increases at high intensitiesyour relative ability at lower intensities also increases.

Knowing thislook for training opportunities: group rides and/or races that will help you train at faster paces.  If it’s a weekly group ridekeep it in your mind for later. If it’s a racesuch as a state series cross-country racego ahead and pencil it into the calendar. You can make final decisions on what you will do leading up to the race later. For nowjust keep those races on the horizon.

Now that you have a general calendar started gather information about your race.  The harder work on building your training plan is still to comeand you’ll need a good understanding of what you are training for in order to finish your plan. Look for course profilesand read other racer’s experiences. Note average temperatures and check out the farmer’s almanac  for that region if you can. Take nothing for granted: a notorious climb or descent or river crossing can be a lot more daunting in person than it is in writing. Start to think about what portions of the course favor your abilitiesand which ones will be more challenging. Rememberno matter what the course profileyou’re in for an epic journeyanything you can learn about the course as you prepare your trainingthe better off you are.

The next installment of this series will be posted in a weekand will focus on more details of the training plan.

Sara Krause holds a master’s degree in sports science and nutrition and has been coaching athletes to numerous state championships and top national results since 2005.  Krause has won multiple solo victories at 6 & 12 hour racesand has placed 5th in the women’s solo category at the prestigious 24 hours of the Old Pueblo. She has also won the 24 Hours of Rocky Hill where her performance netted her a 2nd place amongst all solo men as well.  Krause will focus on ultra-distance racing for 2010with appearances at the National Ultra Endurance Series.   She is the owner of Krause Sports Performance.

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