Preparing your mind and body for a mountain bike race

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Planning on riding a mountain bike race has never looked easier, as there are tons of articles you can stumble upon while searching for training advice. One can find almost everything, from basic 101s to customized training plans that add a scientific touch to the entire physical preparation. The information to get faster and stronger lies at a push of a button.

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Photomade by Cătălina Cârlan, Bike Marathon 4Mountains 2016

But maybe not everyone wishes to become the super athlete described above. Maybe those persons only seek a simple plan that will make a ride more enjoyable and leave out the cramps or specific sores that come along with cycling. Actually, basic advice and tips for becoming fitter lack due to the urge of the all-or-nothing mindset that takes over once someone hops on the saddle. Stronger and faster is not necessarily more fun or more enjoyable.

Therefore, the question raises – are hard core, performance athlete training schedules and plans adequate for the weekend warrior? The debate is neverending and while some riders pull their guts out riding as hard as they can, some stick to simply overcoming their own comfort and limits. The latter category often forms groups or grupettos during the race, knowing that not the place on the final standing counts, but the wonderful experience of riding with a high-spirited bunch of made-on-spot friends. Still, not even this is a piece of cake, since riding all day over mountains or hills is a energy-consuming endeavour.

So, which are the skills needed to make out of a long-distance race alive/

Endurance sits on first place in this regard. It all starts by knowing how many kilometers you are going to ride, what’s the elevation gain and how much will all this take. Know your limits in order to overcome them. The elevation gain makes a big difference, naturally, given that two similar lengths of trail can be worlds apart if the elevation gains vary a lot. A beginner rider can estimate that a 10 km/h average speed is achievable and most probable, and having a look over the results recorded in previous years can help provide a clear picture of how the action will unfold. After all, you don’t want to finish the race the next day.

Knowing if you can make the time cut will help you decide if you race or not. No risk is worth it at the end of the day, so if the numbers indicate you should take your chance some other time, than take your chance some other time.

There is no cutting corners in improving endurance. Long riders with lots of hours in the saddle are the only „cure” for this. An ocassional increase of 25% in volume should elevate your capacities.

Speed is not as important as endurance, but you might want to spin those cranks faster. Average speed of a training session should grow constantly, but interval training will work wonders even if it will inflict a lot of pain. Rasinig the bar of your maximal effort level will make you faster and also get you out of some tricky situations. Some say that the „best hour” approach will help, it implying to ride for 60 minutes as hard as you can.

Technique will be essential in any kind of cycling competition. And don’t think only about navigating your way through the bush. You can lose precious time and energy if you can’t handle a descent. Just as well, a smart approach of a climb can work wonders, and for all these you can practice on an XCO course. Not least important, good riding skills will prevent crashes and potential injuries which can lead to time spent away from the bike untill recovery is completed. You are more important than your bike or your final standing, said on short.

When a mechanical issue strikes, the headache sets in. Many things can go wrong from a mechanical point of view, and the longer the ride, the bigger the chances of something needing immediate repair. You should have a wide set of servicing skills, as the list begins with the common puncture and ends with broken derailleurs or so. Except for the case when you can fix your bike and restore its functionality completely, you have to think fast in order to identify a measure that will keep the bike going to the finish line. Wooden sticks and duck tape really do make magic happen…

You have to have the proper mindset, just as well. Often, you will feel exhausted, tired over the very limit and close to breaking down. As a point of view, one should know both its limits, and the reason for racing. If you are the kind of person set for winning, you’re probably reading something else right now. Most people find mountain biking as a leisureable activity for a lot of reasons, and things are quite so, inasmuch as you follow some basis guidelines. So, don’t let that hard climb put you down, don’t rush too much on that descent and remember fun and the nice experience come first of all. Also, light energizing products, like coffee or energy gels can boost your morale when they start nourishing your body.

Behaviour during the race and the approach of it go hand in hand. You should let the tough guys start in front of you and get out of their way once the race is on. If you’re an absolute rookie, just a few races later you can notice in which batch of riders you belong and position yourself accordingly. Before starting to keep up with the faster ones, you should know that this will cost you precious energy. However, having a rider in front of you when descending or ascending is recomandable. In the first situation, you can watch the line it follows and keep to it (or not, if it’s obviously a bad choice that led to a crash), while in the second scenario, having someone as a moving mark can help you set a good tempo. Also, it is vital not to lose your head. Some riders may ride hard, and bonk out just a few miles later, other may ride on the edge, and find themselves crashed. You should keep to your own rhythm that is sure to get you to the finish line. Only when you reach the last part of the race and you feel you have more than enough left in the tank, you can try to tighten the screw a bit more. Safety and caution should be the main landmarks of the event for you and keep in mind a nice experience can be more rewarding than a good place in the final classification.

Hydration and nutrition must be treated according to their importance and they do not differ too much from everyone else’s. A carboloading started with 2-3 prior to the race is a good option. During the race keep focus on hydrating yourself, and if need be, equip your bike with two bottles. The multiple feeding zones along the trail will provide what you need in case you run out of supplies and the longer the ride, the earlier and the more ofetn you should start eating bars, bananas, glucose and so on. A good plan involves only products you are used to and consume frequently. Do not try any experiments on yourself during an event that takes you to unfamiliar places.

The equipment you use will make a difference. For any lenghty ride you should use only clipless pedals. Being strapped to your pedals, you can, this way, not only press down on the pedal, but also pull up. Trying to reach and maintain a 90 rpm cadence has been scientifically been proven to be very efficient. However, for complete rookies, trying to control the cadence can be a daunting task, this being a skill that takes time to develop and master. Of course, you will not be able to hold this value all the time, since sometimes you will climb, others you will descend or meet different obstacles. This type of motion is best practiced by riding a road bike and actually focusing only on the upward motion. You do not have to ride fast or long while training like this, but only accomodate your brain and muscles to work like this.

The list of advice can continue with a lot of other ones. However, the most important part is to start riding and gain experience. Once put in practice, the advice listed here can ensure you have a proper start, and you can improve your riding.

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