100 mile MTB race finish or win?
Athlete question: When training for a 100 miler what are the differences between training to finish and training to win or set a personal best?
Coach Lynda: The first time I signed up for a 100 mile mountain bike race I had a hard time wrapping my head around the distance. I wasn’t sure I could ride that far off-road! I’d never even ridden 100 miles on the road. Finishing was a huge personal challenge. After the finishing glow wore off I wanted to do it again and go faster the next time. When training for a 100 mile mountain bike race, training to finish it, and training to go faster or to set a personal record time are two distinctly different training plans. The first thing you need to decide is your goal. Next, train that goal, and last, race that goal. It sounds simple but many racers slip up the last step by setting a goal to finish, training on the Finisher Plan, then going out on race day and attempting to execute the (personal record) PR race Plan. Before you start, define your goal (make a decision which plan you are on), train the plan, race the plan, and follow it though to the finish line.
The Finisher Plan
On a Finisher Plan the goal is to finish the race happy and within the cut off time. Most hundie races have cut off times. Usually it is 12 hours at the finish line. The important aspects to train on the Finisher Plan are endurance and race execution. Race execution involves fueling, pacing, keeping yourself mentally happy and your bike mechanically working.
Here is a link to the race execution plan for the 100 mile Finisher
The Finisher Plan is a simple endurance volume build plan until 2-3 weeks prior to race day. In the final 2-3 weeks, volume tapers down in order to be fresh on race day. The majority of training is paced within heart rate zones 1-3 (or power levels 1-3) which are aerobic training zones. A focus on fueling practice and endurance pacing are part of every long ride.
The Personal Record Plan
The PR Plan comes into play when a racer wants to go faster. With the PR Plan, it is assumed that a racer has already finished a hundie and has practiced race execution skills. With endurance and race execution skills established, the PR racer can focus on fitness physiology: increasing VO2max, threshold power, and extending the ability to ride near threshold pace for extended durations. You know, the stuff that makes you faster.
Race pace in a PR hundie depends on course profile but consists of mostly upper tempo to threshold pace (power levels 3-4, or heart rate zones 3-4). These are the most important (or most race specific) training zones. Any training plan should progress from general to specific abilities.
To design a 100 mile PR training plan, schedule backwards from your 100 mile mountain bike race day. Follow a 2-3 week taper (race week plus 1-2 taper weeks) before the race to arrive at the start line fresh and ready to execute your PR race plan. The training block prior to the taper is the race specific training block and should predominantly focus on the most race specific abilities. This is threshold and tempo pace (or power Level 3-4, or heart rate zones 3-4) work. The 3-4 weeks prior to the race specific training block should be structured around VO2max work, which is heart rate zone 5 or power Level 5. Cross country racing fits nicely into the VO2max training block. Prior to this, block 3-4 weeks with a mix of neuromuscular power work and endurance work to kick off your PR 100 mile training plan.