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Recovery for endurance mtb races

Here is question on recovery for endurance mtb races from my coaching column on

How long do you need to recover from an ultra-endurance race? How many can I plan into my race schedule in one season?

The USA Cycling Rule Book defines ultra-endurance events as:

6A19. Ultra-Endurance Events: A term used to describe the following types of events lasting more than 4 hours: Marathon, ultra-marathon, 6/ 12/ 24 (etc) hour racing.

The first thing to note is that recovery from a 4 hour race is significantly faster than from a 24 hour solo race.

Race duration or distance is one of numerous variables affecting recovery speed. Many of these variables are under the control of an athlete.

  • How rested you were at the start of the race
  • How well prepared you were for the specific race effort
  • How well you fueled and hydrated during the event
  • How much sleep deprivation you accumulated
  • How deep you dug during the race: Did you pace to finish comfortably or did you empty the tank for a personal record time?
  • How diligent you were with post race recovery practices: recovery nutrition, sleep, stress management, time to rest, massage.

Two variables are not under the control of the athlete.

  • Age. Recovery slows as we age. A 25-year-old will recover faster than a 55-year-old given equal recovery practices.
  • Personal differences. Some athletes have a phenomenal recovery rate and some simply do not. The athletes on the slower end of the recovery bell curve should be more careful about how closely they space ultra-endurance races on their race schedule.

As a generalization, given the impact of the above variables, here are the recovery times an athlete can expect after an ultra-endurance mountain bike event:

  • Mountain bike races lasting 6 or less hours take 1-2 weeks for recovery and can be scheduled twice per month.
  • 100 mile mountain bike races last anywhere from 7-13 hours and take 2-3 weeks for full recovery. 12 hour solo races are in the same recovery zone. Scheduling one per month is reasonable.
  • Recovery speed from a 24 hour solo race depends largely on how well an athlete executed the race. A personal record (PR) level 24-hour solo, perfectly executed, non-stop 24 hours on the gas with no sleep that an athlete started well tapered, peaked and rested will take 4-5 weeks to fully recover.

PR level 24 hour solo mountain bike races take a lot of real estate in an athlete’s race schedule with 3 weeks to taper for, and 4-5 weeks for recovery. Scheduling one 24-PR level solo per season is ideal.

  • 24-hour solo races paced at a finisher level effort where an athlete stops for rests, meals and sleep during the race will take 1-3 weeks for recovery. 24 hour solo races executed on this level can be scheduled 3-4 times per season.
  • Mountain bike stage races such as Trans Rockies, BC bike race and Breck Epic are similar to 24-hour solo races in that recovery rate is highly dependent on the manner in which the athlete raced. Generally, 7 day stage races fall in the 3 week recovery time frame. Scheduling 1-2 stage races per season is reasonable for most athletes.
  • At the top end of the ultra-endurance racing category are the multi-day, self-supported events such as Colorado Trail Race, Arizona Trail Race and Tour Divide. The clock runs on these races non-stop, day and night, start to finish. These events can take 4-40 days to finish. Full recovery from these races can take 2-6 months! Volume of sleep deprivation is a large part of the fatigue accumulated. A loose rule of thumb is to start with 2-4 weeks for recovery then add one day to recovery time for every hour of sleep missed during the event. Scheduling one multi-day self-supported race per season is reasonable. Racing more than one of these events per season puts you in the manic category 😉 I do know a few of those guys…

By Lynda Wallenfels Google+

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