Building Endurance

MTB Endurance

Endurance is the ability to keep on going and ride all day; up hill, down single-track and everything in between.  It is an important physical attribute whether you just want to ride laps of a trail centre with your mates or race an XC or enduro event.  At the extreme end of MTB endurance are 24 hour and marathon races, as well as multi-day stage races requiring consecutive long days in the saddle at high levels of effort.

Endurance can mean a few different things, depending on your goals and your ability as an athlete.  For a beginner, new to exercise and MTB, increased endurance could mean being able to ride for over 2 hours with minimal stops.  A more experienced rider may work up to their first 60km off-road ride, including 2000m of climbing and plenty of descending.  An XC racer may only race up to 2 hours at a time, but needs ‘speed endurance,’ which is the ability to maintain a high pace for a long period of time.  The marathon rider needs to be able to ride almost non-stop for 8-24 hours at a time.  For the purposes of this article, endurance will mean the ability to ride further or for longer periods.  Speed and power endurance will be covered in future articles.

Here are a number of factors that affect a rider’s endurance and some tips to help you improve them……

1. Genetics:  Some of us are built for explosive, powerful movements, and others for long, endurance type events.  Usain Bolt will never make a good endurance athlete!  You can work to reach your genetic potential for endurance, but you can’t beat nature.  If you are naturally a more explosive rider you can still make good progress with a proper training plan though, so don’t be dis-heartened.

2. Bodyweight:  Power to weight ratio plays a part in how far you can ride, especially in hilly or mountainous areas.  Quite simply, if you are carrying excess body fat (or too much muscle bulk from the gym) then you are using loads of extra energy, meaning you can’t ride as far or as fast as you would if you were leaner.  The best way to improve your body composition is to cut down body fat levels through good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.  There are lots of ways to do this, but on the whole you should keep your diet as natural as possible, drink lots of water, eat loads of veggies, and cut out sugar and processed foods.  In the MTB Strength Factory Nutrition Guide I take you through a 4-week experiment where you learn about which foods work with your body and which don’t, allowing you to make a personalised nutrition plan to improve performance on the bike and help you loose excess body fat.

3.  Fuel:  Chances are that if you can’t ride longer than 2 hours, then you are not fuelling your body properly.  You will need to have a meal that is high in carbs, with some protein and a little fat before you ride in order to fuel your efforts.  You may also want to use energy products or just carry some water and a bar or two to keep you going.  Either way, you will need to plan and prepare your food for long rides.  A great way to improve your endurance is to become more efficient at using stored carbohydrate from your body and to use more fat as fuel instead.  One of the best ways to do this is doing ‘energy work’ where you ride at low intensities for increasing durations whilst in a fasted state.  A great way to incorporate this is on a morning commute.  Ride in at a steady pace and have brekky when you arrive instead of before you leave.  Just be careful not to, ‘Bonk’ and build up the distance gradually.

4. Programming:  How do you expect to go out and ride for 6 hours if the longest you have ever ridden is 3?  This is the harsh reality that a lot of people find when they go to the Alps for the first time and they get knackered on the first long day of riding and end up having a silly crash!  You need to build up your distances gradually.  Write a basic programme where you build for 3 weeks and then have an easy week.  Do a short ride after work one day where you do some intervals and some skills work and then a long ride on the weekend……. Week one: 25km, Week two: 30km, Week three: 35km, Week four: 20km.  You then repeat the 4 week cycle with longer distances, so Week five would be 30km and so on until you reach the desired distance or time that you need to ride for.

5.  Efficiency:  We can become more efficient on the bike by improving pedalling technique, body position and even bike setup.  When we are more efficient we can ride further or faster for the same amount of effort.   You can get professional help for your bike setup at your LBS who should help you out unless you are a bit of a dick.

6.  Flexibility:  If you are really tight with poor flexibility and mobility then you will be restricted on the bike, affecting your efficiency, speed and endurance.  You may also pick up injuries or suffer from lower back pain, meaning you can’t ride as far as you would like.  My approach to flexibility is ‘little and often.’  Do some stretching most days, and always do some basic mobility before a ride, especially if you are straight out of the car or straight from your desk.  The best athletes are supple, and can move freely.

7.  Weakness:  The further you ride the more likely it is to expose your weaknesses.  If you always get the same pain on a  long ride then that is a clue that you should listen to.  Maybe the muscle in that area is weak or not working properly?  You can use your bodyweight or go to a gym to get stronger, just make sure that you work with good form and that you integrate it into your broader training plan.  Also check out my MTB specific Bodyweight Strength Programme to put you on the right track!

8.  Mental:  Don’t be intimidated by a long day riding.  Just ride at your own pace and take sensible precautions like having enough food and water.  Ride with more experienced and fitter people to give you confidence.  Finally, remember that endurance is very trainable, even in older riders , so get out and ride!

Stay Strong

Ben

Scotland – Enduro World Series and World Cup

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I have just spent the last 2 weeks up in Scotland, racing the Enduro World Series and then going to watch the World Cup in Fort William.  Despite the fact that it rained EVERY DAY, it was a great trip with awesome riding and racing and lots of fun times with my riding buddies and my wife.  Here is what I got up to and my training-related thoughts about the 2 events and some other random stuff too…….

Home for the EWS!

Home for the EWS!

The EWS at Peebles in the Scottish Borders is known for being one of the most technical, steep and slippery tracks on the EWS circuit and this year was no change.  The constant rain meant that the steep and root infested stages around Innerleithen were super slippy and getting a clean run would be very difficult.  Practicing all day Wed and Thurs and resting on Friday, I felt fit and strong on the bike although not quite at race pace as I had only had the bike for a couple of weeks.  I found my riding to be quite inconsistent and found it hard to get a rhythm in practice.  Some parts went really well and I rode right at my limit and at other times I was making silly mistakes, including a pretty big crash at the bottom of stage 7 at Glentress that left me with a pretty multicoloured thigh for the next 10 days!  I think that the main issue for me was getting in the right frame of mind.  Maybe the scale of the event and the quality of competition got to me a bit, but I found it hard to relax and ride my best.  I need to have a think about this and work on improving it in the future.

The inconsistent theme continued on the Saturday with some sections going really well, even catching the rider in front and other sections of the course feeling like I was a toddler without stabilisers for the first time!  By the end of day 1 of racing at Innerleithen I was feeling very second hand, having had quite a big run in with a tree, leaving my shoulder very stiff and sore, and with a stiff wrist and finger from punching a tree in the tight sections.  I was sitting about 200th out of 269 in E1 category and that would have put me in 12th in E2 category out of about 100 riders riding the same course.  I was hoping for better results from day 1 and felt a bit frustrated.  The main thing that I took away from day 1 is that I am just not used to riding and racing such long downhills of 5 minutes or more.  I need to improve my race conditioning by doing two things:  1- Increase the length of my conditioning sessions in the gym ton reflect longer stage times.  2- Actually ride some bigger hills and tracks and do them in one go rather than in sections with a chat to my mates half way down.

Waking up on Sunday morning I knew that I would not be able to race properly.  I could not lift my right arm past shoulder height and my wrist felt pretty weak too so I decided to withdraw which is a bit of a bummer.  For me, as an amateur racing for fun, it is just not worth it, especially being mid-30’s and self employed!  The silver lining was that I got to watch the pro’s come down the final stage into Peebles and that was awesome!  They are at another level and it was inspiring to see them riding so fast on such tricky tracks.  Maybe I will do another EWS next year?!

The week leading up to the World Cup, my wife and I had planned to ride loads, but it did not stop raining the whole time so we only got out once.  Fortunately it was an awesome ride at a little trail centre called Laggan Wolftrax.  This place is really unique in that it is mostly on really grippy (even when wet) rock.  I have never ridden anywhere like it and even if you don’t normally ride trail centres, I would urge you to check it out.  It has some cool features including a massive North Shore style rock roll which was loads of fun and is something I have never seen in this country before.  The cafe is also pretty decent!

You probably don’t really need me to talk much about the World Cup as the MTB social media and web world has been flooded with content, so here are some thoughts about seeing it first hand and the physical considerations for racing DH at a high level.

Every rider who did well was f**ked at the bottom.  No matter how fit they were, they all gave 100% to the final sprint and motorway section.  The lesson here is about mental toughness and determination.  If you want to do well you need to give it all, and push through when the legs and lungs are screaming for you to stop.  This can and should be developed in training, both on the bike and in the gym.

The best riders raced smart and conserved energy on the windy top sections of the moor so that they would have more power available to sprint hard and clear the massive jumps on the motorway section.

The top section is rougher than it looks on TV!  You need to be smooth, relaxed and on the right lines with good upper body strength to move the bike around and pump for speed.

For such a long, sustained track where you may only sit for a few seconds during the whole 5 minutes, core strength and endurance is critical to enable you to maintain a good riding position, absorb hits and put down power when you need to.

Manon’s crash was pretty huge and could have been a lot worse.  As well as her helmet and body armour protecting her from injury, the fact that she is a high level athlete certainly helped too.  Muscle is like armour, protecting the skeleton and organs from injury and impact.  I would also bet that she does regular neck training as part of her strength programme and this will help her to bounce back from big crashes as well as protecting her at the time of the crash.

DH MTB World Cup

DH MTB World Cup

The atmosphere in the finishing arena at For Bill is amazing!  Get it on your MTB bucket list if you have not been already.

I am now back to the gym and back to work.  3 Weeks until UKGE round 2 in Grizedale and the trails back home are dry and dusty.  Happy Days…

Stay Strong

Ben