Mini Enduro – Forest of Dean

Landing the drop on Stage 1

Landing the drop on Stage 1

Hot, dry, loose, dusty, rooty and loads of fun, nicely summarises the Mini Enduro this weekend at The Forest of Dean.  It was a sell out event as usual for these relaxed and friendly events with un marshalled practice on the Saturday and then racing on the Sunday.  The 4 stages provided a number of different challenges that would test the riders’ skills, fitness and line choice with wide-open taping and some pretty cheeky lines appearing over the weekend!

For me, this race was my first of the season and I wanted to treat it as a warm up for the UK Gravity Enduro season, starting in May, so although I wanted to do well, it was mostly about confirming where I am at and getting my setup dialled in.  When I was planning my season, this was a lower priority race, meaning that I trained all week as normal and was prepared to sacrifice aspects of this race in order to prepare for UKGE.  For instance, although not mandatory, I chose to wear my Bell Super 2R full face helmet this weekend as that is what I will be required to wear at the UKGE races all summer.  It was hot, sweaty and I would have preferred to wear a trail lid, but I wanted to get a feel for the best way to race with this helmet and practice detaching the chin guard etc.

Spicy on test for Wideopenmag

My race-ready Lapierre Spicy on test for Wideopenmag.

Early season races can be valuable tools for reviewing your current level of fitness and conditioning, so I have spent some time this morning reviewing my performance and seeing if there is anything that I can address in my training programme over the coming weeks.  I purposely did a lot of riding on the Friday (at my local trails) and on the Saturday, practicing at FOD in order to simulate the sort of mileage I may be covering at the UKGE races.  I found that my all-day endurance and ability to ride hard on consecutive days was absolutely fine and I went into the final stage feeling pretty fresh.  A big part of this was down to getting my nutrition right before during and after riding each day.

I felt strong on the bike all day and my conditioning over 2-3 minutes for the stages was pretty good.  I think I could still do more work on my anaerobic engine for hard and prolonged sprints between sections or up short climbs.  Having said that, you can always be a bit fitter in that respect and improving your anaerobic endurance is an almost constant aspect of MTB race training across many disciplines. Either way, I will be getting on the pain-train over the coming weeks in order to improve this aspect of my racing.

Overall I had a great weekend with my best result ever, 16th out of about 120 in Masters.  I missed a couple of my lines and made some small mistakes, so plenty to work on skills and concentration wise, but I am really happy with my performance and can’t wait for Triscombe in a couple of weeks!

Stay Strong

Ben

Sponsoring UK Gravity Enduro in 2015

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I am really pleased to announce that for the second year, the MTB Strength Factory will be a sponsor for UK Gravity Enduro, the number 1 Enduro race series in the UK.  I am looking forward to another summer of racing on awesome tracks surrounded by cool, likeminded people and being able to support the series as a sponsor means a lot.

Feel free to come and say hi at one of the races.  You can pick my brains about training or just come for a chat, but it would be great to meet you.  See you in May!

Stay Strong

Ben

 

Prioritising Your Races For Improved Results

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For those of you looking forward to a busy 2015 MTB race season, now is the time to start planning which races you will be doing and which ones are most important to you.  Some of you may have already done this, but as not all the race series have announced their firm 2015 dates yet, it is not always possible to do so early.  As a general rule though, you should have it all sorted by the new year as your training plan from January will be built around the summer’s racing and your priorities and goals.

The first thing to consider is how many races or events you can actually do over the season.  You should think about cost, travel, time off work and also your physical ability to perform week in and week out for a prolonged period of time.  You may find that you will get better results by entering less races, allowing you more time train.  Bear in mind that after a hard weekend of racing you may take a few days to totally recover and if you are racing consecutive weekends then this basically leaves you no time to train.  Also, do not underestimate the mental strain of racing, especially if you are a competitive person.  Racing too much over the summer can burn you out and leave you lacklustre and less focussed on training and racing.

Assuming that you have decided which races to do, you now need to have a think about which ones are most important to you and which ones less so.  The reason you should do this is that you will want to properly peak for the most important races to give you the best chance of a good result, however you can’t peak for lots of races as you will lose fitness over the season.  Generally races are divided into “A” “B” and “C” priority races with “A” being the most important and “C” being your least important races.

You should start by selecting 1 to 4 “A Priority” races that will be your biggest focus next season.  Picking these races can be tricky and it is important to think it through properly.  For instance you may immediately think the National Champs in your discipline will be an “A” race, however you know that this race will bring out all of the strongest and most competitive riders.  Can you actually compete against them?  If not then maybe you should prioritise another race that may have a slightly weaker field, for instance a national series race on the same weekend as a world cup.  It will still be a hard race with a strong field, but your chances of a good result will be greatly improved if the top riders are away on WC duties, meaning that if you peak properly and put in a good performance you could get a solid result!

Next you need to add the “B Priority” races to your calendar.  These will be fairly important races that often make up the bulk of the race season, especially as they tend to be made up of rounds from a race series.  Consistent attendance and performance ensures a good overall result with these races so they are worth being fresh for and whilst you won’t properly taper your training in the run up to the event you may reduce your training somewhat in the week before so that you are fresh.

Finally, the “C Priority” races are added to the race calendar.  These races are nice extras that you basically train straight through.  They basically become part of your training programme.  The results are not important and you may not even put in 100% effort for these races.  They can still be valuable in their own right though, for things like developing race craft and tactics and for trying out pre-race routines.  For instance you should not ever try a new warm up or pre-race energy drink before an important race.  You should experiment in training and then test it out on a “C” race to see if it works.  Keep a diary and use these races to make sure that you are best prepared for the bigger races throughout the season.  If you are feeling fatigued mid-season then you should look at skipping any “C” races that you may have planned.  Think of them as a nice-to-do part of the main season and a great way to get race sharp in the early season.

Based around the prioritised races you have in your diary now as well as your personal and work life you can construct your training plan to build up to an peak for the “A” races whilst training through the “C” races and something in the middle for the “B” races.  The exact way you will do this and how you programme it will depend on you, your discipline, experience and level of racing which is why I have not gone into it here.

Remember that if you have any questions about this article you can post them on my Facebook Page and I will do my best to answer them.

Have a Strong Christmas

Ben

My Training: 4 Weeks of Strength

 

Squat Rack

Squat Rack

I think that for many people, especially those involved in endurance sports, strength training is misunderstood and rarely applied properly.  When I hear riders talk about doing winter strength training in the gym and how they did 30 reps of squats or whatever, I always want to say, ‘That is not strength training!!!!!’

Strength is the ability to exert maximal forces and to train your strength in the gym you need to move maximal loads through a full range of motion.  This usually means working with weights that are about 80% of your 1 rep max or higher for low reps, like 1-5.  Obviously there is a time and a place for higher rep ranges with lower weights; for instance you may want to put on a bit of muscle, or when first learning an exercise or movement.  Also, there will be supporting exercises that compliment the main lifts of squats and deads, and these can be carried out at higher rep ranges.

Below is my actual training I did over the last 4 weeks, starting on Monday the 3rd of November which was my first day working out of my new gym in Bristol.  To help put it all into context, I will first tell you a bit about my training history…….

The first thing that may surprise you is that prior to November I actually had a quite a long period out of the gym.  This summer I had a big crash at Afan and was unable to train properly for about 2 months, and when I was able to train I only had access to a crappy council gym which was ok, but not ideal for my needs.  I had trained regularly from April when I moved to Bristol up until late June when I fell off.  Before that my wife and I had taken a year out to go travelling and snowboarding so I had done loads of exercise and bodyweight training but very little gym work.  In early 2013, before going away for the year I was the strongest I have ever been, deadlifting 195kg, back squatting 155kg and being able to press 75kg overhead all whilst at 80kg bodyweight.

I was therefore coming into November knowing that I needed to get the basics nailed and that I needed to keep things simple and build my strength back up over the core lifts and movements whilst continuing to rehab my shoulder post-crash which was still hindering press ups, pull ups and overhead exercises.

Training Diary.

3rd Nov

3 minute Aerobic Test on Wattbike – DISGUSTING!

Deadlift:  8@60kg,  8@80kg,  5@100kg,  5@110kg and then 5×3@120kg

TRX Rows 5×8

Kettlebell (KB) Goblet Squat 4×12@20kg

Lying Leg Raises

Press Ups on Fists 4×8.  This is due to an ongoing wrist injury, meaning press ups on palms can be painful.

6th Nov

Back Squat 8@40kg,  8@ 60kg,  5@80kg,  3@90kg,  5×2@100kg

Attempted Overhead Squats but failed due to shoulder.  Pissed off.

Press 4×8@20kg

Pull Ups 4×5

Hanging Knee Raises 5×5

10th Nov

Deadlift 8@60kg,  8@80kg,  6@100kg,  5@100kg,  5×5@115kg

Superset of 5 sets of 12 Press Ups on DBs and 6 Chin Ups

Stiff Leg Deadlift with 4 second lower. 3×5@60kg

Hanging Knee to Elbow Raises 5×5

12th Nov

Front Squat 8@40kg,  8@50kg,  6@60kg,  4×5@70kg

Press 4×12@20kg

Had to cut short due to late client!

14th Nov

Back Squat 8@40kg,  6@60kg,  5@80kg,  2@90kg,  1@100kg,  1@110kg, 2×1@112.5kg

Kettlebell (KB) Swings 20@16kg,  2×20@20kg,  5×10@32kg

Press Ups (On hands but bad wrist taped for support) 4×10

Hanging Knee to Elbow Raises 4×8

17th Nov

Deadlift 8@60kg,  8@80kg,  8@100kg,  5@120kg,  2@130kg,  5×2@140kg

Superset of 5 sets of 14 Press Ups on DBs and 7 Chin Ups

Plank 3 x 1 min

Standing DB Side Bends 3×10 on each side @25kg  This was easy and I made a note in my diary to go 10kg heavier next time.

19th Nov

Back Squat  12@40kg,  8@60kg,  5@80kg,  5×5@100kg

Press  2×8@20kg,  8@25kg,  3×8@30kg – Shoulder feeling good today to increased weight to 30kg.

TRX Rows  4×12

Lying Leg Raises

21st Nov

Front Squat (4 second lower) 8@30kg,  8@40kg,  6@50kg,  5×5@60kg

Superset of 4 sets of 15 Press Ups and 6 Pull Ups

KB Cleans 2×10 each arm @20kg

KB Snatch 2×10 each arm @16kg – This KB work was more revision and practice as I have not snatched a KB in a couple of months due to shoulder injury.  As well as the main reps recorded here, I spent about 20 minutes practicing and working on good form with a variety or weights.

Hanging Knee to Elbow Raises 4×8

25th Nov – Week 4 of Programme and a Recovery Week.

20 minutes of mobility work and movement.

Super deep KB goblet squats with 5 sec hold at the bottom position.  5×5@24kg (2x12kg KBs)

Shoulder stability work on TRX.

20 minutes of stretching and foam rolling.

27th Nov 

This was also supposed to be a recovery day of quality movement and stretching, however I got offered a day labouring on a new MTB and BMX track in Bristol for Architrail who I occasionally work for.  This was actually a total beasting, pushing really heavy wheel barrows across a grassy field and up a hill as well as carrying heavy stuff all day.  Not what I had planned, but I gotta pay the bills!  I did 20 minutes of stretching in the evening though.

Present……..

That brings us nicely to the first week in December where a new 4 week training block begins in the run up to Christmas.  On Monday the 1st (today) I will repeat my 3 minute Aerobic test on the Wattbike and hopefully get a better result as I should be stronger and more powerful than 4 weeks ago.  Over the next 4 weeks I will incorporate more variety into my training and more intensity as I am well aware that I took things pretty steady to get started.  Importantly it all fits in with my long term strategy to prepare myself for next season so I don’t feel like I am behind or anything!  As I go forward I will have to review and evaluate the last 4 weeks and that is where my training diary is essential to my long term progress and goals.

I hope that this is helpful to you in some way.  It is not about showing off (I have a long way to go anyway) or about saying that this person or trainer is wrong and that I am right, but it is about letting you know how I do things and a bit about why.

Stay Strong

Ben

 

Racing Roundup

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I am back from sunny Scotland (really – it was actually sunny!) and I am glad to say I survived the Enduro World Series, with its long climbs and super-tech stages, it was a real challenge for me.  Below I will talk you through some of my thoughts on how I could better train and prep my body for an event like this.  If you have not read it already, then check out my report from the UKGE race the weekend before where I talk about my preparations for the EWS and how I felt coming into it: http://mtbstrengthfactory.com/racing-riding-racing/

Starting  on the Saturday morning I felt fresh and strong on the bike and I was certainly glad that I took the Friday off as a total recovery day.  The sun was out and the first long transition from Peebles all the way to Innerleithen was actually pretty relaxed, with 90 minutes allocated for the ride out.  I had about 15 minutes to spare to compose myself and sort myself out before the first stage.  I don’t know what was up but I had a shocker on the first stage and really struggled to find any rhythm and flow on the trail, having a couple of crashes and plenty of nearly moments.  Half way through the stage was a sickening 600m fire-road climb that was a total killer, especially in the sun with my full face on, and the best way to attack this was to get the Reverb up and spin up as quick as you could.  Even Jared Graves didn’t just sprint this!  I would have liked to put in a bit more gas into this climb feature, but held back a little partly due to the seriously steep drop in off the road at the end of it and partly because it was stage 1 of a 50km day.

Stage 2 was pretty similar for me with a comfortable transition followed by a really tricky stage where I had a big over the bars into a rock garden which was not cool.  I was just riding like a total loser and getting a bit frustrated to be honest.  Luckily, there was a long ride out to stage 3 and I took a little time to ride on my own and have a chat with myself about how my day was going.  I knew I was a better rider and that if I just chilled out I could get down the hill smoother and of course quicker.  Stage 3 is where things started to look up for me and despite it being the steepest and most tech of the whole event, I stayed on the bike and got a pretty clean and controlled run in that I actually enjoyed.  Knowing that I had that behind me and with only 1 climb to go and the last stage which I loved, I was starting to feel a lot happier and was actually pretty phsyched about hitting the last stage and getting a bit more flow and speed going.

Climbing up to stage 4 I realised that I was actually feeling pretty fresh as I spun up, and certainly felt better then I had at the UKGE event the previous Sunday.  I was well up for the last stage and rode it really well, getting my best result of the weekend of 168th in the male category, including all of the pro’s and 1 min 20 behind Nico Lau which was pretty good in my book!  As I spun back to Peebles and the end of the day I was thinking about how I felt on the bike and realised that the previous week of racing and practice had acted like a sort of training camp and I had gone into day 1 of the EWS feeling fitter and stronger on the bike then I had felt just 1 week before.  If you remember my write up about UKGE at Inners, I decided that more long distance rides were needed in my programme.  Well it seemed like the combination of a whole week of long, hilly Scottish riding and some proper rest and food had really paid off and I was feeling good.

Innerleithen Gravity Enduro

After eating as much as I could on the Sat night, I woke up on Sunday feeling a little stiff, but generally pretty good.  A lot of people were worried about the first transition to the top of Glentress, but me and the lads around me knocked it out without any real dramas and with time to spare, including the legendary ‘Spooky Wood’ climb.  I was surprised how good I felt and knew that the Sunday stages were more flowing and fun and I was really looking forward to the ‘shorter’ 38km day and hoping to get some better times in and stay on my bike.

The Sunday went really well and I rode the stages as fast as I could.  I felt smooth on the bike and strong on the pedals, and did not fall off all day which was a result!  These stages were so much fun and the crowds were amazing, cheering you on, and shouting ‘Get off the brakes!’  I finished the day buzzing, and feeling like I could have pedalled up for another go on stage 8.

I finished in 188th out of 223 in the Men’s 18-39 category, including all of the pro’s and EWS team riders.  In the end I was pretty happy with this result, and looking back critically I have the following thoughts on my training and preparation and what I can do to become a better rider and racer:

1. The bottom line is that I need to be a better rider and bike handler!  It is hard to admit to, but most of the guys around me on the race were just better riders.  I have come back from Scotland a better rider, but there is always room for improvement, so I will be getting some coaching to try and improve myself further.

2. I have grown stronger on the bike over the 9 days in Scotland, however I do need to put in a few more regular over-distance rides so that my all day endurance is better.

3. I need to do some more work on my anaerobic endurance, working on intervals from 2 to 5 minutes to improve my stage fitness and ability to really push myself on the inevitable fire-road climbs that seem to crop up at these events.

4. My upper body, back and posture always felt strong and able to cope with the stages, so I will work on maintaining that.  Interestingly over the course of the 9 days I did lose some muscle mass from my chest, shoulders and arms despite eating loads and all the technical riding.

5. My mental preparation could have been better.  I really think that the first 2 stages on the Saturday could have gone better if I was more relaxed and had gotten myself in a better mental and emotional state to race stages that I knew were super hard and at my technical limits.  Generally this is not much of a problem for me as I am a confident and positive person, but maybe the difficulty and the fact it was a ‘World Series’ event got to me a bit.

6.  I was happy with my nutrition, kit and bike prep and feel that none of these held me back.  As I said before, the Torq products were very good and kept me going all week.

Looking back it has been an amazing experience and I will certainly enter next year if it comes back to the UK.  I have learnt a lot and developed as a rider and head towards the UKGE at Afan in a couple of weeks feeling fit, fast and confident.

Stay Strong

Ben

Big thanks to Doc Ward for the photographs!