XC Training

Cardy George

Piercing rural members since 1981
So this racing thing has taken hold, and I'm annoyingly close to the front of the field. Problem is I don't know what to focus on first to improve my position in the pack. Is it pure strength? Aerobic capacity? Muscle endurance? The only MTB focussed info I can find here, or anywhere, is either 10 years old or hidden behind a broken link.

Hopefully this thread will pool together some knowledge for others to learn from.

So the things I know about me:

• I can stay with the fast guys for the first lap, then I blow up. The next lap is recovering from the start, then I can settle into a sustainable speed/heart rate and can hold that for the remainder of the race, about an hour or so, without losing too much more time. I think that's an experience thing, I'm getting better at moderating my efforts at the start but clearly need to boost something to be able to stay with them.

• I can hold 175 - 180 bpm over the whole 1.5 hrs, and my max HR is around 192 bpm, but that was many years ago. I have seen 190 not too long ago.

• I have decades of long, but not especially fast rides. Not so much now, but I used to ride 100km every Saturday, and then commute 5 days a week. That was reflected in a time trial a week ago, where I lost 40 secs over 6km, but only 50 secs over 10km.

• I ride to work everyday. So I don't have to find time for training. I'm already on the thing anyway.

I know I'm not going to catch the fast guys this year, but I'd like to be closer to them.

Finally my main goal is the longer endurance style multi-hour events. I'm looking at completing our local 3 hour this year as a start, being competitive at it next year and then working my way up to completing a 24 hour in a few years time


Fartes of Portingale
Looking at what you've offered above I'd recommend interval training on one then moving to two days of your commute and also scheduling in some recovery days, I think this is where your biggest gains will be. Another thing that is often overlooked is bike skills, watch the guys in front for a bit, do they look like they're putting in more or less effort relative to you, if you can maintain a greater average speed through corners and over obstacles then your relative effort will reduce and you'll be able to maintain pace for longer. Next on your list should be nutrition and patience, if you've just started your racing journey stick with the plan and the results will come.


Likes Bikes and Dirt
Maybe a different race strategy might also be worth thinking about. Some people are just slower starters so might be worth letting the leaders get a very slight advantage in the first couple of laps then ratcheting up the pace a bit. This was always my style of racing when running (though I was firmly mid pack!).
That easier first lap might give you more towards the end.
Other thoughts - commuting is not really the best training, tends to be a lot of 'junk' miles. Road riding with a fast bunch would be better.
Otherwise intervals and Zwift!


Eats Squid
A session or two of off the bike leg work, incorporating things like deadlifts and goblin squats, will do wonders for your power. You're obviously pretty aerobically fit, and the extra power will boost that performance as the k's tick by.

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Cardy George

Piercing rural members since 1981
@cokeonspecialtwodollars - I'm at the very least equal to them skills wise. And I'm starting to get a good understanding of the track, I'm finding I'm not pinning the brakes as much then having to get back up to speed

@SlowManiac - the commuting is non-negotiable, being a single car family. Figured I might as well put it to good use. Strategy thoughts a good tho!

@Calvin27 - the bike is not the problem!

@Ultra Lord - yaw a dick, but I loves ya

Unfortunately a power meter is extremely unlikely to happen this year, but what I've been trying to implement is this:

Every morning in to work is treated like a recovery ride, HR stays below 120 for 20km.

Monday - skills work, moderate pace.

Tuesday - race simulation. Flat out for the 1.5hrs home

Wednesday - Recovery, skills focus. HR around 130

Thursday - I carry 5kg worth of tools every week so I try and do some sprint work from traffic lights. That trip is only 8km. Is it enough?

Friday - Recovery ride 25km or so HR 130ish

Then on non-race weekend Saturday I do 3 hrs at 160ish, which normally nets me 70km of both on and off road.

And we race once a month on Sundays

Please, rip my plan to shreds if you think it's no good.

And on the intervals. Am I looking to do more of the longer sustained efforts or a mix?


Eats Squid
Unlike virtually anyone here except Ozzybmx...I know this track (it's a pedal fest - no coasting if you want the win) and I know the two blokes you are chasing. Both are fit lads that have excellent endurance. And it's that endurance you'll have to match.

Intervals on the track itself help no end. Especially in places like the The Run Away, Back Straight, The Gully Run and (above all) The Red Country/Lennie's Logs.

I used to be able to put quite a bit into fellow B graders on either side of Lennie's.

The other place to try is down at Kings Billabong and Psyche Bend...see if you can fit in a commute down through there on the crusher dust trails rather than punting along the tar.

The tall bloke started back in the B's only a few seasons ago... you'll get there.

Cardy George

Piercing rural members since 1981
Unlike virtually anyone here except Ozzybmx...I know this track (it's a pedal fest - no coasting if you want the win) and I know the two blokes you are chasing. Both are fit lads that have excellent endurance. And it's that endurance you'll have to match.
Sarge and BJ? Mr President doesn't count in my eyes. They're good blokes, always encouraging me to go harder.
Intervals on the track itself help no end. Especially in places like the The Run Away, Back Straight, The Gully Run and (above all) The Red Country/Lennie's Logs.
Getting out there is the challenge, I live just south of Red Cliffs so....
The other place to try is down at Kings Billabong and Psyche Bend...
are already part of my commute. :D
The tall bloke started back in the B's only a few seasons ago... you'll get there.
I've got a few seasons of catching up to do, but I'll get them.


Likes Bikes and Dirt
The effort that loses you contact with the front guys is the repeat top end accelerations - that’s what you need to practice.

An XC race is not a TT, it’s hundreds of all out accelerations while you are already at or above your threshold.

If you wish to ride a bike faster, raising your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) is the key to everything.

If you have 11 rides a week (10 commutes and the weekend) I’d be trying to make 3-4 of the morning sessions really hard - I mean really hard.

Basic principle is make your easy rides really easy and your hard rides really hard

A power meter is the best tool you can have because it shows you exactly how hard you are working.


XMAS Plumper
Find a long hill with a steady 5-8% gradient and, oh wait .... where do you live again ?

Seriously, no need for a power meter. You’re not a pro and money’s better spent on a kinetic trainer and the family to ‘buy’ free time !

I’d be doing one 1 min intervals session and one 3 min intervals session a week which should take an hour each including warm up and cool down. Two easier days between. On the weekend go ride the trails for at least the race length time. Warm up play time, hammer session for an hour and then a bit of cool down play time.

You’ll be surprised how much the short intervals improve your endurance over race length. They train your body to recover from efforts.

Any other other commutes should be super easy as those three sessions should leave you with sufficient fatigue / training load if you’re doing them right !

Stationary trainers ain’t fun for most people but they are damn good for interval sessions.


It's Not Easy Being Green
Have a look at this program, I started it, then had to stop but the gains in the short term were really good. I'll be getting back on it for sure!



Eats Squid
The friel book has a lot going for it - just a proviso, that iv dread all this stuff, am a total nerd, but can only be anywhere in the pointy end when surrounded by freakish athletes in a team.....

So on knowledge rather than a lifetime of performance experience, Caad9 is sort of saying what I was thinking. Your regime concentrated on being soft, and only going hard very occasionally. No one who is fast seems to ride at a relaxed 130 heart rate (unless just riding with the group). Probably just 2 recovery days are all that is required per week, but you sure need at least 3/4 days that are hard. A slight move in FTP will make a difference - using heart rate to estimate it is good enough. Look towards 92%93% of max rate as a decent FTP estimate of where you should get to.

I’d do 2 interval sessions. - good data for T max intervals I think they are called - works out for you as 2 minute hills at HR rising to 18o and staying above towards 2 minutes then recover for 2 x interval period then repeat. - you are trying to do 5 of them. It’s brutal, on second thoughts, 2 of them a week might make you hate life.....

Oh and ride the track at race pace once a week if you can - specificity of training - same laps, same pace

Feeling like you are going to die is good.... ;)


Likes Bikes and Dirt
It sounds like a combination of fitness and experience that's keeping you off the top step. I know that sounds obvious but from what you've been saying you can keep up for the first lap, you recover over the second and then you can't catch them before the end. I think it's simply you're gassing yourself too much trying to keep up on that first lap flyer and working at a higher percentage of your lactate threshold compared to those in front.

And if that's not the case, then it could simply be that they can repeat those high efforts more often than you. Luckily efforts at v02 max levels are easy to build, but also easy to lose. Hence why it's trained closer to your race season. You could do 1 to 2 mins at v02 max (usually 120% of FTP, so higher than threshold heartrate) with 30sec/1min recoveries in between. This will train your body to be able up hit hard for a few mins and be able to repeat it, again and again over the course of the race

Picture for example

Another staple workout that gives good returns is sweetspot stuff. This is good for building muscular endurance and will allow you to work at a higher percentage of your threshold for longer periods. These can start out at 5-10 mins long and run out to 30mins at sweetspot (95%ish of FTP, just below your lactate threshold or heartrate) later on in your training

Pic for example

And the other part of the equation is just plain ol experience! I'm by no means an expert as I only just started racing 18 months ago, but I'm constantly learning and trying new things. Nutrition, strategy, gear etc all play a part.

Best piece of advice I can give (and I have to remind myself of sometimes) is to set process goals, not outcome goals. If you go into each race with the goal of winning you'll get frustrated and beat yourself up. But something like testing a new nutrition strategy or nailing a section of trail you might struggle on etc are good ways to approach an event or ride.


Eats Squid
Sarge and BJ? Mr President doesn't count in my eyes.
Was thinking Pres and BJ. Forgot about Sarge...mostly because when he came back, he kept trying to pass me saying "I'm a roadie", implying he was faster (true) but then promptly crashing at the next hurdle and having to do the whole passing schtick again (therefore fit but hopeless)...after the three laps it took him to get away, I was generally glad to see the back of him!

In the end...at Coomie, it's all about finding your groove and not blowing up. Just keep pedalling at a rate that doesn't pop your heart and go as smooth as you can through places like the Play Pen to keep your heart rate out of the ping.

This was also why I often tried to introduce or encourage the introduction of technical features. I couldn't pedal with those idiots but I could do the fun shit perhaps better than they could...