Training Plan for an Endurance Mountain Bike Race
Endurance mountain biking sees a variety of formats, from 24 hours to multi-day stage races. And while each sub-section within the discipline requires a different training focus, they all share one thing in common: to compete in—or even complete—a marathon bike race, you’ll need to spend hours and hours in the saddle.
Sure, you can just ride every day. And for many first-timers, that is the best approach to mountain bike training (also known as mtb training). But, if your goal is to win a stage or even end up on the final podium, you’ll need more than just miles in your legs. You’ll need a comprehensive mountain bike training plan.
For example, the Breck Epic in Colorado is a six-day stage race during which participants ride approximately 240 miles and climb 40,000 feet. For many road cyclists, the mileage is actually shy of weekly training totals, but that amount of riding on trails in a six-day period quickly takes its toll. The men in the Open division at Breck race an average of 2.5 hours a day, with most stages being closer to three hours. And, if you aren’t quite that speedy, expect to spend quite a bit more time in the saddle.
This bike training program focuses on power intervals and climbing repeats mixed in with longer endurance rides. These are designed to build cardiovascular endurance for long days and tolerance for climbing, while at the same time teaching the body to recover between efforts. They have been written using heart rate zones. Learn how to determine your heart rate zones here.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Mountain Bike Training Tips
- Endurance Mountain Bike Training Schedule
- Cross Country Mountain Bike Training Plan
- Riding for Fun
Mountain Bike Training Tips
The training plan has been designed for the average cyclist who doesn’t have 25-30 hours a week to train. If you do have more time than the average 12-15 hours scheduled, add time onto your endurance rides staying in Zones 1-2. Before you get started, make sure your gear is in order, including essentials like a patch kit, first aid kit and a pump. Also before you get started, determine what size wheel is the right size for you to get the most out of each pedal stroke.
Ideally, longer rides should be ridden on a road bike. This is important because the efforts help to develop cardiovascular endurance while giving the body a break from jarring trails. Living in Park City, most of our trails include quite a bit of elevation gain, so putting in a Zone 1-2 easy ride on the single track is tricky. Additionally, staying on the road makes it easier to perform long, Zone 3-4 efforts.
Off the Beaten (Bike) Path
If you don’t own a road bike, feel free to substitute road riding on your mountain bike during these sessions. Rail trails and extended bike paths make excellent training routes as they feature minimal stopping. Personally, I never understand why many cyclists shun bike paths. When I lived in Los Angeles, I was able to ride 70 miles without seeing a single stop sign or car on the canal paths—and my speed was by no means slow. If you’re lucky enough to have bike paths in your city, take advantage of them.
Cross Country Mountain Bike Training Plan
Cross country (XC) is a different category, and there are a few different things to keep in mind when thinking about how to train for XC mountain bike racing. In XC racing, the start is very important—every MTB XC training plan should include specific training to get the strongest, fastest, most powerful start possible. While the race may last for 90 minutes to two hours, getting a burst at the beginning ensures you are in a front-running position when the trail narrows to a single track.
This requires an intense anaerobic effort for several minutes at the start, followed by a quick recovery into a threshold output. Practice interval training from a stopped position with a foot on the ground, accelerating to near-max effort for two minutes, followed by five minutes of steady threshold effort at a power level of four. Do this two-to-four times, three times a week.
You’ll also get in better overall race shape by doing “3 x 3” minute interval workouts with three minutes of max effort followed by three minutes of recovery riding. If you can build up to doing six or seven of these intervals a couple times a week as part of your XC mountain bike training program, you should see great improvement in your race day performance.
Riding for Fun
Not every day is a race day. Sometimes, you might want to skip intense training and just get out for a ride. Make sure you know what the essentials are to pack for an all-day mountain bike ride. Two obvious essentials are water and food to keep hydrated and keep enough fuel in the tank to keep going. Maybe consider making your own energy gel, which you can tweak to your own taste. It saves money and you’ll always have gel on hand for training or long rides.
Whatever your race goals, you can find a training program that best suits you. Feel free to connect with a Backcountry Gearhead with training or gear questions.