Case Study: Late Season Training
A mountain biker I have known for several years wrote asking what I'd suggest he do in training as he builds to his last A-priority race of the season in September. Since late spring he has mostly been doing a lot of intervals, especially long work intervals at about FTP/lactate threshold. These have worked quite well for him. He was second in his category at Nationals this year and it sounds like he has been competitive at local races throughout the year. But since recovering from Nats and returning to the same type of training he senses that his fitness has reached a plateau. So he wandered if he should change his workout focus.
I get questions like this from athletes almost daily. They are very difficult to answer. Even when I coach someone resolving such matters is a real challenge. So doing this for an athlete I know little about is especially challenging. But I took a stab at his question anyway. Of course, I qualified my reply by being sure he understood I was merely guessing based on what I often see in athletes who have trained like this early in the season.
What I told him was that there are four things I'd recommend trying in training between now and his last A race. Here they are...
1. Once each week do 5 x 3 minutes on a hill at CP6 (the highest average power he can maintain for 6 minutes at max effort) with 3-minute recoveries. After the last 3-minute recovery do a 30-minute steady state ride at FTP/lactate threshold on a flat to rolling course. This workout may boost his aerobic capacity to a new high, elevate his economy by improving power, and raise his LT as a percentage of VO2 max. These may be done on the road or on the trail.
2. Weekly do 3 sets of 5 x 20 seconds at near max effort with 40 second recoveries. Recover for 3 to 5 minutes between sets. These may be done on a hill or flats. These sessions will improve his tolerance to acid and may train his systems to remove acid from body fluids more quickly. I'd recommend usually doing this on a section of a trail.
3. Ride a long off-road session each week at a moderate effort working especially on handling skills.
4. Evenly space these three workouts throughout the week by separating them with 48 to 72 hours doing only easy, recovery rides or days off.
Every fourth week he should take 3 to 4 consecutive days of very easy training, perhaps with a day off, early in the week. Then late in the week test CP6 and CP30 to confirm the numbers he would use for the next three weeks in session #1 above. Finish the week with either workout #1, #2 or #3 above depending on what he thinks is most needed. With two weeks to go until his last race he should start the peaking process described in my Training Bible books. This means only one week of peaking followed by a race-week taper.
I wish I could assure him that it would work but there are no promises. I'm pretty sure it will boost his fitness, however. Unfortunately (fortunately?) training is as much an art as a science. And not knowing everything about the athlete makes it even more of an art. I'll let you know how he does.