Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Training for the Tour Divide Race

It is only fair that I start this post with the warning that I am writing this post before making my rookie run at the Tour Divide Race. June 2015 I'll be just another doe-eyed noob letting the reality of the situation sink in at the start line. But that said, I thought I'd take some time to write down my approach to training leading up to the big event. If nothing else, this could prove to be an entertaining read after the race.

Training to me is much more than just physical fitness. Sure you have to be able to pedal a bike long distances day after day. But there is so much more to it than that. I'll attempt to cover them all here.

Fitness

Obviously fitness is a critical piece to the puzzle. If you can't ride a bike very far, you'll never survive the TDR. But how do you train for 2700 miles?

For normal XC racing, I would always go out and ride 1.5x to 2x the race distance on training rides. If I felt good going farther then I could approach races with confidence that I could finish the 20-30 miles and feel strong throughout the race.

This served me well in the XC world but a new approach would be needed for the TDR.

My approach is to focus on quality over quantity. I ride with both a heart rate monitor and a power meter so I can ride very prescribed workouts. I typically only spend 10 hours a week on a bike. Most of those 10 hours are spent in the sweet spot power range.

I also ride six days a week. Getting used to back-to-back-to-back rides is huge. But so is recovery. So one day a week I spend no time working out at all.

Everyone says you gotta love riding your bike to do the TDR. I have no doubts that this is true. Passion is the only thing that gets me out on the bike when its 34 degrees and raining or 16 and the roads are covered with ice. To quote the Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, "Preparation leads to separation." If I put in the time and effort to be prepared then I will rise above the competition.

While the typical week is 10 hours, select weeks go much higher. I will often put in some bigger weekends with five or six hours a day on the bike both Saturday and Sunday. Again, riding in the sweet spot so my effort is much higher than it is during a typical bikepacking event.

I have also done several mock races where I spend three or four days riding 100+ miles fully loaded and self supported. My longest day so far has been 130 miles. 

I make sure my fully-loaded training days include hike-a-bike. Even if the route is easy, I like to get off and walk a bit just to stretch out my back and legs. But I make sure there are some sections where riding is not an option at all. My favorite/least favorite hike-a-bike to include in rides is a road that was recently decommissioned. It involves about an hour of carrying/pushing my bike over mounds of loose dirt and water-filled holes. I rode this a few times in the summer to "simulate" snow.

Ride at night. Practice with your lights. Get to know how roads and trails look. Learn how long your lights last. Are you using a dyno with endless light or batteries. If the latter, what is your charging plan?

I post all my rides to Strava and share Strava on this site so you can see everything I do on a bike.

Nutrition

Nutrition is another key part of my training plan. On training rides its easy to make sure I have all the best foods available. I can eat a good breakfast, pack nutritious foods, and have quality recovery meals. None of which will be available on the divide. So I have been practicing eating convenience store foods.

This sounds simple enough. But until you've eaten nothing but junk food for four days straight and pushed your body to the limits you really don't know what foods work for you. I have dealt with stomach problems from eating the wrong foods. I have bonked from eating too little, and I have gotten so sick that I couldn't eat anything I had with me.

I am still learning and expect this will be a never-ending evolution.

Thus far I have learned Coke always tastes good. Mini donuts make the best breakfast. I also need to find a better source of protein and still need to find better portable savory foods.

If the only thing available is a convenience store and they have a microwave then use it. A warm meal goes a long ways. Even if it is just a microwave burrito.

If you've never filtered water then go do it. You may not need to do it on the TDR, but then again, you may. Make sure your filter works and you know how to work it. And make sure you trust it to filter properly so don't just filter it, but drink it. Lots of it.

Camping

Before I started training for the TDR, my idea of camping was popping the top on my Volkswagen van. I needed to learn how to carry all my gear with me on rides and how to use it.

I set out on both short and long trips with all my gear. I set up camp in the middle of nowhere and near civilization. I set up camp at night with sub freezing temperatures. And I have more to do. The more experiences I have, the more prepared I will be.

The worst is yet to come as I am planning a bikepacking trip around Christmas so I can get cold and wet and learn how to deal with this. I am not looking forward to this particular run, but will be better off for having done it. December in Seattle is not pleasant.

To bivy or not to bivy? For me I haven't made the leap to the bivy yet. I use a small tent. My Big Agnes Fly Creek 1-man tent is only 1.5 pounds so it is the same weight as many bivies but makes me much more comfortable. The thing I like about a tent is that it gives me complete protection from the weather. The penalty for comfort comes in the time it takes to set up and tear down. It's only a few minutes, but on the TDR that time will add up.

Racing

I've done several mock races around Washington state. But it just isn't the same as a race. I know the terrain around here. I know if I get in trouble I can call for help. I always know my way to civilization. No matter how much I study the route, the TDR consist of a lot of the unknown.

To experience the unknown I went to Reno in October and did the first ever Trans North California Race. There was very little info on the route and it was in an area I had never been before. Racing from Reno, NV to Mendocino, CA was 400 miles of complete unknown.

This race also allowed me to travel with my bike, get all my gear to a remote location, set up my bike and race without the safety net of any home-field advantage.

The race went well and I learned a lot. Next is to apply my learnings to the Stagecoach 400 in March. This will be my second-ever bikepacking race and my last chance to get things figured out before the TDR.

Bike Fit

If your bike isn't comfortable forget riding the TDR. I did a few trips where saddle sores were a big problem. It seems I wasn't lining up properly on the saddle and the result was extremely painful.

Early on I my aero bars were worse than bloody useless. I couldn't stay in that position for more than a few seconds. After constant tweaking I now have those dialed where they can be used with comfort.

Ride with and without chamois cream. What works best for you. I'm hoping once I get the fit dialed on my new bike I can go without.

Bike Maintenance

If you're a wrench at the local bike shop then you can skip this section and probably give me a few pointers in the comments. Otherwise, it is pretty important to get out and ride your bike a ton just so things can go wrong.

For example, I have ridden bikes for most of my life. However, I have never slashed the sidewall on a tire. Not until the Trans North California Race. While it sucked to have this happen during a race, I'm glad it happened so I got to learn how to fix it. I am now more confident that I will be ok if this happens in the TDR.

Does your chain lube work best when applied at night before sleep or in the morning?

Don't forget to pump up your tires. Every couple days you'll want to top them off or they will gradually slow you down until you either notice or have a problem.

Routine

Having a routine will be key in the TDR. What time do you sleep, how long, what time do you get up? Practice this. I was surprised to find how different my sleep schedule is during a race or multi-day trip than when at home.

I like to wake with the sun and pack things quickly. I then start out walking. I don't hop on the bike for another 10-20 minutes to make sure I'm fully awake and limbered up. I then eat a little breakfast while pedaling.

I prefer to ride into the night, but hate starting before light.

 

3 comments:

  1. Great read. I am learning as I go. Its amazing how much planning there is when racing these type of events.

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  2. Thanks Josh. Like you, I have been consuming everything I can find for quite some time. Learning is part of the fun.

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  3. I like your 1.5X training ride strategy. I usually blow up during MTB races because the intensity is so high but the distance is the same. I need to up the off road distance a bit and ligh some 100 mile road rides as well. See you at the races, good luck on your adventure!

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