Race Specific Preparation is Always a Good Idea

Distance: 22.57 miles
Time: 1:23:48
Average Watts: 174 watts
Normative Power: 220 watts
Average Heart Rate: 144 bpm
Total Work: 869 kJ
Average Speed: 16.3 mph

I know that is a slow average speed, but this was a ride that went up one of my favorite local climbs. The climb is almost exactly 5.0 miles long and gains about 1,234 feet in that distance for an average grade of 4.8%. While there are steeper climbs around here, the length of the climb combined with the incline make this one no joke. I love to use it as a test of my fitness levels.

For me the gold standard on the Suncrest climb is a sub 30:00. If you start your watch at SR 92 where the road turns uphill and stop it at the very top of the hill, you will get a hair under 5.0 miles. When I started this climb today I told myself I was feeling strong and today was the day to get to the top under 30:00. I turned my Garmin 500 to the screen that I have set up for climbing and then just pedaled. I really felt like I was pushing the pace all the way up to the top.

When I crested the climb, I stopped my watched and I had done the south side of Suncrest in 30:07. It wasn’t the sub 30:00 I wanted, but it was good enough for a personal best. I averaged 231 watts for these 30:00 and my normative power was at 247 watts. Somehow, my legs showed up to ride today. That really makes me happy.

Race Specific Prep Can Help

I have LOTOJA coming up and I have to admit this is a race that has humbled better riders that me. It is the 205 mile epic ride from Logan Utah to Jackson Hole Wyoming that features almost 10,000 feet of climbing, with the majority of that coming in three mountain passes in the first 110 miles. The worst of the passes is about 23.0 miles long when you get down to it. Over those miles we will climb 2,318  feet. Most of that comes in the last 14.0 miles of the climb. The great news is you have two more mountain passes to get up and over once you are done with this one.

So to actually make it over the pass with your legs still connected to your hips, training specificity enters into the picture. While it is important in a ride of 205.0 miles to be prepared for the long slogging that will undoubtedly be included as part of the false flats and actual flats, your legs need to be prepared to climb and to be able to quickly recover. I have specific goals for this race, and to reach them I need to be able to climb like a goat.

To train specifically for this race, I have included races and rides in my training schedule that include some serious climbing. Take the Triple Bypass that starts near Denver Colorado as an example. The second day of that ride included over 10,000 feet of climbing at a higher altitude for only 125.0 miles. The hardest climb was up and over Loveland Pass. It was about 15.71 miles with 3,567 feet of climbing. While it was a little longer than the climb at LOTOJA, it also featured a lot more elevation gain. I believe that it prepared me well for the mental aspects of the climb at LOTOJA. It also helped me realize you don’t want to run out of liquids, nutrition, or get caught up in a rainstorm on a climb like this. None of those three things help your mental state on a climb. I can control the liquids and nutrition part. Someday I may be able to control the weather, but testing on the machine to do that so far has revealed some weaknesses.

The climb up to the Bald Mountain Pass on the Tour of Park City’s Gran Fondo has a similar profile. In 19.75 miles from the Ranger Station to the top of Bald Mountain Pass, you climb 2,557 feet. Now granted that climb comes after 105.0 miles of riding with 4,594 feet of elevation gain. However, it did help me experience real pain climbing because my legs were worked before I even started the climb up Bald Mountain Pass. This climb was probably the closest I could get to the LOTOJA climb. There were two small climbs after Bald Mountain Pass, which helped approximate how my legs may feel for the final two climbs during LOTOJA.

Lately I have been spending time either ascending or descending and very little time riding the flats. As I start my taper two weeks before LOTOJA, I will come back into the valley and not push my power so high to give my legs the chance to recover a little before the race. I am doing LOTOJA with some great riders, which means I have a responsibility to them to be as prepared as possible within my physical and genetic limitations. If I expect to ride in a group, I should also be expected to contribute in a significant way. The only way to do that is to make sure I am physically and mentally prepared for the climbing during LOTOJA.

How to Plan for It

I would suggest that eight weeks out from your race you start to incorporate workouts that will mimic specific portions of your race. Bricks are a great example for triathletes. As you transition from your bike to your run during a bike to run brick, you can practice your T2 strategy. You should also plan on using a bike and run course that is as close to the portions of each leg that concern you. I haven’t ever done a swim to bike brick, but I know people who swear by them. My bricks are always bike to run and man do I love that pain in your legs for the first mile of the run. No matter how much you spin the last 10 minutes of your bike, your legs will always take a little time to recover from your effort on the bike. My suggestion: Never stop moving. If your legs really hurt, walking them with long strides will help loosen them up for your run. Always. Keep. Moving.

Runners and cyclists can also benefit from workouts that are similar to race day conditions. For your long effort one week, you should get up and start at the same time as your race does. You should match your nutrition to what you think you will be following on race day. If you know there will be a long section of uphill or downhill, you should train in similar conditions. There is a local marathon with a ton of steep downhill and I always emerge from that section of the course with quads that are on the verge of failure. Next time I run that marathon I will include some serious downhills to strengthen my quads for the effort. That also means if it is windy, you should definitely go out and train. Training in tough conditions will prepare you mentally if those same conditions are present on your race day.

During my two week taper, I decrease the number of workouts along these lines. I don’t cut them out all together, but they do get shorter. The last climbing effort I do before LOTOJA will probably be the Monday or Tuesday before the race. I will select a climb that isn’t too tough so that I do not burn up my legs but they do remember what it takes to crest an ascent. The tough part when tapering is to hold yourself back and keep your effort within the guidelines that you have set.

Does anyone else include very detailed workouts in their schedule to mimic the same course conditions for their A races? Do you think it makes you stronger physically? Does it prepare you mentally for the effort that will be required?

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...