Two Months to My First Xterra - Keeping it Simple
By Ian Stokell
Two months to my first Xterra.
Bricks. Negative-splits. Torque. Work-to-rest ratio. Lactate threshold heart rate. Power-to-weight ratio. Cadence. Metabolic rate. VO2 max. Taper.
Phew! My head hurts. That's not right. It should be my muscles that are feeling it, not my head!
Even though, at 48 years old, I've got an MA in Physical Education and a sports coaching book published by McGraw-Hill, my forte is really in team coaching and motivating athletes. So I'm thinking I need some practical advice.
However, it's like trying any new sport. You can read dozens of books and articles but I think you really only learn how to train for that sport once you start taking part in competitions and races. That will tell you where your strengths and weaknesses are under pressure.
So until that time, I plan on building up a base fitness that is Xterra sport-specific.
I've found over the years there's one golden rule of excellence in any sport: learn as much as you can, but keep it simple. Then ease into the fancy stuff once you've mastered the basics, both technique and training.
Once you get passed the basic fitness level though, one size does not fit all!
Talking of size, I'm 205 pounds and 6 foot 3 inches tall. So there's only one place I should be going for oversized advice: three time Xterra World Champion Conrad "The Caveman" Stoltz - a svelte 185 pounds but, like me, 6 foot 3.
Stoltz, on his official Web site (www.conradstoltz.com), says, "Xterra...is an endurance event. Don't let the seemingly short distances fool you. Think sustained power evenly delivered over 2.5 hours or more. Getting from A to B as fast as possible is all about even pacing."
I hear you Caveman. Go hard but steady. I can do "steady."
More advice needed.
What about Melanie McQuaid? She's been Xterra World Champion three times as well. She did it before Stoltz. She's a lot shorter than him but much better looking. No offense Caveman!
On her Web site (www.racergirl.com) she talks about a "smooth pedal stroke" and "quiet upper body" on the bike. I try and keep my upper body as still and controlled as possible as I don't want to be wobbling all over the place on narrow trails during the race.
But more importantly, she also talks about drinking red wine. She even has a picture of her wine "cellar" on her web site. That's what I'm talking about!
What about my actual training program? Keep it simple.
I do bricks because I like them. From decades of coaching a variety of sports I've found that the best training for a sport is the sport itself. So if the sport calls for multiple disciplines following one another, seems reasonable to me that's how you train.
And bricks in training also get your body used to making the transition between disciplines.
My program includes two long rides at the weekend, each 3-4 hours. I also train four days during the week: three days I ride for an hour - twice bricked with a run, and once bricked with a swim. The fourth day during the week I brick a swim with a run, and leave out the bike. I usually have one rest day.
On my weekday rides, there is a steep 0.75-mile climb close to where I live in San Diego, so my hour on the bike includes six repeats of that hard climb. I aim for fast pedal turnover (cadence) on the climbs - the consensus seems to be somewhere around 90 rpm. And keep it smooth.
I use the mountain bike as much as possible so as to stay comfortable with its handling, even on road sessions.
And I have a system for bike training, whether it's on the road or on trails. I go hard up the hills (70-80%), steady on the flat (50-60%), easy on the downhills, and stay off the brakes - this is Xterra after all right?
I must admit, I don't like swimming! So it's definitely a case of quality over quantity when I get in the pool. I focus on keeping my head low in the water and maintaining a fluid, rhythmic action. The other hundred problems I have with my swim technique can wait until after my first Xterra!
I have a bad back at the moment so I have to take it easier on the running than I'm used to. Long distances are a problem, so I keep my runs to just 20-30 minutes. There's an off-road hill close by that I incorporate in a regular 10-minute trail-run loop. I figure that hill climbs and descents should definitely be part of anyone's run training. And whenever possible I try and run on trails, not pavement.
Strength training and nutrition are also important.
While I think most strength should come from the sport itself, customized gym sessions can do wonders in overcoming certain muscle or power weaknesses.
I eat a low fat diet and burn up a lot of calories in training. It works for me…ish! When I was running 10-15 miles a day a few years ago, the very same diet got me down under 190 pounds, but people kept asking me if I was sick! I looked like crap! Now I'm up to 205 and I still look like crap! What's with that?
Eating healthy is generally the best advice.
You're never too inexperienced to start tapering before a race. So, closer to race day, about 2-3 weeks out, I'm going to decrease volume by about 30% and up the speed and intensity of one or two sessions (adding some intervals for example). In the final week, I'll cut everything down to about 50% of normal, maintain the frequency, but reduce the intensity.
Okay! That's enough theory. The only thing that's going to help me now in my first Xterra is sweat in training!
But I think I've got the idea. Go hard but steady. Keep things smooth. Have fun. Drink some red wine. And stay off the brakes.
Sounds good to me. See you at the finish line, or the first-aid tent, or both.
Ian's first Xterra should be the REAL in Sacramento on March 30, 2008. His next article will be on goal setting.
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