EPC Tips - Training for XTERRA Mountain Championship
By Cody Waite
One of my personal favorite races of the year is coming up at the Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado: the XTERRA Mountain Championship, on July 16th. With summer in full gear you should have plenty of aerobic miles under your legs, as well as some anaerobic training and racing. The course at Beaver Creek requires some special skills and fitness requirements to be able to perform well there. The two biggest obstacles, and change from the "XTERRA Norm" to this point in the year, is racing at altitude and the the large amount of climbing found in the Colorado mountains. Personally I love climbing and while the altitude makes things tough, the trade off is that you don't have to deal with extreme heat or humidity. So you can quit your whining and chalk this race up to diversity and challenge! What follows are some tips and training suggestions to focus on while you prepare for one of XTERRA's most demanding fitness courses.
First we'll address the area you can effect the most easily and gain the most benefit from: increasing your climbing fitness. The Beaver Creek course begins with a long steady climb right from the lake. Then has several smaller climbs sprinkled throughout the second half to keep you working hard. The initial climb requires you to ride right near your lactate threshold for upwards of 30 to 60 minutes. Your goal for this race is to raise your sustainable power output on the bike at this intensity, while developing the muscular strength to maintain a relatively low cadence for the course of the climb and not destroy your legs for the rest of the race. How do you do this? Climbing intervals! You should have two key bike workouts each week leading up to race week; your climbing interval day and a longer endurance ride with as much climbing as you can get in. The interval day should total 30-60 minutes of intervals within the workout. Begin with 5 minute intervals (say 6-8x 5 minutes) and build to longer intervals up to 20 minutes in length (say 2x 20 minutes) with 3 to 10 minutes of easy riding (back down the hill) for recovery between intervals. The intensity should be right at your lactate threshold (zone 4, super-race pace, etc.) Do these intervals on a fairly steep climb, either on or off road depending on what you have available. Your long day should climb as many hills as possible at an aerobic pace to gain the strength needed to race well. A good starting point is getting 1500-2000 feet of climbing per hour of riding (ex. 4 hour ride = 6000-8000 ft climbing). If you don't have big hills where you live, use big gears on a trainer with the front wheel elevated to simulate the steep grade.
For the run, you're looking at essentially two 10-15 minutes climbs followed by 8-12 minute descents. The climbs require strength and the downs require leg-turnover and fatigue resistance. Again, climbing intervals are key. As with the cycling, your two key run sessions each week are an LT climbing interval session and a longer aerobic run over big hills. The climbing intervals will build the power and the long climbs will build the strength and endurance. Again, start with 5 minute intervals and work up to 15 minute intervals, totaling 20-40 minutes of interval time per workout. Intensity should be right near your red-line, just over race pace, near your lactate threshold and have an equal downhill for recovery between each. On your long hilly run, run the hills at moderate pace and try pushing the speed on the descents to get the leg turnover going and build some fatigue resistance in the quads. The long downhills at Beaver Creek can often be more challenging than the ups! If you don't have big hills where you live, the treadmill works great for hill simulations.
Now to help with the effects of altitude. To deal with the altitude, there are two things you can do limit your losses. One is to adapt to it. This requires about 3-4 weeks spent training and living at or near the race elevation of 7000-9000 feet above sea level. Many benefits can be gained by living as low as 4000-5000 feet elevation. Time away from family, work and home for that long is not practical for most athletes, so another option is to simulate altitude with the use of hypoxic tents or similar devices that you can use at home to make the adaptations. Again, not very practical for most folks, as these devices can cost several thousands of dollars (although I've heard you can rent them in certain cities). So what can you do to help if you're coming from low elevation to race at Beaver Creek? Well the easiest and cheapest thing is to come to Colorado (especially the higher elevation Avon area) at the last possible moment to keep the negative effects of altitude expose minimized. The best plan is to arrive the day before and take it easy while you're there. The first 24-48 hours you will experience the least amount of added stress from the altitude. From about 48 hours through two weeks you will really struggle as your body try's to adapt. After about 3 weeks you will begin to experience the positive adaptations occurring. Arriving the day before the race may not be ideal in terms of course previewing, but you will experience the least amount of performance loss from the altitude. If you live elsewhere in Colorado at the 5000 foot range, going up to pre-view the course a few times in the two weeks prior and gain some altitude exposure can be beneficial.
The thing to keep in mind is that nearly all of the competitors will be racing at a higher altitude than what they are accustomed to (that is unless you live in Vail or other similar mountain town) and that almost everyone is having to deal with the diversity. This is no different than the mountain folks coming down to Alabama or Richmond in June to experience racing in 90 degree temps with 90 percent humidity. Just remember to adjust your "race pace" accordingly to the conditions and don't burn your matches in the first half of the race. The Vail Valley is a wonderful place to visit and the terrain really is spectacular, so be sure to get out to Colorado for this epic day in the mountains. Good Luck!
Coming from a bike racing background, Cody Waite is in his 5th season as an XTERRA professional. Cody is also the founder and head coach of EPC Multisport, a Denver based endurance sport coaching company, club, and elite amateur XTERRA racing team. His passion for off-road racing and helping others achieve their goals in triathlon, mountain biking and running are visible by looking at his own successes and those of of all he works with. Learn more about Cody and EPC Multisport atwww.epcmultisport.com. Join the EPC Team and make 2011 your best season yet!
XTERRA Nationals EPC Training Plan
"After you qualify for XTERRA Nationals and reach the mid-point of your season, what's next? Spend the final 12 weeks leading up to XTERRA USA to build to a performance break through at the big event! The first third of the plan is designed to rebuild your aerobic base, the middle third to build intensity, and the final third to reach your peak."