Got into Leadville.....now learn how to train for it!
Throughout this article you will learn the basics to training for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. Many of these principles can apply to other 100 mile mountain bike races also, however you should always make sure to get as specific as possible for your peak race the last 4-6 weeks prior to the race. There are various approaches to training for Leadville. This article will focus on the most commonly used approach, also known as Basic or Linear Periodization.
Training for the Leadville 100 can be quite daunting: if you want to be as prepared as possible on race day, then get moving on your training now. The sooner you start, the better off you will be on race day. This article is going to discuss the most common method of training for the Leadville 100 known as Linear Periodization. This methodology of training has been around for decades. It's goal is to manipulate intensity and volume, so that on race day at your peak fitness or peak form. If this info is too much for you and you just want an easy to follow program that will peak you for Leadville, then choose one of my pre-built 3, 5, or 6.5 month Leadville Training Plans. Otherwise read on for more details on Periodization for the Leadville 100.
Linear Periodization: how to get started
Base Training : Phase 1 : 6-7 months out from your race
Most riders have heard of base training. Base training is simply put, lots of steady miles where all your miles are lower intensity, and below threshold. The main goal here is to push the volume, and therefore, train your body to ride longer and gain aerobic fitness. In addition to that, you will be adding longer tempo and sub-threshold intervals that increase your muscular force, muscular endurance, and ability to ride long climbs. In addition to this, if one of your weaknesses is short, hard efforts, you might want to include some harder efforts to maintain fitness and avoid a loss in this area.
The training during a periodized training plan typically goes likes this:
Week 1: easy
Week 2: moderate
Weee 3: hard-very hard
Week 4: recovery week
What this means is it gets harder, harder, and harder because the rides continue to get longer. Intensity, on the other hand, stays relatively low. Most rides are conversational paced rides, that are long with the exemption of adding in Tempo and sub threshold rides, or 10-60+ minute intervals or climbs. As mentioned above, you might also add in an occasional high intensity effort to maintain your anaerobic ability.
Example of the first Base week for an intermediate rider might look like this:
Monday: Off day
Tuesday: 1-3 hour steady zones 1-2, easy to moderate day
Wednesday: Easy zones 1-2 for 1-2 hours
Thursday: 1-3 hours steady zones 1-3 with 3-4 x 10 min tempo efforts at 50-60 rpm with 3 minutes rest between each effort.
Friday: 1-2 hour easy ride
Saturday: 3 hour moderate effort ride
Sunday: 2 hour moderate effort ride.
Each week after this would increase in volume by around 10%. I.E. Saturday would increase to 3:30 hours and Sunday to 2:30 hours. This cycle would continue for 2-3 weeks, and then the following week would be dropped down to an easy recovery week.
This Base phase typically last anywhere from 6-16 weeks depending on the riders goals, race(s), and past history of riding. You would repeat the micro-cycle, or 3-4 week blocks, multiple times and continue to increase the workload each block.
Phase 2: Build: 4-6 months from race day
This phase is where you start to pick the intensity up, while maintaining your aerobic fitness you built. Each week still continues to get harder, such as what I mentioned above with week 1 being easy, week 2 being moderate, week 3 being hardest, and week 4 being a recovery week. However, now the focus transitions to focusing on making the weeks harder by building intensity. The intensity for these rides should be focused on Threshold level and higher. You should also be getting more and more rides on the trails at this time.
Example of the first week of a Build phase:
Monday: off day
Tuesday: 2-3 hour ride with 4 x 10 minutes at threshold level with 5 minutes rest between each. Every week this increases until you can get 6-8 repeats in total. Best to do on a climb
Wednesday: very easy recovery day for 1-2 hours.
Thursday: 2-3 hour ride with 4 x 4 minute VO2max intervals with 4 minutes rest between efforts.
Friday: steady zones 1-2 easy-moderate ride
Saturday: trail ride for 3-4 hours. Should be close to the length you built up to in your Base phase
Sunday: steady 2-3 hour ride zones 1-2 ride or incorporate a 30-60 minute tempo added into the ride on the trails
Just as with the Base phase, this phase is meant to get increased intensity incrementally throughout the training plan. Meaning, it has to get harder! To make improvements, workouts have to get harder. Typically a Build phase last for 6-10 weeks
Phase 3: Race specific work and maintenance: 3 months to race day
Main goal of this phase is to get more and more specific to your race. In this case, you are preparing for the Leadville 100 mile race that is long, has a lot of climbing, and is also at high altitude. Your key rides should begin to focus on long rides on terrain similar to Leadville. Adding in a race or two would be a great idea also. Races give you opportunities to build fitness, test out your race strategy, and dial in your race bike. Races such as the Silver Rush 50, or Wilmington Whiteface are great options to add to your calendar if you haven't already. Also, if you can get into the mountains at high altitude, now is the time to do it. Getting up to 10,000+ fett for 1-3 times and doing a long ride at that altitude will really help with your performance and confidence on race day.
Your specific rides should include one longer race specific ride a week, increased every week up to 6-7 hours if possible. A second ride should be focused on very long climbs om the 1-2+ hour intervals or climbs to your routine. Leadville has a few of these, so working on them now will really help on race day. Those efforts should be at a tempo, or sustainable effort for the entire time. Lastly, don't forgot to keep your threshold high by keeping some threshold work in. Your threshold is key to keeping your overall speed at Leadville up. This can be a hard and intense 4-20 minute interval session once a week or once every two weeks.
Here's an example of a week for Phase 3:
Monday: off day
Tuesday: 3 hour ride with 2-3 x 30 minute tempo efforts on a long climb and on the mountain bike you will be racing on
Wednesday: easy 1-2 hour ride zones 1-2 only
Thursday: 2-3 hour ride with the following intervals: 1 x 10 minutes at threshold, or zone 4, 5 minutes rest, 2 x 4 minutes at VO2max effort, 5 minutes rest, 1 x 10 minute Threshold effort
Friday: very easy 1 hour spin zone 1 only
Saturday: 2 hours spin on the mountain bike trails
Sunday: race specific long ride: 4-7 hours built up to that time over a 1-2 month time frame. This ride is very important. Get it done on your race bike, and dial in your nutrition for this ride.
The last part of Phase 3 is tapering off for your race. The last 2 weeks of your program should be shorter rides, no longer then 3 hours, and the intensity should drop. The week of your race should have a volume drop of 20-40% and you should have 1-2 more intense rides to keep your legs snappy and "opened up".
If you follow the basics to this article, then you will be on your way to performing faster and better then ever before. You will be at your peak fitness come Leadville and all your hard earned training will be well worth it. If you still need help and want an easy to follow training plan that will help you get to your peak shape, then check out our training plans by clicking here, Leadville Training Plans.
Thanks for reading and have fun riding!
Coach Drew Edsall: Professional Mountain biker, Full Time Mtb Coach and Founder of Mtbfitness