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How many times have you finished a race and not had that last extra effort needed to win or get a top finish? You go though the race and feel great. You are aggressive and active. Then when you need that extra kick or final effort, you just stall as your legs turn to cream cheese? Perhaps you watch in amazement as other racers go by you like you are standing still, wondering where they got that energy. After it’s all over, you may justify your lack of performance with “it’s mental.” Or, I “should have gone harder at the end.” Let’s look at a few possible explanations as to why this common occurrence may happen and what you can do to remedy the problem:
Raise the Floor – One of the most common occurrences in our sport is that a rider will have success at a lower category (e.g. Elite 3 or 4), then when they upgrade, it’s like they are starting all over again in terms of fitness and they struggle for results. The same is also seen with junior development as young athletes are consistently growing and moving up in age and category.
Perhaps you have an excellent finishing kick or sprint that has enabled you to acquire all your upgrade points. You upgrade and find you can’t sprint yourself out of a paper bag at the end of races. Most of the time, the first thing a rider says to solve the problem is they need to work on is their sprint. Although that may be true (we can always work on everything), what they need to work on is the exact opposite! They need to work on their ability to get to the finish line fresher, which requires a lot of threshold and sub-threshold work. I call it “raising the floor.” As an example we had a rider who pretty much won everything at the Elite 3 level. When he upgraded to Elite 2’s, he had nothing at the end of races, commenting on how fast the races were. What did we do? We worked on increasing his watts per kilo at threshold and never touched his sprint. The result was after a few months he was winning Elite 2 sprints rather easily. He had “raised the floor!”
Adjust the training – In general, we can classify ourselves as one of three types of riders: Aerobic and sustainable (the Toyota Prius), power and acceleration (the muscle car) or some combination of both. If your strengths are more aerobic and sustainable, focus on two different types of workouts to help you through the harder parts of races: 1) High intensity efforts at the beginning of the workout, when you are fresh. 2) The exact opposite where you work those efforts at the end of the workout, when you are tired. It’s important to do both! In turn, if you are the muscle car, do more of what we discussed in the “raise the floor” section, working on longer sustainable efforts.
Nutrition – You would be surprised how many athletes think they are fueling enough during races, but when we analyze what they consumed, the amount of calories is much too low. Racing requires an enormous amount of both physical and mental energy. Hell, you are sitting at the start line with an elevated HR before the race even starts, burning sugar! You are so busy when driving to the race, getting ready, and warming up that you could go hours with little nutrition, as you might not even be thinking about it. Here are a few guidelines you can follow, keeping in mind everyone is a bit different in terms of what types of foods they can handle or like:
- Eat your balanced meal 2-4 hours before the start of the event. This restores liver and muscle glycogen. Moderate in protein is ok.
- Meal should be high in carbs and low in fat, protein is ok. Consume 16 ounces of fluid
- Snack 30-60 minutes before the event, focusing on ingesting 50-75 grams of easily digestible carbs.
- Consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour
- Drink 2-6 oz of fluid every 15-20 minutes. Can also use a sports drink. This of course will vary by time of year.
- With longer events, solid food can be eaten along with 250-500 mg of sodium per hour.
The bottom line, is don’t neglect eating small amounts of food though out the morning and into the event, as this may be one of those “silent” killers in terms of your ability to perform.
Patience, conserve – Everyone feels good at the beginning of races and it’s easy to be overly active and waste valuable energy. And although those efforts may not hurt you initially, they add up just enough to prevent that last effort needed at the end of the race. Remember, just because you feel good, it doesn’t mean you should use that energy. Try to take an approach that may be quite obvious. It’s a bike “race”, not a workout. The goal is to cross the line first and that requires a lot of patience. Try riding the race with what the race is offering you, not what you want the race to be.
Rollers and/or a trainer – One of my favorite instructions to our athletes is to incorporate rollers and/or the trainer into the ends of their outdoor workouts. Have the indoor trainer already setup and ready to go. When you get back from your ride, go onto the trainer and add in anywhere from 15-30’ of riding where you incorporate some high intensity and high cadence work, which is needed at the end of racing. Initially, when your legs are tired and feel like dead weights, you may want to just focus on cadence. As you adapt to the rpm’s, add in some harder work along with doing the higher cadence. For this approach to be successful, it takes a lot of motivation and consistency. It’s not easy to do a great workout outside, then come home and hop on the trainer or rollers. Give it a chance for a few weeks, as you will see improvement in your ability to finish strong when it counts!
Motorpacing – I don’t every think I have met a rider who doesn’t like to motorpace behind a car or a small motor scooter. The benefits for increased fitness and leg speed can be enormous. In general there are two types of workouts we use the motor for. 1) Longer sessions with a focus on increasing general fitness and simulating race situations. 2) Gain more leg speed when tired. In this situation, the rider has already done their workout (e.g. worked on aerobic capacity) and they finish the workout with a shorter fast motorpace session to teach their legs to be able to finish fast with higher heart rates. Motorpacing is fun and both tricky in that you need someone on the motor with experience. With all the training tools out there these days, having the athlete’s Garmin on the scooter also allows the driver to see what is going on with the athlete in terms of power, cadence and heart rate.
Remember, that everyone is different and it may take one or two tweaks in your tactics or training to help you be more successful. Take some time to review these important 5 areas and see if any of them are preventing you from achieving success when it counts, at the end of the race!
Ride safe, ride comfortable, ride strong!
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