How to pre ride a race course

"I notice the pros spend a lot of time pre-riding courses for really important races.  What are you thinking about or focusing on as you pre-ride the course?"

Pre riding the course at a big race is an important part of your race prep and can be the difference between a top ten and a podium finish.  If done incorrectly it can also wreck your legs and end up making for a miserable weekend.

There are two ways to pre ride a course.  The first is to do a mellow reconnaissance of the course at an endurance pace.  This gives you your first look at the course and what you’ll be faced with on race day.  This is an important lap and should not be done as a “social” ride with a large group of friends.  Here are the things I do on my first lap:

1. On this first easy lap you need to carefully analyze all technical sections.  If you can’t ride something now is the time to stop and practice.  Get these sections dialed and make sure you can ride them.  And if you can’t, figure out the fastest way to walk/run and the best place to get back on your bike without losing any momentum.  Remember it isn’t who can ride everything; it is who is fastest through everything whether that is on or off the bike.

2. Look at the climbs.  How long are they, how steep, are they technical and slow or smooth and fast?  How will you attack each climb?  Ask yourself if you have the correct gearing on your bike for the climbs.  Make a mental note of where each climb begins so that in the race you are ready and in good position before each hill.

3. Analyze the terrain and trail conditions.  If it is super muddy and slick will you need to change tires?  Is it super loose and rocky?  Hard packed and fast?  This might also determine the type of bike you ride on race day.  If you know the course is going to be a total mud fest with lots of running you may choose to use a lighter hard tail with narrow tires then your full suspension.

4. Check out the first kilometer of the lap.  You need to know exactly when the first singletrack sections begins after the start/finish and is this first section slow and technical or fast and smooth.  Do you anticipate a big bottleneck getting into the singletrack section?  If so you need to figure out where you want to move up and in what position you go into that first singletrack. 

5. Check out the last kilometer of the lap.  How does the course come into the finish line?  If you are finishing the race in a small group how will you outsprint your competitors?  Where will you make your big move? 

6. Know where the feed zone is,  how long is it, how rough is the terrain, and figure out how many bottles you need to grab per lap.
Now you’re ready for a second lap of the course.  I call this the “hot lap” and now is the time to start putting things together.  The second lap should be done at a higher speed and intensity; maybe not true race pace but definitely a hard effort.   You want to know how the course flows, what the corners are like and how the technical sections ride at speed.  I like to go hard on my second lap because I want to see and feel what it is like to ride the lap with a high heart rate.   Riding over a 3 foot drop is a heck of a lot harder when you are at race pace then when you are doing your casual reconnaissance lap.    I don’t like to stop on my second lap, but if there is something that is giving you a lot of grief, stop and quickly work out a better line, practice once or twice, and then continue with your hot lap. 

If the laps are really short, maybe 20-25 minutes, you can do your first lap easy, the second lap at tempo, and make your third lap your hot lap.  And if the laps are really long and you can only realistically do one lap, then ride the first third easy, the middle third at tempo and the last third at race pace. This can be tricky because you don’t get to see the entire lap at a slow speed to work out any technical challenges.
The biggest drawback to pre riding the course is it can make you tired.  Be careful and strategic with how and when you pre ride the course.  Don’t do three hot laps on the course the day before the race because you feel amazing and you love the course and you’re just having too much fun.  Come race day your legs will be trashed.  Also don’t spend a ton of time trying to ride every technical section perfectly.  If you have a long lap and you’re doing a slow pre ride, you could be out there over three hours.  Sure you’ll know how to ride everything, but you’ll be so tired by race day it won’t matter.   Pre ride the course just enough to learn the major technical sections, get a feel for the terrain, and figure out the best tires and tire pressure to use.  That’s it.  Be confident in your abilities and trust yourself that you’ll know what to do out on the course.  Creating stress and anxiety over a course won’t do you any good and just leads to a miserable 24 hours before the race. 

After every pre ride of the course I like to have a recovery drink as soon as I finish.  I will write down important items before I forget them; tire choice, tire pressure, gearing, and bike choice.  If you’re lucky enough to have a mechanic helping you, talk to him right away and let him know your thoughts on the course and what you’d like to do to your bike for the race.  Then clean up, get some food, get out of the venue and get some rest.  Race day is fast approaching! 

Do your homework by pre riding the course, put together a solid race plan, and then relax and have fun.  And then ride your bike like you stole it!

Happy trails!


How to deal with the chaos of travel when racing!

"My race season this year is going to entail a lot of travel with overnight stays.  What suggestions do you have regarding preparations for all the travel to be able to be at my best for race day?"

Travelling can be one of the trickiest things to deal with when racing, especially if you have many events over the course of a season.  Travel disrupts our normal routine, makes it hard to get the right foods, changes our sleep patterns, and puts us in an environment we’re not used to.  But there are many good techniques that will help lessen the negative effects of travel on your race. 

  1.  When flying, try and travel mid-morning.  Having a flight at 6am is brutal on the sleep schedule and can take 2-3 days to recover from.  I suggest booking a flight between 10am and noon.  You can still get to your destination before it gets too late. 

  2. I also suggest booking a non-stop flight if possible.  The shortest travel time is always the easiest.

  3. While on the plane do some simple leg stretches in your seat.  Getting up and walking around is always good, especially if you’re flying to Europe.

  4. If you are driving, get out of the car every two hours and run around and get the blood flowing in the legs.  Do some quick stretches.  Eat and drink. 

  5. After you arrive at your destination it is super important that you do some kind of ride. It can be a 30 minute spin on the trainer in your hotel room or a 90 minute spin on the road or trails.  Get those legs moving after a long day of travel. 

  6. Pack your own food.  I always bring a full lunch with plenty of snacks.  Don’t rely on airport food or convenience stores.  It is expensive and might not be what you want or need.  Also bring plenty to drink on the plane.  A big mistake athletes make is not drinking enough and getting dehydrated on their travel day.  This makes you more susceptible to germs and getting sick.

  7. I’m a germaphobe when I travel.  Bring a little bottle of hand sanitizer and use it a lot.  I don’t know if those things truly work but it is better than nothing. 

  8. When flying, bring your helmet, shoes and pedals in your carry-on.  If your bike doesn’t make it you’ll be able to borrow one and get in the ride you need to do for the race if you have these three items with you. 

  9. When you lay out your training for the week leading up to your travel day, it is best to have a recovery or endurance ride on the day you travel.   You don’t want to do an interval workout in the morning and then jump on a plane in the afternoon.   Bad for the legs.   Doing a really hard ride the day before you travel can also be less than ideal.  Make your last hard workout two days before your trip.  If you want to do openers for your race on the same day you travel, do them after you get to your destination.

  10. After you get to your hotel room and you’ve done your ride, stretch, eat, work on getting hydrated, and then put your legs up on a wall and relax. 

  11. If you have any say in your travel schedule, try and arrive to the race two days before your event.  This gives you one day to deal with all the stress of travel and then have a full day to either pre ride the course, do openers, or just relax in your room. 

  12. Stress is something you want to avoid.  Plan your travel with the least stressful itinerary as possible.  Give yourself more time than you think you need to get places.  Do your research.  Have maps ready to go.  Know exactly how to get to the race venue or the race hotel.  Have phone numbers of your team manager, family, friends, or race staff to help you if things get ugly.  The more prepared you are, the less stress you’ll have to deal with. 

    Getting to travel to races is both exciting and challenging.  If done right, travel is just a minor blip in the day.  If done wrong, travel can wreck your week, your race, and your season.   Plan ahead and be prepared.  And most importantly, have a good attitude, be ready to deal with anything, and be willing to make changes on the fly.  And like everything else, the more you do it the better you get. 

    Good luck and happy trails! 


How do I focus my training plan to become a better climber?

How do I focus my training plan to become a better climber?

Do you get frustrated on climbs when you can’t keep up with your friends?  Do you continually get dropped in races as soon as the road goes uphill?  Climbing isn’t just for the super skinny.  Anyone can get better at climbing.  As with all training, specificity is key.  To get better at climbing you’re going to have to spend some time doing workouts that are specific to climbing.  And the reality is to be a good all-around rider or racer you’re going to have to be a decent climber.                                                           

To become a better climber there is really only one thing you have to worry about; improving your maximum sustainable power output or your power at threshold.[1]  Actually there are a lot of things you have to worry about, but power at threshold is the biggest determiner of success on the hills. 

So how do you improve your maximum sustainable power output?  There are two good types of intervals that will accomplish just this.  First are maximal steady state or maximum sustainable power intervals.[2]  What the heck is this? Maximal steady state is the highest workload a person can maintain while his or her lactate levels remain consistent, or in a steady state.[3]  On the bike this might be the highest power you could sustain for an hour-long race-pace effort.  It isn’t the absolute highest amount of power you can generate at once, but the highest amount of power you can produce over an extended period of time without blowing up.   Why is this important?  When climbing you are riding at an intensity that is extremely uncomfortable for long periods of time.  There is very little drafting and obviously no coasting.  Being able to maintain this painfully high workload is crucial.  This means your legs AND your brain have to learn how to ride at a high intensity for a long time. 

There are many good workouts that will improve your power at threshold or your MSPO.  Remember that specificity is what we’re focusing on.  If you want to get better at the long gradual 4-6% climbs, then that’s the kind of climb you need to do your intervals on.  If you want to get better at all types of climbs, then do your intervals on a variety of climbs from the super mellow to the 15% “I think I’m gonna die” type climbs. 

The first type of interval is your basic lactate threshold climbing interval.  This interval should be a minimum of 10 minutes in length and can be as long as 30 minutes.   The intensity level is considered Zone 4 or your power/heart rate at threshold.  The recovery will be the same length as the interval.  Maintain a cadence similar to what you would use in a race.  When doing these intervals you have to remember that they are long and the intensity is quite high.  I find climbing intervals to be the hardest intervals we do in training.  They create the most fatigue, the most stress on the body, and they make you feel slow on the bike.  A big block of MSPO intervals are best done before the racing season begins. 

Here are some sample lactate threshold interval workouts:

Workout 1:

Week 1:  3x10 min on 10 min off at your lactate threshold power/HR

Week 2:  3x15 min on 15 min off

Week 3:  4x15 min on 15 min off 

Workout 2:

Week 1:  4x10 min on 10 min off

Week 2:  5x10 min on 10 min off

Week 3:  6x10 min on 10 min off 

Workout 3:

Week 1:  2x20 min on 20 min off

Week 2:  3x20 min on 20 min off

Week 3:  2x30 min on 30 min off 

In the winter I would do these intervals at or slightly below your lactate threshold.  As you get fitter and stronger you can do the intervals at or slightly above your LT.  These intervals can be 2-3 times a week for 4-6 weeks.  Be sure to give yourself ample recovery after these workouts.  They are long and hard and take a lot out of you. 

The second type of interval workout you can do to improve your climbing is called Sweet Spot.  Sweet spot training is slightly below your lactate threshold and a little harder than tempo.   Technically, the sweet spot is located between high zone 3 and low zone 4: between 83-85% to 97-100% of your functional threshold power, maximal steady state, or just plain power at threshold. For the non-power meter user I would call it "medium hard" - below your 40k time trial race pace, but harder than a traditional tempo workout.    Sweet spot elicits more adaptations than tempo but less than threshold work.  So why do them?  We can ride longer at sweet spot and do it more often than lactate threshold work.  The quality of the interval is better and the fatigue is less.  The end result is better training, and ultimately a higher power at threshold.[4]

Sweet spot intervals look just like LT intervals only with a slightly shorter recovery.  For example you could do 3x15 min on 8 min off at your sweet spot.   And for those of you that hate structured intervals, sweet spot training can also be done “free form”.  Choose a hilly ride of a couple hours and decide how much time you want to spend in your sweet spot.  On every climb ride in your sweet spot zone, keeping track of how long each climb takes.  Once you hit your target time you’re done with your “intervals” and can finish out the ride at whatever pace you’d like.  Same amount of intensity but in a much more stimulating and fun format.

The third type of interval you’ll need to do to improve your climbing is called a supermaximum sustainable power interval, or more simply a Vo2/Zone 5 interval.[5]  These are short and very intense and are the kind of intervals that make your arms go numb and your stomach feel like it might throw-up.  The goal of these intervals is to improve your ability to ride at nonsustainable work rates or at a power level you normally couldn’t tolerate for very long.[6]  Why is this important for climbing?  When going uphill, especially in a race, there are usually surges or attacks.  Following an attack or making one of your own takes you from that painful maximal steady state effort to an incredibly painful Vo2 effort.  Most attacks or surges are short.  If you haven’t trained your legs to withstand this short bout of intense suffering you’ll blow up when it happens and get dropped.  Vo2 training gives you the ability to go with the surges and attacks on a climb and then settle back into your MSPO or lactate threshold.   

Vo2 efforts are 3-6 minutes in length with the same amount of recovery.  The intensity level is as hard as you can go.  It’s a super hard race pace effort.  If your lactate threshold heart rate was 173 you would do these efforts between a HR of 179-184.  If your lactate threshold power was 225 watts for example, your Zone 5/Vo2 efforts would be done between 250-350 watts.  The Vo2 or intervals are considered “super hard I think I’m going to puke” efforts or on a scale of 1-10, they would be a 10.  Do a bunch of these during each workout and do the Vo2 workout maybe 2-3 times a week. 

How do these fit into a training plan?  You will need to have a good solid aerobic base before starting these intervals.  Spend a few months doing long endurance rides with some intensity thrown in on the weekends when you ride with friends or do the local group ride.  When you have a decent level of fitness, do the Sweet Spot training first for 4-6 weeks.  After a good recovery week you can do the lactate threshold/Zone 4 training next 4-6 weeks.  Another rest week and then a block of Vo2 intervals. 

As your training progresses, you will want to increase the difficulty of these two types of intervals.  To do that you can make each effort longer, shorten the recovery in between, or increase the HR or power you do each effort at.  The only way you get stronger is to force your body to make adaptations to a given stress.  If the stress never changes, your body will never get stronger.  Push yourself to make the intervals slightly harder each week you do them.  With plenty of recovery in between workouts your body will make the needed changes and come back stronger and faster than when you started. 

The ultimate goal of all of this is to improve your ability to ride hard on the hills.  Doing these three types of intervals will increase your power output making you stronger and faster on the bike.  It is a painful investment but the reward is well worth it!

Have fun!


Alison Dunlap is a certified Level I USAC Coach and has been working with athletes for eight years.  She runs a coaching business called Alison Dunlap Coaching, and has MTB Skills Clinics in Colorado Springs, CO  through the Alison Dunlap Adventure Camps.  Alison is also a two-time Olympian, MTB World Champion, and 13-time National Champion.  For more information please visit

[1] Dave Morris, Performance Cycling; Training for Power, Endurance, and Speed (Maine:  Ragged Mountain Press, 2003) Morris 33

[2] Morris 33

[3] Morris 33

[4] Frank Overton-owner of FasCat Coaching 2008

[5] Morris 62

[6] Morris 62

At what age do you think it's ok to start really structured training and racing? What would you focus on for a young teenager or pre-teen?

Cycling is a challenging sport as we all know.  The emphasis with young kids should be on the pure joy of riding and the fun that can be had cruising up and down the alleys around your neighborhood.  Go on an “urban assault” with your kids and show them all of the obstacles that can be ridden on a bike.  During these younger years it is important that kids be exposed to many kinds of activities, not just cycling.  This will help develop coordination, balance, movement and cognitive skills.  The emphasis should not be on structure, but the fun and enjoyment of being active with friends and family.  It is not appropriate to ask a young child (pre-puberty) to “train”.  Kids at this age should be allowed to play for the sake of enjoyment and not have to follow the rules and regimens of adult level sport rules.
Once a child reaches puberty she can start engaging in more specialized opportunities with an emphasis on organized and personalized training.   Kids should learn how to train properly in this phase with the focus on development, not outcome.    Competition can be introduced but it is not the main objective.  A child’s love of sport and her internal motivation to participate become stronger and more developed during this phase.   Help your child experience the joy and fun of cycling while giving them a healthy understanding of how to train.
Make cycling a social activity.  Friends are everything to kids at this age.   Remember it is all about the process, not the results.  You are trying to develop a lifelong love of the sport that will keep your child active well into her adult years. 

The amount of time spent in this development stage isn’t determined by a specific age.  It will vary with every child and depends on maturity and interest level.   Kids that fail to develop a strong intrinsic drive during this time period will usually quit the sport before reaching the elite ranks.  So don’t rush it or convince your child he may be the next cycling superstar at the ripe age of 17.
We want our children to love to ride.  And we want them to carry that passion with them until they are too old to get out of bed.

A lot of the information for this post came from a book I highly recommend; Kristen Dieffenbach’s book Bike Racing for Juniors; A Guide for Riders, Parents, and Coaches.

Happy Trails!


Favorite workouts to do on the trainer

January 16, 2014

Now that winter is upon us it is time to become friendly with the trainer again.  If you get to ride outside all the time during the summer and fall, the switch to riding the trainer can be painful and unwelcome.  If you are one of those “time crunched cyclists” as Chris Carmichael calls it, you probably spend a lot of your time on the trainer anyways and the winter months won’t be much different.  Whatever level you’re at, whatever event you’re training for, there are lots of “fun” workouts you can do on the trainer.  “Fun” is relative of course because many of these workouts involve painful amounts of lactic acid.  Haha!

Workout #1  Lactate threshold/Vo2 ramping intervals:  If you have very little time to ride and want to get the most out of your time on the trainer, then this workout is one of my favorites.  It is “short and sweet”.  But it is also quite painful.   I also use power on the trainer which I think makes a huge difference in the entertainment value.  Start a good movie and off you go.

5 minute warm up
10 minute ramping effort.  My lactate threshold is around 220 watts.  I start this 10 min effort at 150 watts.  Every minute I increase by 10 watts so the last minute of the effort is at 240 watts.   Pick a range that starts in your endurance zone and finishes above LT.
2min recovery
5min LT/Vo2:  I start at 210 watts.  Every minute I go up by 10 watts and finish at 250 watts.
2min recovery
5min LT/Vo2:  Start this second effort at 220 watts and finish at 260.
2min recovery
5min LT/Vo2: Start at 230 watts and finish at 270.
2min recovery
5min LT/Vo2:  Start at 240 watts and finish at 280.  This last interval will be more of a Vo2 effort.
5min cool down and you’re done!  43 minutes total time with 30 minutes of intensity.  Not bad.

Workout #2  Vo2/anaerobic power:  These are short intense intervals that are done in a pyramid fashion.
10-15 minute warm up
90sec on at Vo2 intensity, 90sec off
75sec on at Vo2, 75sec off
60sec on at anaerobic power, 60sec off
45sec on at AP, 45sec off
30sec on at AP, 30sec off
15sec sprint, Done!
5 minute recovery
I would do 4-6 of these early in the winter and then 6-8 as you get fitter.
20 minute cool down.

Workout #3  The Hour of Power:  This workout came from my good friend Jay Gump of Incline Training.  This is another one of those “get the biggest bang for your buck” workouts.  It is done either at tempo or your sweet spot (steady state) power.  I wouldn’t do this at your lactate threshold because the recovery time is too short.
15 minute warm up
10min at tempo, 2min recovery
Repeat 5 more times for a total of 60 minutes of work. 
I would do 4x10min on 2min off the first week.  Your second week you could go to 5x10 and the third week you can do the hour of power; 6x10.  Then do a 15 minute cool down.

Workout #4  Microbursts:  This is a pure anaerobic power workout and is quite painful.  Don’t do this until you have a decent amount of fitness and intensity in your legs.  If you’re not training or racing (like me) then you can do this workout whenever you like.  It’s fun and the time goes by quickly.
15 minute warm up
2x3min Vo2 efforts with a 3min recovery.  This gets the legs opened up.
The 10 minute microburst starts with a 10 second sprint followed by a 20 second recovery.  Then another 10 sec sprint, 20 sec recovery and so on for 10 minutes.  Each sprint is a max effort best done in the drops.  The challenge of this workout is getting the power adjusted up and down fast enough on your indoor trainer.  If you’re using heart rate, just know that HR won’t respond fast enough in 10-20 seconds so don’t use it as a gauge of intensity.  If you don’t have power, perceived exertion is going to be your best bet.  Rollers might work better if you’re an extremely good bike handler and feel confident you won’t sprint off into the couch or fireplace.  You could also make these a little longer;  20 second sprint, 40 second recovery. 
Take a 10 minute recovery after each microburst.  I would start with one 10 minute effort your first week and work up to 3x10.  Then do a 15 minute cool down.

Obviously there are many other trainer workouts you can do.  Get creative and have fun with it.  Don’t look at the trainer as something evil lurking in your basement.  It is a valuable tool and can be very effective in the winter when it is 10 degrees outside with a foot of fresh snow on the ground. 

Happy trails!

Level I Coaching Certification!

November 17, 2013
After an exhausting weekend of almost four days of lectures, working groups, and power point presentations I am now an official USA Cycling Level 1 coach.  Am I a smarter coach?  Maybe.  But I did get to meet and network with over 50 talented coaches all sharing ideas, philosophies, books, websites and scientific research that will help me do a more effective job training my athletes.  (Hope you all are ready!)  Our co-presenters; Kristen Dieffenbach and Stephen McGregor were fabulous and did an outstanding job of pushing us out of our comfort zones.  I feel very inspired and motivated.  That was all tempered, however, when I got home and had to spend most of the evening trying to get Emmett our 3 yr old to sleep and wondering if there will ever be a day when I will get more than 5 hours of sleep at any one time.  Haha!  I guess you can sleep when you’re dead.

Here’s to new knowledge and the chaos that goes with it. 

Happy training everyone!


Sept 19-22nd, 2013 Interm/Adv Moab MTB Skills Camp

ADAC Intermediate/Advanced Moab MTB Skills Camp  Sept 19-22nd, 2013

I looked through all the pictures and videos from this past weekend and got a huge smile on my face!  Another successful Moab Camp of great rides, yummy food, and time with friends.  I already can’t wait for next Spring!

After a week of torrential rains and devastating floods along the Front Range of Colorado it was a welcome relief to spend some time in the dry sunny desert of Moab, Utah.  We had blue skies and warm days for most of the camp, using lots of sunscreen and even filling up my Camelback bladder to the very top for our long rides.  We had six guests this year; three were returning alumni and three were newbies.   This was the all-inclusive camp so Rim Tours did all of our cooking and Beth Roberts helped me with guiding, instruction and worked her magic on the bikes every day so they all ran flawlessly.
Our first morning was spent at the Old City Park doing skills and drills on the grass.  I recently took a Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Certification course and used the new techniques for the first time in Moab.  This was an intermediate/advanced camp so we didn’t spend much time at City Park except to quickly review the fundamentals and brush up on our drop-off and ledge riding techniques that are so important for riding around Moab.  After a nutritious and delicious lunch we rode the Slick Rock Trail.  Not wanting to destroy everyone on the first day we did just the Practice Loop (in both directions of course) and worked all the technical sections.  Everyone enjoyed massages in the afternoon back at the condos followed by appetizers and a large dinner.  Beth gave us a great trail-side bike maintenance clinic before retiring to our beds for a much needed night of sleep.

Saturday was another gorgeous blue-bird day.  We drove up to the Magnificent Seven trail system and spent the entire day riding singletrack!  The Mag 7 trails are a nice mix of challenging technical sections and fast fun flowing singletrack.  The views of the La Sals, Gold Bar Rim, and the Moab valley were stunning.  We had a late lunch back at the van and then did the short hike to the Gemini Bridges.  Then it was back to the condos for massage and some down-time.  After dinner we got some good laughs watching all the videos I took from the last two rides.

Sunday, our last day, was our first day of inclement weather.  The Moab valley was clear and sunny but the La Sals were engulfed in dark ominous looking clouds and that was where we wanted to start our ride.  The plan was to do the Whole Enchilada which starts at the top of Geyser Pass and then climbs almost to tree line over Burro Pass.  With the weather not looking good we decided to start lower down at Warner Lake and do Hazard County to Kokopelli and then down the Porcupine singletrack. After riding and racing all over the world, I can still say this is one of the coolest rides I’ve ever done!  We rode fast, stopped and worked on fun technical sections, took tons of pictures, and kept an eye on the slowing worsening weather.  Eventually our little donut hole of sunshine disappeared and the skies opened up on us, dumping rain and wind for the last 4 mile singletrack descent down to the Colorado River.  This was also the most technical part of the ride which the rain and mud made even more exciting.  But everyone made it down in one piece and we were still smiling as we loaded the bikes in a torrential downpour.  As we drove back into Moab we stopped and took pictures of the huge waterfalls that had formed from the huge amount of rain that came down in just a few minutes.  It was quite impressive!
After unloading back at the condos we hooked up the hose and washed our muddy bikes and clothing.  We had snacks, exchanged photos and videos, and then said our goodbyes before everyone left to head home.  I left Moab at 5:30pm and experienced some of the worst weather ever on a drive back from Moab.  Pouring rain for hours turned to a blizzard over Vail Pass.  I finally gave up from exhaustion and got a hotel in Frisco, finishing my drive early Monday morning.  Always an adventure driving anywhere in Colorado this time of year!

I am already planning on running camps in Moab in May and October in 2014.  Check back to our website around the first of the year for the new schedule.  Enjoy the changing of the seasons and the beautiful fall colors!

Happy trails!


PS.  To see all the photos from the camp go to IMG_1674



What constitutes a proper warm-up for a race?

"What constitutes a proper warm-up for a race?  Would it vary depending on my level of racing, i.e. beginner vs. pro?  How would warming up for a short track race vs. cross country race vs. endurance race affect the warm-up?"

Warming up for a  race is one of the most neglected parts of our race preparation, yet a proper warm-up can have a dramatic effect on how you perform, especially in the first 15-20 minutes of the race.  A good warm-up will activate your muscles at various intensities without creating a lot of lactic acid.  An accumulation of lactic acid would inhibit muscle contraction causing you to start your race already tired.  Without a good warm-up your muscles will be tight and “asleep”.  The start of a race can be very intense and your HR can skyrocket within seconds.  If your legs aren’t ready for such a violent start, you’ll feel terrible and you won’t be able to ride as hard as you’re used to or want to.  You’ll most likely get dropped from the pack within the first 5-10 minutes.

Warm-ups vary depending on the length of the race.  In general, the shorter the race the longer the warm-up.  The longest and hardest warm-ups are done for prologues, track events (kilo, pursuit), MTB short tracks, and criteriums.  There is very little warm-up for the ultra-endurance events, 100 mile/100km marathons, and big multi-day stage races. 

When trying to decide what to do in your warm-up, ask yourself what kind of intensity you think you will be racing at for the first 10-20 minutes.  If the race starts slow with a more social atmosphere until an hour or two into the event, then a moderate warm-up with some endurance and a little tempo work will do you very well.  If you are getting ready for a short track or a 2hr cross country event, you know that you will be maxed out within 30 seconds of the gun going off.  Warming up for this kind of event should include a lot of lactate threshold and vo2 intensity. 

Age and experience on the bike are also things to consider when designing your warm-up.  A very young cyclist that has only a few years of racing in his legs might not do well with a long warm-up.  It might make him tired by the time he goes to the start line.  I would suggest a 30-40 minute warm-up at most.  For athletes that have raced for decades and have a high level of fitness, or may be racing at the pro/elite level, then a full one-hour warm-up works well for a short event, 45-50 minutes for a cross country race, and 20-30 for an ultra-endurance race.  And for athletes that are above 50 and consider themselves “Masters”, an even longer warm-up might be needed.  Older athletes tend to need a lot more time to get their legs going up to race pace. 

So just what should you do in your warm-up?  Up until 2005, the warm-up I used for all my cross country races was the following:  20min easy spin, 10 minutes at tempo, 5 minute easy spin, 4 minute lactate threshold, 4 minute easy spin, 3 minute vo2, 3 minute easy spin, 3 minute vo2, 3-4 minute easy spin and then off the bike and over to the start line.  If I raced the short track the next day I would do the same warm up except skip the 4 minute lactate threshold.

I changed my warm-up slightly when I came back and raced cyclocross in 2009 to a shorter, more efficient warm-up.  It consisted of: 20min easy spin, 2x5min tempo efforts with a 2min recovery followed by 2x2min vo2 efforts with a 3min recovery.  Then right to the start line. 

If you were warming up for an ultra-endurance event I would do the following:  20min easy spin followed by a 10min tempo effort.  That’s it.

There are a couple of other things you should know about warm-ups.  

1.   They are best done on a trainer.  You can eliminate the stress of trying to find a safe place warm-up, you don’t have to worry about flatting or having a mechanical while getting ready, and your food, drink, and clothing is right there next to the trainer.   

2.   Do everything in a nice high cadence around 100-110rpms.  A lower cadence will load up your legs and fatigue your muscles. 

3.   Be conservative with your heart rate and power.  If you are doing a 4 minute effort at your lactate threshold, ride at the low to middle end of the LT zone.  Don’t try and set a record for highest power and HR in your warm-up.

4.   It is easier on your legs if you do your efforts on a “bell curve”.  When we do intervals in training we usually start the effort at the desired power and try and maintain it for the entire effort.  When we finish the effort, especially a hard one, we are completely maxed out and we collapse on our handlebars.  A lot of times we completely stop pedaling.   When warming up for a race, slowly ramp up your effort so that at the half-way point of the interval you have reached your desired HR and power.  Hold that intensity for 15 seconds to a minute and then slowly back down.  This is much easier on your legs and won’t create a build-up of lactic acid.  For example, if my tempo zone is 155-165bpm, I will take 4 ½ minutes to hit my desired HR of 160bpm.  Then I will hold that HR for a minute before slowly decreasing my intensity so by the end of the 10 minute effort my HR is back down to 120-130.  If my LT zone is 169-175bpm, I will take 2 minutes to build up to 172, hold it for 15 seconds, and then back off until I reach a HR around 140. 

5.   If you are doing a multi-day event or back to back races, remember that when your body gets tired your HR will be lower than normal.  In this case I will do my warm-up using “perceived exertion” instead of heart rate.  For example; when warming up for the 5th day of a 7 day stage race, your HR might be 10 beats lower for the same tempo effort that you did on day one.  You might still be generating the same amount of power, but if you go strictly by HR, you will think that you’re not riding hard enough.  Mentally that can be very defeating and you will end up thinking you’re going to have a bad day.  Going by perceived exertion eliminates this.  I will cover up my HR monitor and do the warm-up strictly by feel.  If you are lucky enough to have a power meter, then this is something you don’t have to worry about.  Power is power no matter how tired or fresh you are.

6.   Always do your warm-up with an energy drink and food.  If you warm-up with only water and you don’t eat anything you will be quite depleted in carbohydrate reserves and most likely dehydrated before you start your race.  You’ve already dug yourself into a hole.

7.   Time your warm-up so that you finish with only 10 minutes to go before call-up.  A great warm-up won’t do you any good if you finish 30 minutes before your event and you stand around getting stiff and cold. 

8.    Eliminate distractions from family and friends.  Encourage those folks to chat with you after your race.  Your job isn’t to be social while warming up.  Stay focused and be a little selfish.  You’ll be glad you did when the gun goes off.

The best thing to do is practice your warm-up routine at training races and smaller local events that aren’t important.  Be familiar with your warm-up schedule, know your body and how long it takes for you to get completely ready physically and mentally, know what kinds of food and drink work best for you and how much, and know how much time you need to get off the trainer and head to the start line.  It is even important to know how many times you typically go to the bathroom before the start of a race.  Then when you go to the big events your warm-up will be stress-free and something you don’t really have to think about; you just do it.

Good luck and happy trails!




Colorado Springs fire update

My family and I are safe from the fire that has enveloped the northwest side of our city.  We live downtown and are probably 7 miles from the fire.  Last night the fire doubled in size and destroyed entire neighborhoods just north of Garden of the Gods.  Many of our favorite hiking and biking trails are gone.  And a lot of my favorite road rides are closed because of evacuations.  No one ever believed the fire would actually come down into the city.  But it did.  And it is devastating.

A vacation in Moab??

It isn’t very often that I take a trip to Moab for fun.  With life as busy as it is these days I rarely find the time to go to Moab for something other than work.  This spring I decided to take a mountain bike trip to Moab and do some big rides, hang out with friends and family, and spend time in one of my most favorite places in the world.  I talked my sister and her family and my dad into going for a long four day weekend.  Unfortunately my husband had to stay home. 

I loaded my car with an enormous amount of stuff, squeezed Emmett into his car seat, and took off to the desert.  The drive out was easy and uneventful.  I had picked up my dad in Denver so he helped with the driving when Emmett started to get bored in the back seat.  We stopped along the way and had a yummy pizza at one of the coolest pizza joints around, Hot Tomato Café.  For all you mountain bikers that spend time in Fruita I highly recommend going.  Ann and Jen, the owners, are two wonderful people, amazing riders, and they make a delicious pie that is well worth the trip!

My four days in Moab flew by!  I shuttled the Hazard County ride with a bunch of Colorado Springs friends that were also in Moab for the weekend.  If you’re never done this ride it is one that should be on your bucket list of things to do before you die.  I have ridden and raced all over the world and this ride ranks in my top three of all-time greats.  To get yourself up to the start in the La Sals, jump on the Acme Shuttle.  It is run by my good friend Kyle Mears, who happens to be one of the best downhillers in the area and also one of the coolest people in town.  Unbeknownst to me, my dad and brother-in-law, and some of his teacher friends also shuttled this same ride, but at a lower starting point.  My dad is 71 and the only mountain biking he’s done in the last five years are a few trips on the White Rim.  So when I caught up to an older gentleman in a Ride the Rockies jersey half way down the Porcupine descent, imagine my shock as I looked over and realized it was my dad!  How cool is that!  To catch up to your dad riding down one of the gnarliest descents in Moab. 

After chatting for a few minutes I took off and caught up to my group.  The rest of the ride was a kick in the pants and I finished exhausted but grinning ear to ear.  The next day we did it all again.  This time I got to ride with my sister while her husband Dan had babysitting duties for the day.  I had arranged daycare for Emmett in Moab and had the entire day to ride.  Dan drove us up to the start of the Gemini Bridges road off Hwy 313 (Island in the Sky/Dead Horse Point).  We cruised down the dirt road for a few miles before jumping onto one of the newer trails in Moab; The Magnificent Seven.  The trail is all singletrack and descends down the Bull Canyon/Gemini Bridges mesa to the bottom of Gold Bar Rim.  It then climbs up a ways before ending at a spectacular canyon with views of the La Sals, Behind the Rocks, Amasa Back, and the Colorado River.  The singletrack portion of Mag 7 is a blast and nothing too extreme.  Once on Gold Bar the difficulty level jumps considerably, with many gonzo extreme sections that are a pride swallowing suffer fest.  Haha!

We didn’t have time to go all the way across Gold Bar Rim so we turned around and rode back down to the Gemini Bridges road and followed it up and out and then back down to Hwy 191.  There is a beautiful new bike path that starts at the Hwy 191 and 313 intersections and goes nine miles back to town.  We jumped on the path and rode down the big hill to where my car was parked at the Potash Rd.  Drove back to town and met my dad and the rest of the family at the Moab Rec Center. 

On Sunday my family and I did a mellow hike up Courthouse Wash.  Saw a snake, lots of puzzle grass, crows, vultures, butterflies, and lizards.  My family left for Denver after lunch and I drove up to the Bar M trailhead and met my good friend Kyle Mears for a 2hr mountain bike ride.  Moab has done a great job of building new singletrack trails in the past three years.  For a long time Moab was the place to go to ride your mountain bike.  But it was also the place to go for jeeps, rock crawlers, ATV’s and UTV’s.  All of the trails in Moab were old uranium roads built into extremely remote places in the quest for “yellowcake”.  The roads were shared by everyone, but over the years the mountain bikers got tired of dealing with the noise, smell, exhaust, and traffic caused by the motorized recreators.  Fruita, only two hours away, became the “go to” place for mountain bikers because a lot of their trails were singletrack, which meant no conflict with jeeps and ATV’s.  Moab was no longer the best place to ride a mountain bike.  But this has all changed in the last few years.  A group of very motivated individuals got together and realized there was a huge need for singletrack in the Moab area. With the help of IMBA, Moab began building singletrack.  Now there are dozens of new rides that are singletrack trails built by and for mountain bikers.

The Bar M trail system where I met Kyle has some really fun trails that range from beginner to crazy technical.  I followed Kyle around for 2hrs trying unsuccessfully to keep up with him.  Did I mention earlier that he is one of the best technical riders I’ve ever ridden with?  The great thing about riding a mountain bike is there is always room for improvement.  Riding with Kyle made me realize that I have an enormous amount of room for improvement. Haha!

My final day in Moab was spent on a leisurely hike up Mill Creek with my good friend Sylvie.  I carried Emmett and we hiked for an hour up the creek looking at petroglyph panels and exploring some of the big alcoves.  Mill Creek runs year round and is a great place to go in the summertime.  Emmett had a blast and especially liked when we splashed through the water.  Sylvie has worked with me at some of my Moab mountain bike skills camps.  She does day trips with Rim Tours and also makes a mean espresso at Chile Pepper bike shop.  She is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet until she kicks your ass on the mountain bike.

Then it was time to say goodbye.  I loaded up the car and took off around 1pm.  Emmett slept over 3hrs which made the drive go very quickly.  The weather fell apart and after leaving Moab in shorts and a T-shirt, we drove over Vail Pass in a snowstorm.  It is springtime in Colorado so I shouldn’t be surprised.  All in all a great trip and a much needed break from the chaos of life at home.  Until next time….

Happy trails!