A Races, B Races, And Timing: A Look At How To Plan Ahead

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As we head back to the Hive after spring break refreshed, recharged, and armed with new motivation, it’s the perfect chance to set goals. If you’re in this block, you’re likely already coming back to action with a specific race or two in mind in the busy April and May portion of the season. But which is your top priority, and what’s the best way to hit that race at full speed?

One of the big challenges of a long race season is trying to be in good shape all the time. Instead, like many pros, it’s often more realistic to be in good shape most of the time and great shape ahead of your top events. For many northern Michigan athletes, the main goal of spring is Mud, Sweat and Beers, so much so that nearly every workout is built around hitting that first weekend of May in prime shape.

Whatever your main objective, setting that goal early and building toward it can be a key component in getting the most out of your training. Setting an A race, or your top target, and working backward from that date, is a proven way to build your form to a sharp peak right on schedule. Many professionals pick one or two portions of the season to peak for. Riders like Chris Froome, who is looking to be in perfect shape for the month of July, are at races like the Volta a Catalunya to help teammates and rack up race miles. They may not be in perfect shape, but they’re building that fitness and getting use to the intense efforts they need to be on the podium later on.

It’s a perfect example of a B race, and those B races are important to set into your schedule as well. Around here, many mountain bikers will opt to race in the Mid Michigan Community College Rust Shaker or Yankee Springs Time Trial, with both events one week before MSB. This gives athletes a chance to use the race as a day to practice everything, and that includes as lot more than just race efforts. It’s a chance to practice your nutrition, your packing, your bike prep, even what you want to wear before, during, and after a race. It’s a way to reestablish what you do one day, six hours, even ten minutes before a race start.

One question we get a lot this time of year is about tapering. For most of our events, we are only doing 1-2 hours of intense racing, which means you should only need to adjust your training 1-2 days before your race. For example, our M/W classes shouldn’t need to adjust their workouts at all for a Saturday event. If you’re a Tuesday and Thursday rider, you know if you need a lighter day Thursday, and much of that will depend on how much time you have to fit in a 30-60 minute easy ride on Friday. Again, those B races are a great way to reexamine what you need to do in those two days leading up to a race. Our tip? Do what you normally do; if you’ve been doing the full Thursday workout all season, you’re probably just fine for a Saturday event.

Another idea is to look back at what has worked well for you in the past. If you nailed MSB last year, take a look at the 1-2 weeks of riding preceding the event and try to replicate those workouts, your ride volume, and overall structure over that time period. For example, if you hit your normal classes and had a big five hour weekend before Barry-Roubaix and felt strong, try to hit those same rides again. On the other hand, if you went into the race feeling overcooked, try to reduce volume in the week before the races by an hour or two and see how that works for your body.

Everyone is different, but at this time of year, adding in a B race 1-2 weeks before your main goal is a good idea, if it fits your schedule. In summer and fall, it’s often more helpful to add in that ‘practice’ event as far out as three weeks, which allows you even more time to adjust your fitness for the demands of you main goal. Typically, it’s nice to find a race that shares the length and characteristics of your main target to practice. Doing a one-hour mountain bike race to prepare for the hilly 62-mile Cherry-Roubaix may not give you a lot of useful feedback, for example.

The key is to always be learning; practice what works, learn what doesn’t, and make small adjustments so that you can control as many variables as possible. And of course, ask questions! Your coaches have been doing this dance for a long time, as have many of your classmates. So much of this sport is experience and knowledge; luckily, we have a huge community of athletes to draw upon to combine both!