Racing is hard, very hard. Especially olympic cross-country mountain biking. It is often 90 minutes of intense pain starting right from the gun and barely easing up as the race unfolds. The start is brutal, the hills are pure hell, any small obstacle often requires a 3-5 seconds power burst and the descents are anything but recovery time. Add the huge concentration requirement and you end up quite toasted on the finish line.
After reviewing my first two races power data, I can briefly summarize the physiological demand of XCO MTB racing. Keep in mind those two races were relatively short, being regional level races, lasting arround 75 minutes each.
First race normalized power was 285 W and totalized 14 minutes above 120% of FTP and 8 minutes between 105% and 120% while second race normalized power was 299 W and totalized 19 minutes and 8 minutes for each respective training levels. That makes it 22 minutes and 27 minutes of very high intensity work for each race. The cumulative time above 120% of FTP is made of several short acceleration lasting anywhere between 5 seconds to 1 minute. Some people would call those short efforts anaerobic but I would venture saying they are not, maybe except for the start. Why? Because almost all these short intense efforts are produced in an already fatigued state where aerobic energy production is already doing it's work. Therefore, I would think they are far from purely anaerobic and would involve a significant aerobic energy contribution. Such high intensity efforts require a good deal of glycogen and stores can be rapidly used.
Then you have the whole muscular contractions when descending, clearing obstacle and handling the bike that are not reported by the powermeter... what a sport!!
Recovery from racing
The significant systemic stress induced by MTB racing requires smart recovery strategies, both on the short, medium and long term within racing season. That's without speaking of the stress induced by traveling to races, sleeping in crapy hotels and eating average food.
On the short term, I must make sure I get proper post-race nutrition which means and good amount of carbohydrates combined with proteins. I often go for the classic chocolate milk or anything liquid containing 4g/1g carbs to proteins ratio. I keep fueling with carbohydrate dense food on the way home. Then I make sure I get a good meal once I am back. On the medium term, I need to get sufficiant sleep quality and quantity. For me, it generally means 8 hours of sleep following steady bed time hours and wake up. Sleep is esential to adequate recovery to allow adaptations from racing intensity, since racing is pretty much the only real training I am doing at the moment. Finaly, on the long term, the recovery strategy needs to be consitant throughout the season. Sufficient nutrition quality and quantity, sleep and training load must be scaled according to the racing demand.
Training plan orientations
Training, for me, is all about being is race shape when comes racing time. Lots of efforts from november to april, then racing. Once racing starts, structured training frequency drops quite a bit. I go from 2-3 hard workouts a week to 2, then only 1 and even no intense workout at all when racing frequently like I am right now. Racing frequently means once to three times a week. It's more then enough when you consider the physiological demand of XCO MTB racing as explained above. The more I am racing, the more I am convinced week days should mainly consist of low intensity, zone 2 riding working on skills and trail riding, which can also provide some shorter higher intensity time. Easy rides on the road coupled with zone 2 trail riding should provide adequate recovery without inducing additionnal training stress as long as duration and intensity are controled. When the racign eases a bit after june, we'll see if I schedule a very gentle build to sharpen things back. But first I need to go through june without burning out!
Let see how it unfolds from now on...