Colorado Trail Race Training Plan

Time to Try Something New

The Colorado Trail Race has been on my radar for a while now because it checks a lot of my ‘interest’ boxes.  I love bikepacking.  I love competing.  I find pleasure in pushing the boundaries of my abilities as an athlete.  Relentless mountain-climbing on a bike is my idea of a good time.  And while downhill riding has never been my strength, the Colorado Trail caters to the rider who loves elevation gain.  Here’s a description of the race from climbingdreams.net:

The CTR: 500+ miles and 70,000′ of elevation gain winding through the Colorado Rocky Mountains between Denver and Durango. Approximately 300+ miles of singletrack at elevations ranging from 5500′ to a gasping-for-breath 13,200′. The CTR is a monster! If the monster is in a good mood, you may experience Colorado’s beautiful sunny blue skies and wildflowers blooming as far as you can see! But, be warned — the CTR’s mood can change on a whim, and you may just as likely find yourself getting besieged by massive hailstones and lightning bolts. In short, don’t come to this race unprepared — no one will be there to rescue you.

The description alone sounds like a dare.  ‘Do this ride, but only if you have the guts.’ Well… challenge accepted, despite the fact that I have never competed in an event like this before.  In fact, my racing experience centers around running, not riding.  I have competed in one duathlon, and one endurance mountain bike race, but that’s it, so developing an effective training program for the Colorado Trail Race involves veering off into unknown territory.  But as I’m not new to endurance-racing, I have a decent foundational blueprint upon which to draw from, and hopefully this experience will be enough to prepare me for the rigors of the CTR.  I’ll find out in July.

Full-Time Job? Grad School Student?  No Problem

Okay, that’s not quite true.  Figuring out how to train for the Colorado Trail Race takes a lot of planning, but just because I’m working full-time and currently in graduate school doesn’t mean I can’t get myself into pretty competitive condition before the race on July 23rd.  Despite the horrible winter weather in the Pacific Northwest this year, I’ve been able to keep a pretty good base level of conditioning through running and through weight-lifting and spin classes at my local gym, but as far as mountain bike riding goes, I’ve done virtually nothing up to this point.  Does that concern me?  Not really, actually.  Let me explain.

This is what grad school usually looks like on my desk.  Not the best way to get a workout.

The Power of Cross-Training

A little of this…
And a bit of this…
Some of that…
Of course as much of this as possible…
Fit some of this in…
And a big portion of this on the side.

I’m a firm believer in cross-training.  For me, cross-training is done through three main mediums: running, riding, and weight-lifting.  Having competed in a number of half-marathons, one endurance duathlon, and so many 5 and 10Ks that I’ve lost count, I’ve always found the best recipe for success is through training the body in different ways, both in order to compete at a competitive level and to stay injury free.  Both running and biking involve little to no lateral movement, so I find doing  low-weight high-rep weights classes helps me stay injury free during the training process.

And I’ll follow this same blueprint for my training leading up to the race.  Like I already said, I’ve been pretty heavy on the running, lifting, and spinning classes this winter since the weather has been dismal in Oregon, but I’ve still been riding to work every day and riding more as the weather permits.  My workout routine over the winter was pretty regimented, actually, so I’ll continue it until my departure for the race in late June.  Here’s my plan for the coming months:

April-June Training Plan

A few important footnotes before laying out my plan:

I decided to include heart rate zones because this is something I closely monitor when working out.  If I see that I have dropped below 140 beats per minute (BPM) on a ride – via my Garmin heart rate monitor – I generally kick it up a notch to get a better cardiovascular workout.  Is this a necessary part of training, in my opinion?  ABSOLUTELY NOT.  I do it because I enjoy glancing at real-time details during my workouts, but it’s more for something to do while on the bike, and I would not do it if I didn’t find it enjoyable.

I also work hard to chase King of the Mountain (KOM) times on Strava when on my road bike, which I’ll occasionally do on the weekends if I don’t have a MTB race lined up – another great way to reach a cardiovascular peak.  Again, not necessary, but I find I’m happiest on my bike when I’ve achieved a new record or pushed myself to a ‘new normal’ in fitness.  And while this works for me, it definitely is not a requirement in the fitness realm.

But enough with the footnotes.  Here’s my training blueprint:

Monday

Activity

Distance/Duration

Heart Rate Zone

Bike Commute to Work 16 miles Aerobic: 120-150 BPM
Option A: Bike Ride 20-50+ miles (Will progress to higher mileage) Threshold/Max: 150-190 BPM
Option B: Run (For bad weather days) 4-7 miles Threshold/Max: 150-190 BPM

Tuesday

Activity

Distance/Duration

Heart Rate Zone

Bike Commute to Work 16 miles Aerobic: 120-150 BPM
*Weights Class* 1 Hour Aerobic: 120-150 BPM
Optional: Run 3-5 miles Aerobic/Threshold: 120-170 BPM

Wednesday

Activity

Distance/Duration

Heart Rate Zone

Bike Commute to Work 16 miles Aerobic: 120-150 BPM
Option A: Bike Ride 20-50+ miles (Will progress to higher mileage) Threshold/Max: 150-190 BPM
Option B: Run (For bad weather days) 4-7 miles Threshold/Max: 150-190 BPM

Thursday

Activity

Distance/Duration

Heart Rate Zone

Bike Commute to Work 16 miles Aerobic: 120-150 BPM
Weights Class 1 Hour Aerobic: 120-150 BPM
Optional: Run 3-5 miles Aerobic/Threshold: 120-170 BPM

Friday

Activity Distance/Duration Heart Rate Zone
Rest Day or Optional Short Run 3-5 miles Aerobic/Threshold: 120-170 BPM

Saturday/Sunday

Activity

Distance/Duration

Heart Rate Zone

Option A: Oregon Off-Road Mountain Bike Series Races (Mudslinger, Bear Springs Trap, Coast Hills Classic, Cascade Chainbreaker, Spring Thaw XC, Sisters Stampede 20-45 miles Threshold/Max Heart Rate: 150-190 BPM
Option B: Weekend Long Bikepacking Trip 50-90 miles Aerobic/Max Heart Rate: 120-190 BPM
Option C: Saturday Group Ride/Group Power Combo, with afternoon run or bike

Sunday run or bike

Saturday: 2 hours at gym, run 3-5 miles, bike 20-30 miles

Sunday: Run – 4-7 miles, Bike – 30-50 miles

Saturday: Aerobic/Max Heart Rate: 120-190 BPM

Sunday: Threshold/Max Heart Rate: 150-190 BPM

*Weights Class: I do an hour long weights class at the gym called group power, which focuses on different muscle groups in 5-minute long increments.  It covers a warm-up track, legs track, chest track, legs and back track, tricep track, bicep track, more legs track, shoulder track, abs track, and cool-down/stretch track, for a total of 10 5-minute long tracks.

July

As a final preparation for the race, I’ll be riding the Colorado Trail with a friend starting July 2nd.  We’ll ride from Denver to Durango and then meet up with our wives for a week of mountain biking, hiking, and relaxing, before they all head home and I tackle the CTR on July 23rd.

A little glimpse of Colorado Trail beauty.

Summary

This training program is in no way a perfect recipe for success.  As a somewhat experienced endurance athlete, I’m simply trying to lay out my own personal plan to potentially serve others who are doing the same.  Overall, it includes

  • 1-4 strenuous bike rides per week (weather dependent)
  • 1-4 strenuous runs per week (weather dependent)
  • 2-3 weight training workouts per week
  • 0-1 group spin class per week

Each week could see slight variations depending on weather, work, and grad school, but for the most part I’ll stick to this routine.  The CTR is unlike any endurance race I’ve ever completed, but I think that the mixture of cross-training and high mileage riding I have planned, alongside riding the Colorado Trail one time through before the race, will help me be as successful as possible.

One Last Footnote, And It’s Actually a Footnote this Time

While this plan may look like a lot of work, rule number 1 for me is to enjoy the journey.  If there’s something in my workout plan that feels like a chore, I’m not going to do it.  Why?  Because preparing for a race like the CTR has so many unknowns.  What if I injure myself days before the race?  What if a major mechanical problem stops me from completing the race?  What if my entire workout plan falls through and my fitness proves to be the biggest hindrance to success?  There are so many variables in a race of this length that I want to be sure and enjoy every minute of preparation I do leading up to it.  So if something in my plan becomes more work than pleasure, I’ll simply cut it out.

Fortunately, my workout plan checks all the right boxes in the enjoyment realm.  I love working out at the gym.  I love pushing myself on my road bike.  Bikepacking trips are usually the highlight of my month.  I’ve been wanting to get more involved in MTB races for over a year.  And pushing limits in fitness is a firmly established part of my identity.  My fitness plan is the perfect balance of preparation and fun in my opinion.  If things don’t work out, for some reason, and the CTR falls through, I’ll be really disappointed.  But at least I’ll have enjoyed the journey leading up to the race.

 

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