Use science to get your preparation right
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and welcome and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. Where all matters mountain biking are considered and talked about, debated and reacted to. We often talk about the events and the riders and the races and how nice it is to be out there and riding. What a beautiful thing this mountain biking event and riding is and we know it is.
In order to get the best out of events and out of riding our bikes we need to be in fairly decent condition to take on these challenges. I thought it would be useful to have a chat to a sports scientist about how best to get the best out of our bodies in preparation. So I’ve come along to the High Performance Centre in Pretoria where the resident sport scientist here is Devlin Eyden. Devlin, hello and thanks for coming to chat.
Devlin Eyden: Hello Gerald, thanks for having me.
GDK: You’re a mountain biker as well? You finished your first Cape Epic this year, how was that?
DE: Loved it. It was gruelling and learnt a lot of lessons along the way. But phenomenal and dying to get back. Loved the race, awesome.
GDK: You specialise in endurance which plays very much into the mountain biking field doesn’t it?
DE: Without a doubt and a lot of people, the kind of mountain biking and the actual disciplines vary between the cross country and the marathon racing, especially stage racing. So the preparation does vary as well, so how we get ready for these particular events.
How to prepare for a one-day marathon
GDK: I think we’ll try to focus more on the endurance and the stage races and the marathons. Because that is the popular side of it. I think many of our listeners will be able to identify with that. Let’s start with the optimal way to prepare for, let’s start with a one-day marathon, 70-90km race. What are the areas we’ve got to be aware of?
DE: I think firstly, if we’re talking purely from a fitness point of view and prepping for that. So taking out the technical side of things, it’s important to know what the body is doing and what you’re having to take into account. So, starting off, periodising the plan. So knowing how long you have before a particular goal event is important.
Then also taking into account, breaking that period down into various training phases. Knowing that we are setting a good foundation in terms of what we typically call base training. Then also knowing the demands of the sport.
Knowing the 70km marathon race, for instance; where you’re riding, the kind of technical terrain, what the elevation might be like, the actual terrain itself. Is to how you’re going to prepare as well in terms of the amount of strength work and power that’s necessary in training for that event as well.
GDK: Say I want to ride a sub 4-hour marathon, that’s got to be taken into consideration or should I just survive it?
DE: Look, everyone is going to have an individual goal. So for a lot of people it is survival. It’s a case of getting out there and trying not to die while they’re out there and enjoy it a little bit. Then for a lot of people there’s the performance aspect.
Whether they are just a weekend warrior, still you care a little bit about your performance and trying to do better. So that’s going to take a lot into account, into the preparation itself. Making sure we focus on those areas of fitness, like the strength and the Power and the speed work.
Doing work off the bike as well
GDK: Let’s get to those, base, strength, Power, speed work, what periods are we putting to that?
DE: You can probably break that up and again, it’s going to vary as to how long we have before a goal event. That’s always going to be, in an ideal situation you want to be spending probably about 8-12 weeks on a good base foundation. Then if you have the time and you can break each phase up into about 6-8 weeks, you’re doing relatively well.
It is important to know that obviously various phases and times of the seasons is going to be quite important as well. When I start talking max strength work, we’ll do strength training way in advance from the actual event. Whereas when we start getting closer to an event, and if our goal is to ride faster and harder, being able to sharpen up before the event. Focusing a little bit more on the speed and the speed endurance going into the event itself.
GDK: If we were to push this out to a stage race, the period leading up has to be much longer. You’re preparing for 6-8 months and therefore preparation more meticulous?
Gearing up for a stage race
DE: I think so and again, what level are you starting out? If you are starting, let’s call it a simple three-day stage race to start, let’s take Cape Epic out of the picture. It’s important, one; what level you’re at and that you’re starting. Then making sure that you’re prepping for that from a point of you need a lot of recovery.
That’s where the base is going to be more important. Because you need to wake up in the morning and do that again, three days in a row. It’s a case of can you recover well enough and be able to go hard on a particular day. With the training there we’ll do a fair amount of back to back training as well. The Saturday long ride, Sunday long rides for instance. With that, again, you’re doing long hours in the saddle for most of the guys riding those stage races.
Taking the technical aspect out of it, you need to be spending time on the bike for enough of a duration. Doing that sort of riding, with a portion of high intensity work as well. Because that’s what’s going to get you over the hills and through the technical stuff without being too fatigued.
GDK: Many of us hear all this and some get coaches involved and get programmes. I get the feeling that a lot of people just ride on their own feel and instinct. Listening to this would say, I’m going to do that. How important is it to have that professional input?
DE: Being a professional, I’m always going to say it’s 100%. I definitely do feel there’s value to it. There’s a lot of, you can download generic programmes off the internet these days. But the thing with it, again, is those programmes don’t know where you are as an individual. It’s important and also how much time you have to your event.
I think having structure and some sort of professional advice is always going to be handy. It’s training blind can actually be to your detriment sometimes as well. More often than not, and we’re all guilty of it, we go and we join a club ride. The group that we ride with might be too strong for us, so we’re sitting in the red zone for that entire 2-3-hour ride. We’re not doing ourselves any good.
Just structuring your training a little bit better or having some input. It doesn’t necessarily mean a training programme. But just someone who can give some advice on a particular programme that you might be following. To have some guidance in the right direction.
The right way to use a heart rate monitor
GDK: Heart rate, we all seem to have the heart rate monitors and we look at it. Some swear by it and train specifically to the heart rate monitor. Others have it because it earns them points or something. How important is it and is it a tool that can be used constructively?
DE: I definitely think it is a tool that we can use constructively. In saying that though, it has its pros and cons. From the pro side of things, training with heart rate, we can measure intensity that we’re currently riding at. Whether it’s in a training session or a race. So we can monitor ourselves a little bit better as to when to go hard and when not to.
It’s also a very handy tool for us to see how we are recovering after training sessions. For instance early detection of potentially getting ill, looking out for injuries, well not injuries, rather getting ill. In saying that as well, we can get some sort of indication as to our training load as well, from a point of over-training.
You generally will find that if you’re sitting doing an intensity session, that you know your heart rate is at X. You’re struggling to hit those numbers and you’re sitting 5-10 beats below that. Typically where you would, it’s an indication, look there’s various other things as well, but it is an indication of potential over-training. You need a little bit more recovery.
Then with getting ill as well. If we’re regularly monitoring our morning resting heart rate for instance and you see that your heart rate is sitting 5-10 beats higher than normal. It’s an indication that we might be getting sick here and there. There’s definitely benefit to it.
The flipside to training with heart rate though is there’s so many various aspects that affect heart rate. That’s something that the average person doesn’t always take into account. They’re really cool gadgets to have, but it’s important, if you’ve had a cup of coffee and what is the cup of coffee doing to your heart rate. The fact that you might have had a really bad day at work or you didn’t sleep the night before, how is that affecting your heart rate as well.
You’re not then able to actually always train at the intensities that you should be. Because you’re too busy watching what heart rate does. So those are little things that you need to always take into account. I think like anything and any gadget out, we like the gadgets. But more often than not, you’re getting information overload. If you don’t really know what you’re doing with it, it’s just another gadget to have.
There’s definitely benefit in it and if you’ve got some sort of professional with that, as well as knowing where your base is. Doing some fitness evaluation before, so you know, you’ve got a starting point. These are the training zones you need to be working at, otherwise you’re training completely blind. You’ve just got some numbers showing back at you on a screen.
GDK: You trained for the Cape Epic last year, what programme did you follow, your own?
DE: Yes, I set up a programme for myself. Went through, look a fair amount of it is trial and error, not having done the race itself, for the first time. So a lot of it was seeing where I was. I think more importantly and we can have any gadgets as well, whether it’s heart rate monitors, Power meters, but the human aspect. We can’t lose the human aspect.
It’s important to know what your body is doing as well. Your body doesn’t lie to you. You’ll get an indication that right, I’m pushing it a little bit hard and you need to take off. Those are the sorts of lessons I learnt throughout as well. You think of something, for me Cape Epic was a complete Bucket List event to do. It’s huge, so your whole life revolves around that up to a point. You almost feel at some point, you want to keep going harder, keep going harder, keep training more. I’m a firm believer in recovery is key.
If you can’t recover, you can’t do the next session with quality purpose as you should be doing. Yes, a lot of lessons learnt and going forward I also have some sort of indication now what to expect. Being out there and what to expect on the days and each stage. The brutal terrain that we ride and the weather conditions and all that is brilliant going forward now.
Key things to remember when preparing for a race
GDK: Right, finally, bearing in mind that perhaps most won’t take a coach. But they’re going to go and try and approach, preparing for a stage race. Be it Epic, be it Sani2C or just a one-day race. What are the three or four key aspects that they should focus on. Be aware of when preparing (on their own) but with some information.
DE: Look, I mentioned the recovery side of things, so one thing that is key for me is, I almost want to say less is more. As long as you are training with purpose and quality to your training, rather than just trying to do as many hours in the week as possible. That’s the first thing, is just listen to your body. Making sure that you are recovering all right and you know what your body is telling you as well.
Fuelling, again, these are all things that you kind of would want professional input with. But making sure that we are eating right. We’re preparing, whether it’s eating right for a training session, to recover from that training session. Whether it might be to lose weight or whatever, that’s going to be quite key as well.
I think just more than anything else, just have some sort of plan as to where you want to go. You know that you’ve got a goal race, and have some sort of structure to what you want to do. Even if it’s you doing a bit of research on your own, have a plan as to what the outcome needs to be.
GDK: Fascinating stuff Devlin, I know there’s more that we could talk about in this thing. But High Performance or just getting through a ride, it all amounts to the same thing. I suppose in a way and it comes down to intensity across the board.
DE: Without a doubt, like I said, we’ve all got our own goals and everyone is riding for a different purpose. Whether it’s complete fun or you’re trying to get a PB in your time and all that. At the end of the day you just have a plan and know what you’re working towards and enjoy it, that’s why we do it in the first place anyway.
GDK: Spot on, Devlin, the resident Sports Scientist here at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria, just one of the many facets this facility offers. You can pop in and make an appointment with Devlin, he’ll set up a programme for you to prepare for whatever it is that you might have on your mountain bike Bucket List in the next year. I hope you’ve enjoyed that, I hope it’s been of some informative help to you as you prepare for your next goal. Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. Until next time, take care, cheers.