There’s no getting around it. To complete an endurance race you need to build up your mental and physical capacities to their optimal level without injuring yourself or burning yourself out. That means at least one or two days a week of serious, uninterrupted riding ramped up over weeks and months mixed in with a few lighter days. There are lots of good periodization plans available on the internet so I won’t waste space describing them here.
There is a lot of sound advice out there suggesting that if you want to get better, ride with people better than you. Absolutely. But there’s another perspective that says you can make significant improvements by riding with newbies. Here’s how: As you start to master mountain biking, much of what you do moves out of conscious awareness. Most of your skill becomes hardwired which is a great thing. It frees up space to learn new skills which propel you to ever higher levels of mastery.
Teaching newbies moves your mind in the complete opposite direction. You bring skills that you now take for granted back into conscious awareness. How is this helpful? Besides the satisfaction of introducing a great sport to initiates, teaching is like taking a refresher course. Through instruction you become hyper aware of whatever deficiencies may have snuck into your riding habits while you weren’t looking and you have a chance, even an obligation, to refine them. As a result, your fundamentals improve where otherwise they would’ve been neglected indefinitely.
If you know it’s going to be another long, cold New England winter and you heat your home with a stove, what do you use? Do you stockpile lots of paper, cardboard, pine sticks and gasoline? Or do you order a few cords of slow, but hot, burning hardwoods?
Expel most of the refined sugars and simple carbs from your life and I guarantee that you will feel and perform great (After a solid week of feeling awful. Straight sugar is like a drug and what you’re feeling is straight up withdrawal.) Check labels. If the so called energy bar has 20g or more of sugar, take a pass, or better yet, make your own. Dump the gels in your hummingbird feeders. Feed yourself right and you’ll bonk next to never given smart planning. As with all trail nutrition, experiment diligently prior to race day. The time to give up your sugar addiction or to figure out the right formula is emphatically not on or immediately prior to race day.
I get it. You have your favorite loop that you know like the back of your hand. You’re the Strava champion of the world. Here’s the harsh truth–no one cares about this except your mom and your doting nephew and chances are they’re even faking it.
If you want to get better, you have to stretch your mental and physical muscles in ways they’re not accustomed to. As long as it doesn’t detract from anyone else’s enjoyment and doesn’t violate the rules of the trails, ride your favorite loop..backwards. You’ll soon figure out that you aren’t as good as a rider as you thought you were, but stick with it and you will be.
Get a good light and some extra battery packs and ride at night as fast as you can without putting yourself in peril. Even the most familiar trails will be a challenge and your bike handling skills will improve automatically. Other ideas–pick a fairly technical trail and ride it as slow as possible without faltering. Pick an easy, lightly trafficked, trail and ride it as fast as possible.