I recently read a book called The Science of Running and it had a lot of great cutting edge info about how the running world is using science to drive their training. If you don’t know, track/ running coaches are usually at the head of the pack when it comes to innovative training ideas and one place to keep an eye on if you want to spot the next trends in sports training.

While there were a lot of great points made about over-reliance on “science” to drive training – with a lot of compelling science to back it up, ironically enough – there was one term that kept coming up that I thought was a great way for mountain bikers to look at their training…

Pacing Development Strategy

You see, most runners aren’t just “runners” but tend to engage in or race certain distances more than others. For example, you have 5k runners and half-marathon runners, both of whom are “runners” but still view themselves differently in many ways.

Each race/ distance requires a different Pacing Strategy to improve and excel at. And it is that Pacing Strategy that they look to work on and improve with their training.

Like I’ve pointed out before, one of the biggest mistakes I see mountain bikers make is using a program that tries to improve their metabolic markers of cardiovascular fitness without keeping the context of how that cardiovascular fitness needs to be used on the trail.

In other words, your cardiovascular fitness needs to be built in a way that directly supports the Pacing Strategy you are trying to work on, period.

To do this you have to think first about what the trail asks you to do and, more importantly, where you struggle. You may find that there are things you need on the trail but you don’t really use them a lot, which means you don’t get much of a chance to improve them from simply riding.

And this is where training comes in – when used right it gives you the chance to fill in the gaps of your Pacing Strategy.

For example, most riders would put steep, technical climbs both on their list of things they need to do on the trail and as something they want to improve on. In order to ride at the Pace/ Speed they want on the trail they have to deal with technical climbs and they need to get faster at them and have them produce less fatigue.

While you may not be riding up technical climbs for a large portion of your ride, when you do hit them you need to be able to get up them quickly and efficiently so you don’t slow down excessively or blow up at the top, both of which mean that you have to slow down your overall Pace.

This means that 1) you need to start forcing yourself to attack technical climbs at the Pace you want to use when you race and 2) you need to fill in some gaps that may be holding back your technical climbing with your other training.

When you look at what goes into technical climbs you see that they require you to stand up a lot more and use your upper body, use more tension at the pedals and be able to maneuver your bike efficiently. You can then look at ways to improve standing pedaling, upper body strength, High Tension Cardio and your skills and use them to help you improve your Pacing Strategy on the trail.

So instead of trying to improve cardio, strength, mobility, power and skills in isolation from each other and how you actually use them on the trail you are able to make better use of these tools by always keeping how they integrate into your Pacing Strategy in mind.

And, in case you are wondering, I’ve found that most riders need to get stronger, more mobile and better able to deal with High Tension Cardio efforts to improve their Pacing Strategy. They need to equip themselves with a more athletic “engine” and then purposefully apply it to the trail – pretty simple formula for success.

However, simple doesn’t mean easy. You need to do some things you may not want to do like spend a few hours each week working on those things that are really holding back your Pacing Strategy Development. Getting stronger and improving your High Tension Cardio is hard and sometimes very uncomfortable work.

But those are the things that result in the “What the heck?” moments on the trail where you are suddenly able to ride up something or clear a section of trail you’ve never made before. And those moments are the real breakthroughs in your Pacing Development Strategy on the trail.

Before I finish I wanted to let you know how this mindset has helped me. Even though I just came across the term, this idea of using my training program to improve my ability to ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail has been something I’ve pursued for a long time.

You have to remember that I’m just like most of you – I don’t like to workout. Oh sure, I get some joy from a good workout or breaking a personal best in the gym but honestly, those moments are few and far between.

I’d much rather just be riding my bike.

But to me part of the fun in riding my bike is being able to push the Paces/ Speeds I want to on the trail. I’m not trying to win any races or get a KOM on Strava but I do enjoy the rush that comes from riding a section of trail with speed, style and flow.

And to do that I am constantly examining my riding to see where I can improve and then tweaking my program to help me do that. Seeing my training as my Pacing Development Strategy instead of something that has little to no real context to the trail keeps me motivated to stick with it.

I think that it’s time we start to think about riding and training in terms of a Pacing Development Strategy instead of just ways to work on “cardio fitness”. Sure, better numbers in some lab test are great but only if you improved your speed and endurance on the trail so make sure that is the real priority.

So what do you think? Do you like the term Pacing Development Strategy to describe our ultimate goal with a training program? Or do you think that I’m missing something in my critique of the traditional views used to create mountain bike training programs?

Leave a comment below if you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it. And if you liked this post please share it with a fellow rider who could benefit from the info.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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