by Richard Kolkovich
I recently finished approximately 2/3 of the Monarch Mindbender, which was to be my longest MTB race yet at 88 miles. I bailed at 52.3 miles, in the middle of a long but gradual (12 mile) climb up Marshall Pass Rd. First, I ran out of water (started the climb with a full 70 oz.). Next, my legs started going as I was dropped by the duo I had been riding with most of the day. Finally, my headphone batteries died, and I quickly caved. “Why climb, “ I mused, “if I won’t make the cutoff anyway and will have to bail back down this road?” And so I turned around, signed out of the race, and headed to Elevation Beer Company for a well-deserved brew.
A picture is worth a thousand words (at least), and so I present the reason for my abject failure to compete this MTB season:
For those unfamiliar with training, the big thing to observe here is the light blue area chart. This represents my fitness as calculated by my heart rate training stress score (hrTSS). Basically, this metric is an estimate of how “fit” one is, derived from exertion during training. Fitness (CTL) is the only metric that really matters for the point of this post.
I’ll point out two things in that graph that I feel are relevant:
- My peak CTL this year is 42; I surpassed that in MARCH of 2018
- What the hell was I doing from October through April?!?
Life happens. In the smooth arc from my last tracked ride of 2018 (CTL 62) until my first tracked ride of 2019 (CTL 0), I have had plenty going on: transitioning out of the van, buying a house, moving, home improvement projects, and general family responsibilities. This has left no room for training in the off-season, meaning I started from 0 this year. Everything I did last year? Gone. On top of that, I wasn’t even cross-training regularly (as I was before the 2018 season - even while I was building the van out).
Now I don’t mean to throw up my hands and blame life; I chose all the things which took precedent over training in the off-season with full agency. I also did not have an offseason training plan in place to ensure that I would train, regardless of other circumstances. As pathetic as my 2019 season may seem, metrics-wise, I have had consistency in my training, alongside many new life responsibilities.
The takeaway here is this: you cannot allow yourself to get ahead of (or even close to) the end of the runway. If you want to be consistently training, your calendar must reflect that. And it must do so at least a month in advance at all times. It becomes all too easy to ignore things we don’t block time off for, especially when we (as a society) tend to overload ourselves anyway.
As my support system is quick to point out, a 52.3 mile ride (69 w/ the bail back to town) on Monarch Crest is no small feat. As I sit here, disappointed in myself and nursing my sore body, I must acknowledge that even a failure to complete is still a success in many regards. I pushed hard, but I bit off more than I could chew. Unfortunately, the Monarch Mindbender will no longer be run as a race. But I have a GPX file, and I will be back out there to conquer it.
So while I am disappointed, I am not deterred. I have recently spent some time to get all my self-quantification data into TrainingPeaks, giving me a single platform from which I can holistically analyze my quantified body. I’ve also been reading books which I should have read a year (or more) ago on training, planning, etc. In short, I am accumulating tools which I can put to use to plan an effective and efficient training plan going forward.
My goal this off-season will be to maintain my base, ideally keeping a CTL of 30-40 to build off of in spring. I’ve done a decent job of incorporating cross-training this season (1-2 strength/HIIT days, 1-2 yoga days each week); I want to bump this up during the off-season to build a bit more base strength and core stability (and flexibility). The rough plan I have in my head now is 2-3 strength, 1-3 yoga, and 2-4 rides each week.
For the remainder of the outdoor season, I’ll be riding as much as possible (especially once the leaves begin to change). But I don’t plan to focus on anything but enjoying myself while I’m out there. It is important that we not lose the love of the sport that brought us to racing in the first place. I do plan to continue something I started this season (kinda): skills building. I’ve spent plenty of time at the bike park, becoming comfortable hucking rollers and table tops. I’ve also tried to start drilling basics (bunny hops, track stands, etc.) at home, and I will continue down this path. I learned to mountain bike with a bunch of ex-roadies, so I never picked up on the “basic” skills that many mountain bikers seem to have.
I decided to race the Fall Classic this season, as I am now a Summit County resident. I wrote most ofthis post before this race, and I write now a week after it (having not touched my bike during that week). It was a short race (21 miles) for me, and I felt good going into it. I knew the trails, and I had a very good idea of how my race would lay out. I went into this race with the most comprehensive race plan I have ever had - and that made it seem MUCH more conquerable.
There were three major climbs: up Prospect Hill / Extension Mill (changed Thursday before the race), up B&B / Turks / Sallie Barber / Nightmare on Baldy, and a final section up Boreas Pass Rd. before a long, rowdy descent back to town.
Each climb had a short downhill and/or flowy section following providing, by my calculations, about 10 minutes to “rest” (there is no such thing on a mountain bike) between the 30-45min climbs. I dropped the hammer, with slight restraint, climbing in Z4 and setting PRs for the first two climbs. I could feel my legs full of lead on the third climb and had to push harder to keep my pace. As I turned down Indiana Creek Road, I had to take a few seconds of stretches and a bit of a break before hitting the gas on my descent.
Now, I had ridden up Indiana Creek Road during the Breck Epic Stage 1 (I was just out for a training ride and happened to hook up with the tail of the race). It was raining and miserable that day, and I remembered the trail as being a super chunky and gnarly climb. Well, it was a super chunky, super fast, and super gnarly descent, too. So chunky, in fact, that I dropped my chain. Twice. This has happened one other time this season - during the Firecracker 50, descending another chunky Jeep road in 11th gear. I’ll be shortening it a bit in the offseason…
So I had to stop twice to fix my chain…one of those times, needing to untangle it before resetting it on my crank. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 racers passed me while I was fixing my chain. I didn’t know what division they were in, as we didn’t have any markings to determine this. So I rode hard out, through the creek (cold and refreshing…but locked up the leg muscles), and caught up to one of them toward the bottom of Blue River Trail. I knew there was a short, punchy climb coming, so I prepared myself to crank it, muttering “Seek and Destroy” to myself (I didn’t want to take my hand off the handlebar to navigate to the Metallica song by the same name which was coming up in my playlist).
He blew up on the climb, and I passed him, my right quad nearly seizing shortly thereafter. I pedaled through it, getting to the final, short and rolling descent. Narrowly missing a wipe on a corner in pea gravel leading up to the Finish line, I rolled across the line 10th in my division, crushing my 2:30:00 goal by over 30 minutes. Final time: 1:59:02.
I talked to the guy I passed afterward and he was, of course, not in my division. I walked away very pleased with my performance, but I came to be VERY annoyed at my minor mechanical when I saw the full results streaming at Carter Park: the time on the side of the trail may have cost me a podium spot. I was 4:09 behind 3rd place, and I estimate I was off the bike for 2-4 minutes due to the chain. Frustrating? You bet.
I originally titled this post A Disappointing Season, but I have been told that I can’t call it that (the post or the season). Instead, I have re-framed it as a building year: building my ability to ride at 9600’, building an efficient training protocol, building my skills and knowledge of my new hometown trails, and building balance between racing, work, and, most importantly, family.
I have begun mapping out my offseason training a bit, and, depending on where my CTL sits, I need anywhere from 180-230 hrTSS per week to maintain. In the early season this year, I took many spin classes before the snow melted enough for me to get out on the trail, and I grew to enjoy them in some weird, Nightingale-esque way. That means 2-3hr of spin classes every week will allow me to keep my baseline. I will definitely refine the plan a bit, adding some periodicity into it, too.
I am also considering getting a road or cross bike for outdoor mud season training. A fat bike is, of course, on the wishlist for true winter riding. Lastly, I hope to make a pilgrimage or two down to the desert during the winter to keep my technical chops up.
And I still have much reading and revising to do, especially when it comes to planning out my 2020 season. I will definitely be racing more in Summit County - it’s my home, so I feel like I should be running all the races I can here. I’m not sure what my Peak Race will be next season; I would like to train for the Breck Epic, but I feel like that may be a bit of a stretch for my 3rd season of racing. After the Fall Classic, I’m optimistic that I can find myself on the podium next season, if not on a big endurance race, then on a shorter, XC-style event.
This season, I had taken a lot more onto my plate, both in the realm of racing and everything else. I look forward to balancing myself, family, work, and training even better going forward while working my way into being competitive. Endurance sports take time to ramp up, and I’m only in my second year focusing on racing. As with everything, I must continue to evaluate and tweak to improve. Build, measure, grow. And shred.