Peaking for a single day race means you are arriving on race day as mentally and physically prepared as possible, with potential for your strongest performance of the season. The art of peaking requires smart, creative scheduling for a proper taper.
The most common mistakes with peaking are often related to:
- Too much or too little intensity
- Too much volume
- Not enough recovery
Other factors leading into the race that can negatively affect performance include the quality of rest, levels of life stress, travel logistics and diet. There is no perfect plan—only proper adjustments with training and rest to get to race day with everything needed to succeed.
To be in peak form, a reduction in training volume is needed to reduce fatigue and increase freshness. A focus on intensity is also needed to maintain fitness. Reducing volume can start as early as three to four weeks from the race and, at the latest, two weeks from race day. Elites who can recover quickly from higher volumes of training, for example, may wait until two weeks out to taper to maximize training time.
Race-specific intensity is important during this time, but interval days need to be spaced to every two to three days to prevent building unwanted fatigue. There is little to gain two weeks out from the race, so it is more important to focus on recovery than hard back-to-back training days.
The final two weeks hold your window of opportunity to make adjustments with training volume and intensity. One of the main goals is to arrive one week from your peak event in good form and with the ability to log a strong, intense training session. You want to experience strong power and speed, with good heart rate response, or in other words, less aerobic decoupling. A strong workout the week prior not only adds to your physical preparation, it adds mental confidence, which is priceless going into a race week.
Using a two week taper, with the first week being a “peak” week leading into the week of the race, let’s look at a few general training guidelines along with potential adjustments.
Around 75 percent of your average weekly training volume will work well for this week. If you average around 12 to 13 hour weeks for training, your peak week should be in the 9 to 10 hour range. It’s important to trust this reduction and not try to do more.
Two days of moderate to longer intervals can be done with one day focused on leg speed, cadence and sprints. For example, five to 10 minute Zone 3 and 4 intervals can be worked early in the week, with a race simulation day, working three to seven minute Zone 4 and 5 efforts over the weekend. Races are often used for this weekend workout, but that is not always a wise decision, depending on how hard the race is and how well you can fully recover from it. All other days this week should be focused on easier Zone 1 and 2 spins to further recovery.
If you enter this week coming off a few higher volume weeks, you may need a few recovery days to start the week. So instead of working a hard day on Monday or Tuesday, work it on Wednesday and then space the next hard workout for over the weekend. If you enter this week off a hard race the weekend prior, you may not need long intervals during the week. Instead work a few days focused on cadence and technical skills and save the legs for the hard efforts over the weekend. Lastly, if you are not able to achieve the longer intervals due to fitness or fatigue, work shorter three to five minute intervals for the week.
Race weeks should be of lower volume, around 50 percent of your average weekly training volume. So if you normally log 12 to 13 hour weeks, around five to six hours of total riding leading into the race will work well.
Race week intervals should be short, such as 30 to 60 second threshold pace efforts or sprints and spaced well within the workout to allow some recovery from each effort or round of efforts. If the race is on a Sunday, you could work short efforts on Tuesday and Thursday of the race week but if the race is on a Saturday, work efforts on Wednesday only and make Thursday an easy spin or a day off. The day prior to the race is reserved for openers, or very short fast sprints, 10 to 30 seconds in length, focused on fast cadence. These efforts should also be spaced to allow for full recovery from each effort. All other days this week should be easy, Zone 1 and 2 spins for recovery.
There are few if any adjustments that can be made during a race week that will make a difference on race day. If you are too fatigued coming into this week and skip race prep workouts, you can end up on race day with poor form and feeling flat.
Reaching peak form requires a focus on the details, including riding on the bike you will race on as often as possible in the last few weeks leading up to the race. No two bikes fit the same, so training adaptations on one bike may not transfer immediately to another bike, leaving you with poor form on race day. Also, working race simulated efforts on terrain similar to the race. This means a mountain biker needs to focus on technical skills on trails while working fast intervals. An often overlooked detail is having your bike mechanically dialed at least a week prior to the race. Confidence in your bike leads to confidence in the race. And lastly, arrive early, a few days prior to the race to unload life stress, relax and focus on the task at hand.
Click here to download a free race week “Art of Peaking” plan to get you to your next cycling event in top form, and check out one of my many other mountain-biking training plans for all events and distances.