Off-Season with Intent
This winter has taught me to be consistent. For the first time in my life, I’ve become intentional about my training and heading into my enduro mountain bike race season, I can already see my work paying off.
Enduro is a format of mountain bike racing that involves timed downhill race stages and untimed (but time-limited) transfer or liaison stages. The races demand strong technical skills alongside the ability to spend up to eight hours out on the course and the ability to redline for several race stages throughout the day. Most stages last five to eight minutes, but I’ve raced stages that have lasted less than a minute, and I’ve raced stages that have lasted almost half an hour. To excel, you need to be ready for just about anything.
I entered my first enduro four years ago on a whim. I’d just bought a full suspension bike, and since I had a good bike, I figured, I might as well give it a try. My first race was miserable. We spent the first hour and a half carrying our bikes up a scree field before starting a punishing traverse on sketchy hiking trails. By the end of the day, I wanted to cry, but for some reason wanted to try it again. I learned how it felt to ride in a way that made me proud, and since then, I haven’t stopped pushing for more.
As I became more serious about racing, I started competing in the pro women’s category and even trying out some Enduro World Series events. The events were fun, and I had some great results, but I often found myself in over my head. Throwing myself into the deep end had worked at first, but over time I reached a point when I knew I needed to get serious about my training.
I started working with Robin at MTN LAB last fall after a brutal season showed me my weaknesses. I crashed hard several times because I was too tired to ride my bike aggressively, I watched my technical skill deteriorate in the blurred-vision and fried-brain hard race stages, and I suffered through massive days on the bike that I hadn’t properly trained for.
I finished the season exhausted and a bit demoralized, but optimistic that with the right training, I could set myself up for success in future years.
After a short much-needed rest period, I started a phase of rebuilding that focused on general strength and mobility to make sure I had enough base fitness to support a tough training program. With Robin’s guidance, I spent the first winter months completing blocks of base training, preparing to build intensity heading into the race season. Now, with my first race at the end of April, I feel stronger than I ever have, physically and mentally.
I’ve learned three major lessons over the past several months: I’ve learned to trust the process, to prioritize recovery and to accept small changes.
Trusting the Process
I love instant gratification, but the training process usually doesn’t give us immediate results. This winter, I’ve learned to put in the work with consistency and determination, even when I feel discouraged. Some days I don’t feel strong or motivated, but the decision to keep pushing myself on those days is what defines my success this season. I trust that Robin knows what she’s doing. She knows when to push me and keeps me accountable in pushing myself. I also trust that we can communicate about how I’m feeling, and she can help me decide when I need to back off and recover.
Recovering from training is just as important as training hard. When I start to neglect proper sleep, food, and hydration, I fall behind quickly, and it is difficult to catch back up. Life has thrown me a few curveballs this winter, and it’s been essential for me to take care of myself in the face of life drama, a busy work schedule, and intense training demands. I’m learning to recognize the signs that my body isn’t keeping up with my training and I know I can dial things back when I need to.
Accepting Small Changes
Every big change can be broken down into numerous small, realistic goals. For example, if I don’t try, I drink just one or two cups of water each day (and then reach the end of the day and wonder why I feel awful). Recently, I’ve been working on changing small behaviors to reinforce good habits. I make sure to drink a full glass of water each morning when I wake up. I bring a water bottle with me to the gym, which reminds me to drink between weight lifting sets. I drink herbal tea instead of coffee at work. Similarly, I’ve worked to make sleeping easier for myself. I make sure not to over-commit myself in the evenings and am mindful about how I spend my little free time.
Some of the most important work I’ve done this winter has been mental. Often, after spending all day at work ski patrolling, I really, really don’t want to go to the gym. I go anyway. Some nights I do a strength workout followed by a bike workout, and I’m not going to lie, it can be tough. But a big part of mountain bike racing is being comfortable with discomfort, and when it starts to hurt, I remind myself that all of this makes me stronger. Every time I put myself through a brutal workout, it makes me a bit better at being in brutal situations. Every time I sit on a bike trainer until late at night, I practice patience and discipline, and that makes me a bit more patient and disciplined heading into the race season.
This winter has helped me to really internalize all the training guidance that we all think we know. I’m learning what it means to trust the process. I can take training day-by-day and aim for progress, not perfection. And I’m shifting from knowing what I should do to actually doing it.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing there’s a simple solution out there, and all you have to do is find it: A particular exercise that will make you strong from one rep, a trendy way of eating that will suddenly increase your body’s efficiency or that one program that will change everything.
I think the key we overlook is consistency. Throughout the winter, I’ve dragged myself into the gym at the end of countless long days, often finishing my workout just before the gym closed. I have become more patient and am letting go of my need for instant gratification, instead, learning to trust my training in ways that I haven’t before. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.
All of this means that when race season comes, I’ll be more ready than ever.
By: MTN LAB ATHLETE - Alicia Leggett
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