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Ask Levi: Why Doesn’t My Hard Training Pay Off on Race Day?

Today’s question is from a rider who has been training hard for years, but the training doesn’t seem to be paying off on race day (when it counts…)

Hi Levi,

I have been cycling good for few years now and have always been training real hard for racing season each year in Ireland. But, sometimes all the hard training doesn’t pay off on race day for some reason. I have been racing the last 4 years now and I’m a 3rd cat racer. I have a question that id like to know:

How do you practically build power or strength in the legs for racing? I have speed in the legs and my endurance is great to last my races which can be from 70kms up to 120km depending, but I seem to lose out on that extra kick of power for the finish line at the end.

Thank you for your time,
Regards,
Kickin Ken

Hi Ken,

Thanks for writing in with your question!

It sounds like your current training might not be matching the effort that’s required at the end of a race when it really counts. That’s not the only possible answer, just the most likely one, going by what I see from other racers. It’s very common to underestimate just how hard race efforts are, especially if you don’t have a power meter giving you the hard data.

Without knowing your exact training plan, all I can say is, there must be some aspect of your fitness that your current style of “hard training” isn’t hitting. You need to find what that is and start working on it.

The Likely Answer? Interval Training!

The solution is almost always to incorporate interval training that matches the demands of your races.

You’ll need to perform intervals that closely match this effort, in both intensity and rest interval length. Also, you’ll need to do enough volume in a training session to be able to repeat this level of effort more than once, as generally required in a race.

When it comes to aerobic endurance, it sounds like you’re doing great. When you have to push your aerobic limits and/or go anaerobic, that’s where most people need some work. (It’s hard work, so it’s often avoided during training… but that only delays the suffering until race day!)

Consider some VO2 Max intervals, 3 minutes in length to start out. When done well, these will allow you to better tolerate the hard efforts and attacks during a race. (If you improve your VO2 Max, you should be able to stay aerobic during hard efforts that push your competitors into an anaerobic situation, leaving you ready to attack hard when they’re tired.) These are tough, so use them in moderation.

One other strategy, albeit a controversial one, is to go out and put in some endurance work before doing your intervals. I like the idea because it does replicate racing, but since you’re going to be tired, you can’t put as much effort into the important part of your training session, and your form is potentially deteriorated. So I generally don’t recommend that path, but that’s up to you to see if it fits!

Don’t Forget Race Tactics and Skills

Winning races takes more than fitness. It requires specific skills and properly executed tactics throughout the race.

You might be using up too much energy early on. There’s a popular saying in the racing community that goes something like this:

“Everyone starts the day with a book of matches. Once you burn all your matches, you’re done.”

Basically, each time you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you burn a match. Once you burn a match, you don’t get it back. If you burn all your matches early in the race, you won’t be able to sprint at the finish.

You’ll maintain a normal pace and feel alright, but for the sprint, that’s when you realize you don’t have any matches left to burn to kick it up a notch. With proper tactics, you’ll be able to stay at the front of the pack without burning your matches.

Work on your sprinting skills as well, and you might just find that extra kick of power you’ve been looking for!

The Role of Nutrition and Fuel

There’s definitely a nutrition aspect as well. If your longer races are over two hours long, it’s a good idea to be taking in some carbs during the early parts of the race to be sure you’re going to have sugar to burn for energy. Also, a gel used strategically towards the end could give you a much needed physical and mental boost.

The specifics are different for everyone, but proper race day nutrition is vital for your performance.

The Secret Ingredient: Tapering

What if your training, nutrition, and tactics are flawless? You might need to work on your taper!

Tapering is essentially just resting up before an important race. This is probably the simplest thing to do, yet it’s so difficult because it’s counter-intuitive.

As a racer, you’re naturally scared to take time off, because you might lose the fitness you worked so hard to gain. So it’s possible that you’re training too hard (yep, you can train too hard!) and not tapering enough before races.

It can be scary at first, thinking you’ll lose too much fitness during the taper. But once you get it right, you’ll be amazed at how well you can perform in a race.

 

If you work on each of those areas, I believe your hard training will really start to pay off!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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