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7 tips for planning your race calendar

Hannah Finchamp, winner of The Mid South in 2020, is on the Team USA's Olympic long team for mountain biking. Here are her seven tips on how to plan a successful season.

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The days are getting warmer, the trails are drying out, and races are opening up again. You might be starting to dream up some big adventures or goals to accomplish on your bike this season. If you want to be at your best for your biggest goals, then you’ll want to plan ahead and make a schedule.

Whether you are planning to race World Cup events, a local series, long gravel races, or even planning an FKT or a big bike-packing adventure, you can benefit from developing a little structure and mapping out the weeks and months leading up to your biggest goals. 

Being your best on race day shouldn’t leave you with your fingers crossed and hoping that luck will be on your side. If you establish your goals early in the season, then you will be able to structure your training in a way that takes most of the guess work away and leaves you feeling confident in your abilities and the work that you’ve put in. You’ll want to follow a periodized approach, taper, and then peak for your biggest events. How long does that take, though? How many times can you do it in a season? Use these seven tips to structure your race calendar.

1. Identify A-Races

What is your biggest goal on the bike this season? Where do you want to be your absolute best? Did a specific event or goal come to mind when you read those questions? That is your A-Race for the season. In order to really capitalize on your strengths and allow your body enough time to build and recover, you’ll only want to have two or three A-Races per season. 

2. Schedule your blocks

Once you establish your A-Races, you’ll want to make sure that they are spaced out by about 12 weeks each. This means, for example, that you could have an A-Race in July and October. These 12 weeks are necessary so that you have time to recover from one race, build and improve on your fitness, and taper again before your next important competition or event.

3. Add in B-Races

Don’t cancel your other races just yet. Just because you only focus on two or three events per year as your major highlights doesn’t mean that you can’t line up for other fun events throughout the year. After you establish your focus races, count your other races as B-Events. The B-Events will work perfectly as “dress rehearsals” for your biggest event or events. The trick with the B-Races is to avoid tapering or resting too much before the race. It’s okay if you enter into a B-Race with a little bit of training fatigue still in your legs.

4. Keep your peak

When you prepare for an A-Race you will be “peaking.” Your peak is the intersection of your greatest amount of fitness and the greatest amount of rest. It’s a balancing act that takes practice and a lot of planning to achieve. Once you reach this peak state, you’ll only be able to maintain your peak for about 1-3 weeks. After that amount of time, you will either have to train too hard to keep your fitness and sacrifice rest or you will continue to rest and you will lose your fitness. 

This 1-3 week peak period is one way that you might be able to sneak in a couple of extra A-Events in a season. For example, if you peak for two races that are back-to-back weekends and then train for 12 weeks before another 2 races that are back-to-back weekends, you may be able to get a little bit more bang for your buck with more A-Races in one season.

5. Train specifically

One of the amazing things about cycling is that there are so many different types of events available. The sport offers a wide spectrum of possibilities. Don’t be afraid to try out different distances and disciplines. That said, to be at your best on race day, block out your season in sections. For example, try to do your longest races at the beginning of the season, and then transition to shorter style races later in the year. If you are trying to transition between 4-hour races and 1-hour races every other weekend, it may be difficult to truly train efficiently. In other words, try to have your B-Events mimic the demands of your A-Races in that block and if you’re planning two A-Races in a back-to-back weekend peak, try to have them be similar distances or disciplines.

6. Plan for post-race recovery

When planning out your A-Races, remember that recovery after the event will be a factor in your ability to resume training. Recovery is an extremely personalized metric, but it can take about 7-10 days to truly recover from a hard or long cycling event. If you are planning to race or complete an ultra-distance event or a multi-day excursion, it might take even longer to recover. If you find that you need multiple weeks to recover from the types of events that you do, then you may need to space your A-Events even further apart than 12 weeks.

7. Establish your base

As you begin to plan your race season, don’t neglect the training that comes well before the start line is in view. Establishing a strong base with longer, lower intensity rides earlier in the season will create a foundation that will allow you to stay strong throughout the entire season. Having a stronger base will also enable you to hold peak fitness for longer periods of time because your fitness won’t decline as quickly. 

Trial and error

When it comes to recovery, tapering, and peaking, everyone is different. Follow these guidelines to help establish an outline and then try it out. Every season make notes of what worked and what didn’t. Have fun learning about what makes you the best that you can be!