Professional mountain bike coach Alan Milway gives his tips on training for Enduro, including a few of the best places in the UK to practice.
Enduro mountain biking blends the best parts of Downhill racing with adventure and riding large distances. It’s a fantastic day or weekend with friends, as well as an amazing race event! Here are Alan Milway’s tips for becoming fitter for the longer distance rides, nutrition advice and a few places in the UK perfect for Enduro.
How to build endurance
An Enduro race is not over in five minutes. In fact it is often not over after five hours, so endurance – as the name indicates – is key! The ability to maintain effort for long periods of time is a primary demand for this discipline – so build your aerobic capacity through long, steady rides. Riding very hard on Enduro style stages at the weekend is great, but to succeed in a race you need to complete multiple stages often over two days, so having this distance trained into your legs is necessary.
Heart rate monitors are useful for this style of training as you don’t need to go too hard or at a high intensity – building the ‘engine’ at a biochemical level involves steady state, aerobic exercise where lactate actually hinders some of the areas we are looking to establish, so keep a rev limit on these rides, make them interesting and cover a lot of ground!
Aim for rides over two hours and closer to four hours if you can. You will need to fuel during rides, and for these efforts volume is more important than intensity. Just remind your training partners of this when they shoot off up the first climb!
Downhill riding skills
Where a downhill race is focused on one track ridden at the highest speed, an Enduro race often has six stages to be ridden at full speed! So, skills are key here. If you are limited in skills across even one of these stages, your overall time will suffer. Skills practice is often overlooked by riders – they just go out and ride but don’t section things as often as they should to truly learn the best lines and the best approach for a section. By modifying this approach to have a clear improvement in skills as an outcome for the ride will make a big difference. Skills coaches can help a lot here too and are well worth the investment!
If you are new to mtb riding, use the trail grading system to build up to progressively more challenging sections. When you are comfortable riding the technical sections, start to repeat these to try and improve speed through them. Trail centres usually have graded routes and these allow for good skills progression.
Building strength in the gym
Although you need to cover a lot of ground over the course of an Enduro event, the stages themselves are at full pace and often similar in nature to a downhill stage. Very hard bursts of pedalling, rough terrain, sections to pump and sprint and climbs to power up. Having strength and power in the upper and lower body will contribute to stage times and maximise control on the bike. Although you are not looking to set records in the bench press or deadlift, having strength in the push and pull, as well as lower body through leg strength development will be seen on the bike – hitting the gym is clearly useful and should be part of your training!
As a good starting point I would use a squat, lunge and deadlift to build lower body strength, and inverted rows/ TRX rows/ Chin Ups as progressions for upper body pulling movements, and press ups, dips and bench press as progressions for upper body pushing movements.
To keep your energy levels up beyond two hours requires you to take in fuel along the way, so the tank doesn’t run dry. Carbohydrate is king here, and having snacks, drinks and gels are all good ways to keep energy up and performance too.
Often poor results in long duration events can be explained by poor nutrition on the day, so be very aware of this! Store food on the bike, back pack and in your pockets with a wide range of carbohydrate snacks. During a long day caffeine can be very helpful too and help sustain effort and focus. Recovery will be aided by taking in protein alongside carbohydrate. You don’t need pre-packaged food for your high carb snacks – home-made rice cakes, flapjacks and peanut butter and jam sandwiches will all help fuel those long races or rides!