How to Build Endurance for XC Racing


Building endurance for mountain biking is really training your body’s ability to overcome fatigue and remain efficient over the duration of your ride or race. Put simply, building endurance makes mountain biking more fun!

Mountain Biking is a dynamic discipline that requires not only aerobic strength but also anaerobic capacity – when you are two hours into a ride and there is a steep hill or rock in the trail, it is mandatory that your effort increase to make it up and over or clear the obstacle. What can you do to ensure you have the strength and energy to stay strong and focused during a long day in the saddle?

Over the winter months and in the early season, endurance development (building your base fitness) is highly dependent on where you live and the weather challenges you face. Spending time cross-country skiing, light running, gravel and road riding with friends, and weight lifting are activities that will allow you to start the season with a strong foundation that you can build upon.

As spring approaches and you turn your attention to the upcoming mountain bike season, here are some things to keep in mind as you begin to build your mountain bike endurance:

  • What is the duration of your event? Is it a 90-minute cross country race, a 6-hour marathon style race, or an all-day, backcountry adventure with your friends? When you are building a training plan, think about the amount of time you will be spending on your bike, rather than the miles covered. The longer the event, the longer the training rides need to be.
  • Enjoy the process. Build volume slowly, but steadily. As your season progresses, add a bit of race-specific intensity into your rides. Begin to include harder efforts towards the end of your rides to work on fatigue resistance and fast finishes. For example, finish a 3.5-hour ride with 30-45 minutes of up-tempo riding, followed by 10 minutes easy cooldown. Finish up with a recovery drink.
  • Incorporate back-to-back long rides. Schedule two or three long ride days in succession, followed by one to two days of rest. This will increase your endurance by teaching your body to adapt to the cumulative stress and will build fatigue resistance.
  • Ride your road bike and your mountain bike. Mountain bike endurance is both fitness and skill. Spending time on the road bike can quickly build fitness, but skills are best refined on the trail. Keep things interesting by incorporating both into your weekly training schedule.
  • Work on your weakness. Ride with others who challenge you to push your limits. Spend 10 minutes at the start or end of your ride working on skills, bunny-hops, wheelies, track stands, etc.
  • Eat and drink early, and often. During any ride over 90 minutes, be sure you are eating long before you are hungry. While dependent on body weight, climate and personal preference, a good rule of thumb is one bottle (16oz-24oz) of water/hydration and 180-300 calories per hour. Aim to drink a little every 10-15 minutes, rather than a full bottle all at once.
  • Bring along your friends. Stay motivated and motivate others by arranging group rides, checking out new trails, and challenging yourself by sessioning spots on the trail that hold you up.

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