How to Train for Enduro MTB Racing

with RAE MORRISON, Liv Racing Collective

Whether it is your first enduro or you are a seasoned veteran, having a training plan in place can help you prepare for the demands of an enduro race. There are so many different aspects of enduro and the courses can vary drastically from race to race, so the goal is to be a great all-round rider; fit enough to last the day, skilled enough to get down the stages smooth and fast, strong enough to put the power down when needed and to be able to hold on when the tracks get rough. Trying to incorporate all this into a week can be pretty overwhelming, but fear not as it can be easily achieved with a bit of planning.

Fitness Training for Enduro

For on-the-bike sessions, you can use any bike (road, indoor trainer, or your mountain bike). But, as you get closer to your race, I’d recommend doing your training on the bike you’ll be racing.

Endurance: First thing is to make sure you are going to be able to comfortably ride the distance and have energy left over to race downhill multiple times. Distance and elevation can vary so much between venues so I concentrate on time riding and try to vary my rides and loops each time. I try to do two 3-hour+ rides with some hills each week to prepare myself for the EWS at a pace where I can comfortably hold a conversation. The idea is to recover as much as you can during the liaisons, soit is ideal to keep a lower heart rate and concentrate on breathing during these rides. Over time you will be able to go faster and longer for the same intensity, this gives a big advantage to remain fresh for the stages. Building endurance is basically just time on the bike, but consistency is key. You will have more fitness gains from doing several shorter rides a week than doing one mega ride every once and awhile. Therefore, if time availability is hard, these rides can be fit in around the day and split up. For example cycling to and from work most days is a great way to add extra riding in, 30min to and from work and suddenly you have 1 hour a day, and 4-5 hours a week in the bank.

High Intensity: Incorporating high-intensity workouts is so important considering this is the effort you put in when you are actually racing. Down a stage you are always going to have multiple bursts on the pedals and sprint sections. Just think, after every corner and flat stretch, putting in some powerful pedal strokes is going to increase your overall speed and therefore bring your race time down. Ideally high-intensity interval sessions are done twice a week. These can be done on any bike and time-wise these workouts don’t take too long, so it’s easy to add onto the end of a gym session, at the start of a ride, or to just go out on your street by your house.  Just make sure you warm up and warm down, as these are short and sharp.

There are endless combinations of intervals you can do, but these are my favourite to prep me for racing:

  1. 10 seconds on/ 50sec off x10 from a rolling start. If you are a beginner, I would only start with 2-3 reps and add a rep each time. To progress this add more reps, or bring down the recovery time to 45sec then 40sec. This one is great to prepare you for those short little bursts you need along the trail after corners, features and flat sections.
  2. 30 seconds on/ 30seconds off and repeat. These are tough but are some of the best bang for buck intervals. It will help for any climbs and longer sprints in the stage when you are already fatigued. To progress, add more reps, I usually start with 4 and then add one more rep each time I do it.

Strength Training for Enduro

Being strong is not only important for being able to handle the bike down rough sections of trail, but it also helps to reduce fatigue and increase power. Additionally, by building muscle around the joints it can help you bounce rather than break in the event of a crash. I have found my overall injury rate has decreased significantly after prioritising the strength training in my off-season for the last few years. I spend several months building strength in the off-season, going to the gym 2x a week. Closer to race season, I will reduce my gym time  to 2x a week to maintain my strength gains. Having a trainer is super beneficial, especially for those new to the gym. Some of my favourite exercises where I feel the most benefits are squats, lunges, deadlifts, bench (or press ups) and rows. Working on full, functional movements and strengthening throughout the range of motion is a great way to start off, then moving on to heavier weights as a progression.

Skill Training for Enduro

Having time to target your bike skills is so important, but often left out when people start training for enduro racing. The more repetitions of a skill you perform, the easier it is going to be to apply it to a trail. For racing,I would prioritise working on corners, bunny hops, wheel lifts, manuals, track stands and pumping. Even just 10 minutes before a ride in the carpark can do absolute wonders. Other great ways to practice skills include heading to your local pump track and getting used to pumping, sessioning bits of a trail, playing around with braking points and body position, and practicing full runs. I usually dedicate at least one ride a week to working on my skills.

Putting It All Together

A few weeks before a race I like to do a ‘mock race’ where I plan out a course that is similar to the upcoming race. For example, I try to have the same number of stages and choose tracks that I think will be similar to the venue. If I don’t know what the venue is like, I will choose a mixture of flow trails, tech trails and often throw in a walking track to challenge me (if bikes are permitted). This helps with mentally preparing for race day, reduces nerves, and helps you to reflect on and fine tune race strategies. How were your energy levels? Did you bring enough water? Did you eat enough food? Did you pace yourself well on the liaisons? Did you ride smoothly and confidently?

After reflecting on these points, I fine-tune my race plan. For example, if I ran out of energy I would look to see if I had enough food and water. If not, I would make a plan to drink a little bit every 20 minutes and eat something after every stage to keep me from bonking later on in the day. Learn more about how to develop a race-day routine here.

Now you’re on your way. Just remember everyone is very different in their strengths and ‘work ons’, having a rough plan each week on what to prioritise and focus on can take a lot of the guesswork out. The single most important thing is to include the things you enjoy and have fun. It is so much easier to get out the door when you are looking forward to training. If that means you do it with a friend or group, or to create the best playlist that just makes you want to jump up and dance, whatever it is make sure you have fun with it. Now is the time to get out there and enjoy the benefits of being fit and strong and the joys of racing.