Mountain bike racers embrace the off-season
By Lauren Gregg
The end of summer is a big deal for mountain bike racers, because contrary to the relaxed pace one typically thinks of when contemplating the hotter months, summer brings quite a bit of pressure to competitive cyclists. After preseason training in the spring, it is full-on all summer. A ride is not a ride – it’s training. The biggest days on the bike are when there is a number plate strapped on. Racing is a lot of fun, but is also very intense, and it consumes the summer. Many mountain bike racers start racing in March and won’t cross their last finish line until the end of September.
My own summer racing has been a whirlwind. On April 1st of this year, I moved into my van to follow the pro enduro race circuit. It has been an epic summer that I wouldn’t trade for anything, but it feels like I haven’t had a chance to come up for air. With races all over North America nearly every other weekend, I’ve had the chance to ride in some amazing new places, but it’s not all for fun. It’s months on the road away from friends and family. On trail rides, I don’t want to push it too much or have “too much fun” to avoid getting injured before my next race.
Many times, when coming into a new town, I don’t get to check out the local favorite trails because instead I need to practice the race course. There just isn’t enough time to get in all the riding when you are focused on racing. For many racers, racing is in our bones – it defines us, and under all other summer activities, racing is always on our minds. What you eat, how you sleep, how you train, where you go and how you ride is all dictated by racing during the summer.
But what about when that final race creeps closer? Although we love the summer, when the weather starts to cool, most riders start to itch in anticipation for the leaves to start changing. The summer fades and the bike parks close, but this bittersweet end ushers in the best time of the year – fall! Finally able to relax and have fun, all the joys of fall riding are multiplied for racers. Trail conditions are ideal once moisture hits the dirt. Cooler temperatures make long rides more comfortable and enjoyable. The vibrant reds and oranges make the scenery in the mountains even more breathtaking.
Fall is the ultimate time to ride bikes for many reasons. For competitive riders, it’s the end of the race season, when the pressure of training and results no longer matter and we can just ride our bikes for fun. We can finally ride our brains out without worrying about recovery or a training schedule. Getting to enjoy the ride (and the post-ride, guilt-free pumpkin spice latte) is a beautiful thing.
Read on to learn how a few of my race friends bring on the offseason.
After racing all over the world from March through September, California-based World Cup downhiller Eliot Jackson looks forward to the offseason. “We spend so much time away from home, friends and family that I always look forward to getting back to a somewhat normal life,” he says. “It’s also exciting to have time to work on and take from all of the lessons and experiences I’ve had over the year.”
After his final race, Eliot takes some well-deserved time off the bike. “It’s so important to do things that you enjoy without thinking of a diet or training regime. I need it after all the months on the road.” After a break, he takes to the road bike during fall. “I think all of my favorite [off-season] rides are probably on my road bike! I can’t think of too many things that are more relaxing and satisfying than climbing up from the beach at sunset, and admiring all of the effort it took and amazing views at the top.”
Eliot also enjoys riding familiar downhill tracks to see how far he’s come. “I have a few local trails that I’ve been riding since the very first time I stepped on a downhill bike, so it’s awesome to get to ride those every year and see my progress.”
When asked what he looks forward to the most about the offseason? “I look forward to the freedom the most. Traveling without a bike, going to a concert on a whim, visiting friends that I’ve made around the world. Letting loose and going with the flow, whatever that is, is the highlight of the offseason. Doing things for
Teal Stetson Lee
Like most racers, Teal Stetson Lee, from Reno, Nevada, looks forward to an off-season break from racing enduro before starting up with cyclocross. “I can feel that my body and mind are tired from the season and I need some quality time at home to recharge and recover.” One of her favorite rides during the
fall? “I love riding up by Marlette Lake on the Tahoe Rim Trail in the fall, the aspens are beautiful yellow gold around the lake and the trails are usually in great condition for fall riding.”
After “a solid two weeks off the bike and catching up on rest,” Teal starts the transition into training for cyclocross and kicks off the season with her very own race and music festival, CrossReno. An all-day race and music festival held in Reno at Rancho San Rafael Park, CrossReno offers racing for all categories and plenty of onsite entertainment for the whole family. The event features a full music line-up with talented, diverse artists, a craft beer garden with over 15 breweries, a kids’ area, clinics, yoga boot camps, food trucks, and vendors. The race course includes exciting features such as a rideable flyover bridge, sand pit, hill run-up, barriers, and the one-of-a-kind “Hayzing Pit.”
Teal recommends that mountain bikers give racing cross a try, as it’s a great way to maintain and develop their fitness over the offseason. “I am an avid advocate for mountain bikers trying cyclocross; it is spectacular cross training for all disciplines. It’s one of the hardest cycling disciplines you can do because of the incredible high-intensity. It is essentially an hour-long sprint.”
An avid mountain biker and amateur racer based in Santa Cruz, Julie Kanagy loves the summer for mountain bike trips with friends, as well as for racing. “I find that races are a fun and social way to challenge myself to progress in my riding and fitness. This year most of my bucket list races were held in the spring. The highlight was the True Grit Epic in March, a 100-mile, very rocky XC endurance race in St. George UT.” Julie also raced the SoNoMas at Lake Sonoma, the Old Cabin Classic (put together by her local mountain bike club Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz), and two of the California Enduro Series events – the Battle Born Enduro in Reno and the Toro Enduro in Salinas. Her final race of the year took place in early June with the Boggs Surrogate XC race in Willits.
During the race season, Julie uses technology to track her training and fitness. “I train with a Garmin, which reads data from my heart rate monitor and power meter on my hardtail XC race bike. Being a bit of a software geek, I find it useful to see my training load and fatigue levels on Trainingpeaks.com.” After all this training, she looks forward to the offseason. “I do tend to overdo things, so the offseason is a bit of a relief. It’s a great time to have some unstructured fun time on the bike and maybe focus on other things in life that don’t involve the bike! (Wait – is there more to life than riding …?)”
The cooler weather allows Julie to enjoy some of her favorite ride destinations during the fall, like Henry Coe State Park. “The steep climbs, fire roads and remoteness keep visitors to a minimum and sometimes it’s nice to just escape civilization.”
Riding her bike during the offseason is a different experience than training during the season for Julie. “So much of my training is endurance focused, so riding for fun means I can actually turn on the gas a little bit here and there! I also plan routes for the sake of hitting the best downhills and get to ignore my heart rate.”