One of the most exciting things about my 2022 race season is its variety. I'm adding curly bars to the racing quiver, counting new states visited and raced in, will be racing in many formats far more expansive than just XCO, and (my personal favourite element of variety this season) will be racing in durations ranging from 20 minutes to 12+ hours. That last fact has not yet failed to make me giggle in its absurdity. How does one train for such a crazy spread of events? I've had a lot of people ask this question, wondering if I've changed my training approach to be better (or differently) prepared for the variety of these races. In all honesty, my answer is both "not really" and "YES I've changed everything". How is that possible? Well...
My training itself hasn't changed drastically. I've always been a volume responder, and the bulk of those hours are still there. However, I've reached a point in my career where it's no longer about adding hours, but about making those hours as deliberate and effective as possible (it's always the goal to make your hours deliberate, but I'm sure you see what I mean here). I've added certain types of intensity, subtracted others, and paid more attention than ever to recovery. I've created bigger waves of loading and de-loading, so that my tough weeks have been tougher, but they've been balanced by easier off-periods. A big change - which may not seem like much to you - is that I've done some of this intensity work on a drop bar set up. In the past, I have done nearly all of my intensity work on my mountain bike for specificity's sake, but this year, the intensity was split between rigs to teach my body what higher load feels like in the different positions. Another massive change is that I trained a ton with other people. It doesn't mean that the output of my hours was measurably different, but the flavour and effect of those hours were drastically different. But, by a landslide, the biggest thing that changed was my perspective.
The last few years have been so pressure-filled (mostly pressure of my own invention). This year, my training goals have been to grip less and flow more. As a very type-A person, that's been kind of uncomfortable: I've had to exercise flexibility and openness, which as anyone with an eating disorder history knows, is *effing* difficult. But after the Olympics, I knew that my continued pursuit of this sport needed to be fresh and focused on growth, and so I've really leaned into that different attitude. It's an attitude that's allowed me to be happier, have less "can't get out of bed" days and fewer anxiety attacks, and mostly, to just ENJOY the training process. Overall, it's been a really good preparation season.
Having never done these long gravel races, I obviously don't know... but I can imagine that that flexible, free attitude will be key in approaching a challenge like Unbound. Happily, it's also an attitude that lets you get the most out of yourself in the blistering effort of a 20min short track. Seems like it was probably a good skill (because, yes, maintaining a certain attitude IS a practicable skill) to incorporate into the winter's training.
With the first instalment of the LTGP series in the rearview (which was 3.5 hrs and 83km), the next challenge on the docket is the US Cup series in Arkansas. In a span of five days, we'll race an XCO, an XCC, and another XCO. Grip less, flow more. Let's see what happens!
The next few weeks are full of racing: three next week in Arkansas, then two race days the following week in Prescott, AZ (Whiskey50), and then we're straight to Europe for World Cups 2 and 3. Very curious to see how my body handles this varied and dense load. And as we leave for Arkansas today, our winter of training in California and Arizona has come to a close. Very thankful to the McDonnell family in California for adopting us this winter, and to all the friends in Tucson who've helped us out with logistics. You've made this winter on the road wonderful.