Cramming for Unbound
Cramming for Unbound
PC: RJ Agcamaran

There are countless different ways to train for something ultra-endurancy like Unbound, but I think you can boil the main approaches down into two camps:

  1. If the race is a “peak” event for you, and you have the freedom to structure your schedule in the months leading into it, then a couple of dedicated training blocks with time to taper before the big day. 
  2. If your schedule doesn’t permit a sole focus on the event and you have to work around a lot of racing or other commitments in the weeks/months leading in, then you can take the “training legs” approach. Meaning, doing a lot of training in the couple of weeks leading in, letting off the gas just enough in the few days prior to avoid accruing any additional fatigue, but keeping your legs revving in diesel mode. Effectively, this is cramming, and it relies on you having enough base and fitness from previous training cycles to be able to handle this kind of work. 

Due to my race schedule, my only option was #2. My schedule from April onwards was something like this:

  • Sea Otter Classic
  • Combo recovery/activation week
  • Arkansas race week (XCO, XCC, XCO)
  • Whiskey 50 
  • Albstadt World Cup XCO
  • NMNM World Cup XCO
  • 2 weeks to train for Unbound….
  • Unbound race week

So you can see, the two months leading into Unbound were heavily focused on shorter, sharper efforts, and with a significant decrease in my usual training volume because of the high density of racing. My last bigger volume block had been back in January, as February and March were also peppered with racing ranging from 20 min to 2.5 hours. I knew that that volume was still in my body, but it needed to be activated (along with tempo and threshold cruising speed) in order to get my mind and body ready for Unbound. I had to do what we’ve been advised not to do since kindergarten: CRAM. 

I actually think this is a viable approach - there comes a point in most longer training camps/blocks where I start to feel invincible. The power is high, the cruising speed is excellent, and the mind and body recalibrate to endure whatever I ask of them. So for the two weeks post-World Cups, we planned a dense little training block with the intent of pulling back a smidge (but not entering recovery mode) in the Unbound race week. I spent these two weeks at home in Uxbridge, ON, where the dirt roads are plentiful, it’s humid as heck, and the pace of my life allows for a full focus on training. 

Lucky for me, my coach has a lot of personal experience with Ironman racing. I think it’s probably rare for an XCO athlete to have a coach with that kind of background, so I felt very fortunate to have his guidance in this mini training phase. The two weeks were not huge in terms of hours, but they were very steady; 26 hours each, but the first week was lighter on the front end and the second week was lighter on the back end. This meant that there was a 7-day chunk in the middle that was about 33 hours. These two weeks also included two active recovery days, one rest day, and one transatlantic travel day. In total, I accumulated 2370 TSS over the 14 days. Not so much as to engender much fatigue, but enough to stoke the furnace! The meat of these weeks was found in multiple 5-6hr days chunked in groups of 3, with efforts scattered throughout each day. One of the keys was making sure to include efforts later in these rides to work on fatigue-resistance. I won’t give you specific wattage (which is really irrelevant), but if you’re curious, I did upload most of these rides to my Strava. If you’re curious, you can do the leg work to see them! 

People think of Ontario as being flat, but it’s just like Kansas in that deceptive appearance. It’s actually very rolling (unless you’re riding the rail trail). I did do a lot of riding on the rail trail, to get used to NEVER coasting and producing constant power in an aero position, but I also did plenty of Ontario’s typical rolling terrain. Never climbing more than 30 seconds, but also never descending. There’s a lot of neural load in rides like this, where you don’t coast/descend, so it was good to add that element into the training as well. 

Due to a series of unfortunate events (i.e. a shipping company losing my new gravel bike for a while), this two week camp was also my first block of training on my Ibis Hakka. I spent the first few days dialling in the position, but honestly, didn’t need to “get used” to the bike. It just felt right from the start. How lucky is that?? So, instead of having to go through a break-in phase with the new bike, I was able to focus on making my other equipment choices, from chamois to handle bar to bags to fuel. 

Every single thing that interacts with your body in events like this is important. Any small niggle will be exponentially more disruptive at hour 8+ (like a princess and the pea situation), and so you have to have everything dialled. One of the biggest things for me, with my weirdly shaped feet, is shoes. I still feel so lucky to have the Bont semi-custom Vaypor Gs; no hot spots, no discomfort, incredibly stiff and with great power transfer. Chamois/shorts are also a major focus of mine, as I have a history of saddle-induced injuries (we’re talking majorly inflamed sit bones requiring time off the bike to recover). I was super impressed with the HyperThreads Pro chamois, and opted to run it for Unbound. It was tested and vetted in this training camp, and I was more than happy with it. 

We also tested tires (Maxxis Rambler in 40c), pressures (landed on 27/28 F/R), hydration packs, socks (yes, even socks are important… SockGuy SGX), computer screen layout, nutrition plan, sports bra (I have an old Lulu hot yoga one that I reserve for racing because it’s wicking, light, and not too tight - don’t want it to restrict lung capacity!).

By the end of this training block, I felt like my legs were ready to turn a high gear for a long period of time, and that was all I could really ask for. I knew I wasn’t going to be super snappy - you need to be recovered and fresh for that - but I knew I was going to be solid. I’d trained my gut to handle a really high amount of food/calories within ride, and I felt fully confident in my equipment choices. 

The Unbound week was very busy, with a travel day on both Monday and Thursday (the Thursday being the day we flew to Unbound… and with delays, this took over 20 hours door-to door), but I still fit in a couple of 3ish hour rides with some openers to keep my legs going. Not enough to create more fatigue, just enough to keep the pilot light lit. And, well, you know what happened on race day!

I realize I probably teased you with the promise of training data, but like I said… you can do the leg work if you’re interested! Rides are up on Strava, but remember… the numbers are really irrelevant (we could debate the relevancy of wattage and variance of power meters all day), and the training that works for me would NEVER work the same for someone else if copy and pasted. But maybe checking out the rides will give you some motivation to get out for your own mission today! The training for Unbound was honestly so fun, and really fired me up on bike riding. I loved this little two-week, mid-season camp. 

With Unbound now in the rearview, I’ve got an interesting mix of long events and XCOs coming up, so the training will be a new puzzle… but I’m looking forward to it. Hoping for a big fitness bump from the three weeks including UB (and now the rest week I’m just finishing up), and we’ll see where it can take me the rest of the year!

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