Best Specialty Plan For an Ultra MTB Bikepacking Race?

Best plan??? 5 months out from a 700 mile 50,000ft BikePacking event (Cross Washington Mountain Bike Race). There may not be much sleep…therefore, not really a “stage race” but may take 6 days. Currently in SPB Mid-volume. I’m currently set to do XC Marathon as Specialty…. Yes? No?

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I don’t have the answer to which plan, but I am curious on this ultra MTB bikepack race you’re training for.

XWA - Cross Washington Mountain Bike Race Grand Depart - May 21, 2023

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Reading you question, It helped me remember listening to this successful athletes podcast a while ago. If you have time to listen to it there is a lot of good information about what you’re asking. I don’t have any experience or can offer advice but I remember this podcast for some reason.

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I’m training for a similar race, North South Colorado (600 miles, ~50,000 ft of climbing). I’m using Kurt Refsnider’s “4 month bikepacking race training program for 3- to 10-day events” from UltraMTB Endurance. I’ll be doing a 12 week low-intensity base training, followed by his 16 week training plan. I’ll be using TR as needed during the winter months/early spring.

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That cross-Washington event looks pretty amazing!

I have the same questions as you. I’m definitely interested to see if there are any other experienced off-road bikepack racers out there who can chime in, because we don’t have a lot of support or information out there.

I’ve done Linda Wallenfel’s Colorado trail race training program last year, but those workouts were pretty intense for me. I loaded them into TrainingPeaks, then they imported into TrainerRoad, and some of them were marked “Not Recommended” - ha! I did them anyway. I DNF’ed the CTR, but it had absolutely nothing to do with fitness (I felt great actually). It had more to do with the monsoons, and multiple other gear-related issues compounding together to make a perfect storm. So, anyway, just an aside that you might train intensively for a bikepacking race but lots of things could go wrong that have nothing to do with your fitness or training plan. I have a Kurt Refsnider PDF-based plan as well, which contains a lot of textual information about what to expect in these kinds of races. I’d recommend it just for that - it’s not very expensive at all. And he gives some mental training exercises in there.

This year I am targeting a 300 miler in April (Tour de Los Padres or AZTR 300) and one in July (Oregon Timber Trail 300). I don’t think there is much visibility or knowledge about how hard these MTB-oriented events can be. On that podcast, for example, the athlete was doing 4-6000’ of climbing per day (which is a stellar achievement on a low volume plan). But on the TdLP, for example, on the first day alone I did 15,000 feet of climbing in only ~90 miles. There were singletrack trails that had a lot of side hill exposure, crumbling apart as well as hike-a-bike. It’s not like you are ever moving very fast along that type of terrain, and it’s not like you can just zone out and pedal because there are technical sections to watch out for. There isn’t a TR plan ready-made for that, lol.

I’m using TR primarily to borrow the interval workouts and use the AI FTP, which is awesome. I use low volume plans and add in my own outdoor rides. After taking a little peek at a few different specialty plans, I went with the XC Marathon. I noticed the intervals in that plan contain some spiky efforts which I think might actually be good for techy singletrack. My choice would be different if it were a primarily gravel route - I’d go with a century plan maybe - those intervals seem to go no higher than threshold.

The low volume plans entail basically 1 vo2, 1 threshold and 1 SS workout that I do between Tues-Fri. Sometimes I’ll add one more ride during the week - either z2 indoor or just a 60-90 min skill-focused outdoor ride. On the weekends, I go for 2 long-ish (increasing in length over the training plan) rides back to back, except during the rest weeks. This kind of volume and effort is similar to the work I did when I had a coach a few years ago. For the long rides, I try to avoid any hard efforts up climbs, or if I do find myself above z2, just try to keep it short.

And one more thing - you need a lot more taper than the TR plans have!! You might need 2 weeks at least of lower volume, yet keeping a little intensity. You definitely don’t need to be doing leg openers the day before. I’d recommend prioritizing sleep the day before, if not the week or two prior.

I will be adding in weekend overnighters with all of the gear. Those can vary as long back-to-back days, or just short back-to-back days. The point is to get experience with my gear setup, and have fun and enjoy camping! Which really, honestly is the whole point, pretty much.