How to pace for a 34-mile MTB TT?

Hey everyone. One of my A races this year is the Snake Creek Gap MTB TT in Dalton, GA. I’ve been doing the 34-mile option. There’s a lot of climbing culminating with a 7-mile long rock garden at the end. I’ve always struggled with pacing this race. I just got a power meter for my mountain bike, but I’m not finding much in the way of guidance for what power zones to target during a race of this duration and technical difficulty. Every year, I finish this race feeling pretty broken down (although I’m faster every year) so I always question if I went too hard. Any advice is super-appreciated!

If you are feeling pretty broken down and you are getting faster every year it sounds to me like your pacing is spot on.

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We need a bit more information. As in how long is the duration of the race? That will dictate how close to FTP you should be trying to race. Don’t forget that if you have a NP that is pretty close to your FTP, that is a very hard ride, but most people are getting about 90-95% IF for a 1-1.5 hour race.

A power meter for MTB is better for post-analysis then pacing, although it can be used for some pacing on smoother terrain. You will be able to tell if you went out too hard too soon, and yes it is possible you are doing it even if you are getting faster, sometimes sacrificing 20-30 seconds up a few earlier climbs can save you a few minutes in that last rock garden.

Thanks for the feedback everyone. Here’s some more details:
34 miles
4300 feet of climbing
My PR is 4:15:51
Last time I did it I only had a HR monitor. I spent 1:00 at moderate, 2:53 at tempo and 0:13 at threshold. That seems like easy-ish pacing for being so cooked and having to walk the rocky bits, eh?

I’d really like to pace so I hit that last 7-miles fresher, but that would seem so slow…

I would learn to pace without gadgets and learn to ride on feel. It’s all well and good saying, sit at x% of FTP, but when riding off road, that isn’t always an option as some parts of a course can require a lot of power to get over and other parts your freewheeling, therefor recovering.

Also, nutrition plays a massive part in a race of that length, if you haven’t eaten enough it will catch up with you and you feel like you’re pushing really hard, but the power can actually be quite low.

I totally agree about having the ability to self-regulate based on RPE, however, I have technology available that can inform and confirm my RPE. My nerves can certainly cause me to go too hard, so I don’t want to rely only on RPE.

You mentioned riding at a given “% of FTP”. Is there a general guideline based on event duration? This is what I’m really after here.

It seems like whenever the TR boys talk about pacing in the podcast it’s in the context of Ironman triathalons. I’m assuming this wouldn’t relate well since my event isn’t as long and I don’t need to save anything for a run…

Thanks everyone!


Just kidding.

Depending on your state of fitness and the course, loosely based, you could ride at tempo / sweetspot.

I would consider putting IF on your headunit, so you can get a sense of overall how hard you’re pushing throughout the race. IE if you look down after 45 minutes and you’re at .90, you’re probably going too hard to sustain that for 4+ hours.

How hard you can sustain over that duration is a pretty individual question. And it’ll depend a lot on your trails and how much they require you to go anaerobic. My trails are mostly short punchy climbs, which often find me going anaerobic, but I don’t have as much total elevation gain to make up for it. If you don’t HAVE to put out a lot of power to make it up and over sections, you’ll find yourself fresher later on as a result.

As far as what intensity to sustain, the easy way to find out is to go out and do a couple long hard rides by feel, on a similar course, and look at what your IF was for that duration. Then use that as a pacing guide on your race. Perhaps do the first half at whatever number you end up on. If you’re feeling good, let yourself go a little bit harder in the later bits.

Great stuff! Thanks. I hadn’t thought about adding IF to my display, but that’s a great idea.

@Nate_Pearson, when you did Leadville how did you settle on a power number to pace by? Or did you have a power number in mind? I’ve listened to the Leadville podcasts and never heard a mention about your pacing strategy.