Training Games for the Mountain Bike

Jason here -
I'm not in North Dakota right now. And looking at the temperatures, I am pretty happy about it. But I know there are those of you out there trying to get ready for the Talus Iceman Triathlon, and I know that getting off the couch to train in bad conditions is hard to do. Case in point, it was freezing rain all day here in Bend Oregon. So I hung out this morning, waiting for the weather to break. I was due to do a big ride, but my normal training partner (and fiance) is in San Diego tasting gourmet cupcakes and shopping for a wedding dress. Wedding girly stuff aside, she is always motivated to go out in bad condition, but in her absence the good excused kept popping up.  I needed to catch up on my emails, I needed to catch up on my yoga, I needed to catch up on my showers (or lack thereof).  If the rain let up, I didn't notice, as I finally got absorbed in watching old training videos and logbooks from the past year.  Then I finished a short video project about a training day that took place in the desert - complete with cacti and perfect 75 degree temps.

So I figured I'd at least be productive in my laziness and share a bit.

Tips for training in bad conditions.

  • Just do it.  The longer you wait, the less likely it is that you will go
  • Don't look at the weather.  If you think it might be bad, avoid looking outside or checking the internet weather report.  Get dressed inside (overdress if necessary as you can always de-layer), and get into the workout as soon as you get outside.  The weather never seems so bad once you are into it, but it always seems worse from a warm, dry inside looking out.
  • Shorten you workout.  This is what I should have done today.  By mentally telling yourself that you'll just go for 45 minutes instead of the planned 3 hours you are more likely to actually start.  And once you start you will likely surprise yourself and go longer...and if not, at least you got out.
  • Get a training partner.  If your training partner is waffling, you get to look like the bad-ass by saying, "Oh it's not so bad, lets go anyway."  
On that topic, I've included three of my favorite games on the mountain bike.  Some adaptation may be necessary depending on where you are.   
  • Game 1:  Hungry Fox vs. Tasty Rabbit
Solo Version:  While riding, anytime you see another rider going the same way, you revert to your primordial animal instinct (the Fox) and the other rider unknowingly becomes your prey (the Rabbit).  Chase them down as fast as you can.  This is especially effective if you are on a fat tire bike and they are on a slick road machine.  If it is a tough chase be wary - sometimes you can inadvertantly get really into this.  More than once I have let out a bloodcurdling cry of triumph upon finally catching them.  Remember, you don't actually get to eat them, and probably would not want to.
Partner Version:  Choose who will be the rabbit, and who the fox.  Depending on the differing abilities of the riders give the rabbit anywhere from a 5 - 30 second head start.  Go for it.  The faster you catch them the better.  A successful "catch" is when the fox is less than a bike-length away from the rabbit for a few seconds.  Usually in this version if the rabbit can stay free for 3 minutes they win.  Great interval work.  
  • Game 2: Cactus Slalom
Requires that you are riding on a trail, the windier the better.  This game builds skill, speed and control.  Find a fairly fast (not too downhill) section of trail, between 1/4 mile and 1 mile long.  Ride it once or twice to get familiar with it.  Then ride it as fast as you can with the goal of coming as close as you can to the trails defining obstacles.  In Tucson, these are cacti with very sharp needles, so the game gets exciting.  Depending on that defines the trail edges, you may want to "brush the gates" like the do in slalom skiing.  Obviously big trees, rocks, and other hard objects should be given a little more care and space.
  • Game 3: Riding Blind
This one is harder to plan for, but great if you are in the right place at the right time.  In the hour before the sun sets, try finding a trail that heads more or less straight toward it.  A TRAIL please, not a ROAD. Wearing sunglasses is a great idea, as it protects your eyes, and actually increases the contrast and therefore difficulty.  The varying terrain surrounding the trail will create sections of dark shadow and bright sunshine.  If you are riding with speed, it is often hard for the eyes to react fast enough, which creates moments where it almost feels like the trail disappears.  You end up riding for a moment or two from memory, and allowing your bike to truly absorb the trail.  As you get more trusting and in tune with your machine, you can take this faster and faster.  
Here is the video of these three in sequence during that beautiful day in Arizona....

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