Training for Sea Otter XC

Hey, Lee-dude
I’m entered in the Sea Otter Classic, XC, Beginner 50-54. The course looks grand — how should I train?

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Hey Scott-man,

Beginner men 45-50 do one 19-mile loop. The first half is mostly downhill; the second is mostly uphill — pretty much the opposite of my preference.

It’s a mix of mellow climbs, steep climbs, flowing singletrack and pinner fire road.

Last year’s Beginner 50-54 winner finished in 1:51. The mid-pack guy took 2:22. So let’s plan to race for 2.5 hours.


Most top masters athletes train a max of 10 hours per week; any more than that and you’re asking for trouble with over-training (and your wife). You can get plenty strong in 5-7 hours per week. Training is a hugely complex area, but here are some basics:

If you just want to finish strong. Ride an hour a few days during the week, and build up to a 2.5-hour off-road adventure each weekend. Do three laps at El Corte de Madera, a couple loops at the Soquel Demonstration Forest, or an epic at Henry Coe State Park (that place is brutal). Road miles are fine during the week, but make sure your body can handle off-road punishment.

If you want to kill those old farts. Mix it up:

– Long and steady. Do one mellow three-hour ride per week. This creates endurance. Off road is best; road will do.

– Short and fast. Rip out one one-hour ride each week, as fast as you possibly can. This raises your threshold and teaches you how hard you can ride without exploding. Off road if possible. Mid-week makes sense from a recovery standpoint.

– Super duper kung fu. You want to build speed and all-out power. During your various rides, sprint up short climbs, practice starts at stoplights, hammer out of corners or race your buddies to the signpost. This gives you explosive pop — key for making passes and carrying speed on fun trails.

– Recover. The rest of your riding (maybe two hour-long rides to buffer your long and hard days) should be easy. You’re old; take care of yourself.

– Put it all together. In the few weekends before the race, simulate real conditions. Go out and hammer for 2.5 hours. Figure out how fast you can go and how much food/liquid you need. Get that all dialed, then back way off for 10 days before the race. Take it super easy, with a few short, hard efforts mixed into each ride. You want to reach Laguna Seca itchin’ and ready to rock.

Race strategy

If you just want to finish, then show up, line up near the back and ride like it’s a normal Saturday. If you want to beat those 45-49 whippersnappers:

Pre-ride.If you can, pre-ride the course at least two days before you race. Learn the climbs and identify passing spots. Have fun but don’t pin it. Drink tons of fluids, and lay low the day before the race.

Warm up. Get to staging early, and bring a stationary trainer (and someone to take the trainer). Spin easy with lots of 10-second hard bursts. If you don’t have a trainer, do split-leg squats next to your bike. You should be hot and sweaty before the gun goes off.

Start. You’re all warmed up, and the other guys aren’t. Pin it as hard as you can to get out front. Once you get there, hammer at that one-hour practice pace. Hold off the bozos until you reach the singletrack, then get comfortable. Most XC racers are terrible bike handlers; it really pays to stay ahead of the sheep traffic jam. Baa baa …

Pace yourself. Remember the first half of the course is easier than the second half. By now you know the course. Try to keep the leaders in sight, but stay within yourself. When you hit the last climb, SPEND IT! If you’re a good sprinter, you can hold the leader’s wheel until the last turn on the pavement, then swing by for the win. Think of the Chariots of Fire theme … that’s a pretty old movie.

I hope that helps. Have fun!

— Lee

PS: I’ve raced Sea Otter XC a couple times on a tandem. It’s one of the funnest courses out there.

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