I am pretty excited to have qualified for the International Six Days Enduro again this year. The race takes place in October in Figueira da Foz Portugal. This will be my forth time competing and I have attended three other times, once as pre rider and chase rider for Team USA. I always get asked tons of questions about the ISDE race and preparing for it, so I thought would talk a little about what it takes to compete.
Each year the AMA selects riders to represent the USA at this event. The overall team is made up of 6 Trophy Team riders, 4 Juniors (under 24), 3 Women and 21 Club Team riders. The selection process varies a little each year, but essentially you have to compete in the “Qualifier Series” to be selected. This year by virtue of my class win at the Missouri qualifier, I have been selected to ride on the JAFMAR Racing senior team. I will get to ride alongside “Mr. ISDE” himself, Jeff Fredette, he is a great guy and I am looking forward to it. Jeff and I are doing a fund raising T-shirt together commemorating 60 years of US riders at the Six Days, dating clear back to 1949 when Tommy McDermott won a gold medal. Klim has stepped up to support the US riders by designing a national team jersey and by helping sponsor our club team T-shirt.
Racing the ISDE is a pretty grueling experience. For five days the course will average 150 miles per day, nearly 8 hours of riding. The sixth day is typically short, featuring the final motos for every class. Except for the handful of exceptionally talented riders it takes a tremendous amount of training and preparation to be successful. I don’t count myself as one of the really talented ones, so I have to greatly rely on my preparation. It is not only necessary to have good physical endurance, but mental endurance is nearly as important. As a rider you need to be able to keep constant focus to care for yourself and your bike. On top of that, there are usually 7-8 time checks per day that you have to remember to go through on time. Finally, each day you have to reserve just enough energy to service the bike and change tires during the 15 minute work period.
As for now, it is summer time and most of the racing here in Southern California is on summer break so I can spend my time training. The first time I rode the ISDE I spent nearly all my training time doing long off road rides. I went and rode everywhere and with anybody I could find. That year it worked out well; the 2002 Czech race was incredibly hard due to the muddy conditions. Only half of all the riders entered were able to finish the event. Even though I only finished with a bronze medal, I still consider that one of my best personal accomplishments. While my physical conditioning was important, I really only finished the race by shear mental determination. Needless to say, that was a race of survival, speed was never even a factor for me.
These days I do spend quite a lot of time working on my speed. Nearly all of the “racing” that happens at the ISDE is in the special tests and most of those are grass tracks. This simply means that some type of course has been laid out in a field and typically features short straights and lots of flat corners. I feel the only way to practice and increase speed for these types of tests is by riding motocross. Moto is the best way to really learn how to corner effectively. It isn’t so much about learning how to do big jumps, so I typically head for the local vet moto tracks. Here the jumps are manageable and I get the chance to just practice the same elements, like corner and ruts, over and over again. That is where the real learning comes from and it is something that is very difficult to replicate in an off road environment. The other thing about riding moto is that it is really two benefits in one; practicing speed and increasing strength/stamina. I use a heart rate monitor to keep an eye on my level of exertion. I was amazed when I first started this at how high my heart rate was on the track, often in the 150-160 range. Moto is a very intense workout.
As a balance to that workout, I also spend lots of time on my mountain bike. Again, by tracking my heart rate I work to keep my bike training at a much lower level of intensity to focus on endurance and over distance training. While this is not the only way to accomplish this, for me I just love being on the mtn bike. Because I enjoy it, it is easy for me to do longer distances and keeps it fresh feeling. Also the bike is a low impact exercise. As injury is always a concern when doing this much training, I stick to mostly easy routes and two track type roads. My riding pace is primarily dictated by the heart rate monitor so I can stay at a consistent rate. Of course I throw in some max heart rate intervals to mix things up once in a while. There is tons of information available online to learn more about some of these methods. It is always rewarding to see your heart rate levels start to decrease as your conditioning improves.
I do a lot of visualization and I know that can sound a little odd, but it can be hard to keep focused for the long periods between races, so I always keep the vision of my goal in mind. I am always looking towards that finish line. Everything I do today, all the training and preparation, is to help me reach that goal. I find that this outlook always helps me keep focused and makes the goal feel realistic.
Everybody has different ways to approach race training. I have found some things that work for me, but it is always a learning process. Along with that I always think of one of the bits of advice my dad gave me when I first started racing. In referring to his days of racing he told me that; as he was never going to be the fastest rider, he always felt it was important to have the best possible equipment. That idea has always remained with me and is one of the reasons I am so particular about the products and people I work with.