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What’s your race plan?

Developing a race plan

It’s actually interesting reading riders facebook posts from the Nationals evaluating their rides in the past weekend. It still amazes me how many riders drop their bikes in a race. These guys at that level shouldn’t be dropping their bikes.

Obviously there’s many factors relating to why riders crash. I’m going to look at a couple of factors that riders can control.

Two reasons come to mind.
1. They’re riding above their riding skill level.
2. They’re fatiguing physically which leads to lack of concentration and incorrect body positioning on the bike, but still try to maintain bike speed.

Surely these guys must have race strategies, race plans, know their opposition and know when to hit the hammer on the throttle, but to know when to back off and focus.

I personally cannot change a riders skill level. This is why there is the Greg Moss’s in this country to help you do this, especially when you’re at National Level.

But where I can help you is with your race strategy.

Coming into your race do you have a plan, do you have strategies if the unexpected happens and do you know your opposition?

Firstly let’s lay the foundations. I was ranked number 2 in Australia in Athletics, competing in the hardest event, the Decathlon consisting of 10 events. But there’s one event I can say is the hardest race to compete in. The 400m Sprint.

The 400m in many ways reminds me of a motocross race. You cant just jump out of the blocks and run 100% max effort the entire race. The race has to be broken down into race strategies. And at times these strategies change before the race (choice of lanes, in MX case, choice of gates) and mid race depending on what other athletes are doing. Im going to make comparison in this article to the 400m and a Motocross Race.

The body simply cannot run at full 100% maximal output for an entire 400m race. But more importantly a 400m race is often won  mentally by beating your opponents and knowing their strengths and weaknesses, as well as your own.

Oh crap, how am I going to keep this short! If you see benefit I guess you’ll keep reading.

Major factors for an athlete for the 400m run prior to the gun going off is;

  • Lane Draw – For MX it’s the Gate pick
  • Your competitors

Knowing your oppositions strengths and weaknesses is vital to your performance… In motocross I think this is even more important because there are so many more factors that can determine the results. In the 400m, we can’t changes lanes, we can’t create contact, we aren’t affected by other athletes at all. It’s just mental and physical… Motocross sometimes, luck also comes into play.

So what should a motocross race plan be?

The first 2 laps are absolute critical… The gate drop, your ability to get into the first corner and your ability to either maintain a good position or gain positions in the first 2 laps is vital. So what is a good position… First of all obviously the higher you’re up the pointy end is going to be your goal. But what you need to establish is who are the riders in front of you that you need to be more aware of… only if you’re up the pointy end in the top 5 I’d imagine. This is where you would quickly evaluate your opposition.

Are they riders in front of you Top contenders for the championship, meaning pure face to face value, they know how to ride a bike and all they need to do now is focus on their own ability to get them across the finish line.

So let’s say you’re a Matt Moss in 4th place, but in front of you, there’s Todd Waters, Kirk Gibbs and Dan Reardon. Mentally straight away you know you’ve got a race on your hands and you’ve got a challenge in front of you. I don’t know these guys enough, nor have watched them race enough, but the first thing that would be going through in my mind if I was Mossy was this…

Do I need to pass any of these guys ASAP

Are they a bit out of control riders and susceptible to falls/mistakes. Meaning can I trust following the same lines as them to stay in touch, or do I need to use an alternative line each corner knowing at some time they may drop their bike.

How strong mentally are they? Will they just let me pass them cleanly being so early in the race, or will they fight the pass, possibly causing us both to fall. If I pass a rider will they back off or attack me back straight away. Can I relax and focus on the next rider or do I need to be aware of the rider behind me I’ve just passed. So many factors to think about here, all whilst focusing on your own riding.

What If I was Matt Moss, sitting in 4th spot again but this time I’ve got 3 Privateers in front of me. How do I approach this now.

For one I’m imagining these privateers cant believe the position they’re in. They’d be wondering who is behind them, and more than likely be riding now way out of their control / ability in the first lap.

They will hold me up and I need to get past them as fast as possible. Why? Because they’re going to makes mistakes, miss a line, miss a gear, forget to clutch in. All valuable time you are losing, which will allow the Todd Waters, Kirk Kibbs and co to make up valuable time on you.

Also, get around these riders asap in the first lap and then let the riders behind you tackle these guys when pressure starts mounting and mistakes start happening. Plus hey, what have these privateers got to lose. They’re running up the front, all race plans are out the door, they’re gonna get frustrated they’re getting passed and then they are going to start riding above their ability and going to crash or make big mistakes which will cost you time. Not only your lap times, but its allowing Pro riders behind you to make up time also.

If you’ve found yourself mid pack it’s time to hit the turbo charge… First thing don’t panic but what you need to do is charge as hard as you can to get to the leading group. Early laps can distance a Pro rider from the leading group very fast.

There’s no mucking around with guys in front of you that you know you are faster. You’ve got to pass them fast, you’ve got to be aggressive and in my opinion unless you know the rider in front of you and his/her riding style you’ve probably got to outbreak them or pass them on a different line. Basically show them who’s boss!

I’m now going to reference back to the 400m. Obviously with athletes not having to bustle and bash each other in the first corner, it’s more about setting yourself up for mid race. Depending on your lane choice and the athletes around you is going to determine your first 100m. Some keys here.

Get out of the gate fast and use maximal output for your first 10-15 strides then set your race up as per your race plan in the first 100m. Who’s in front of? Do you just run up to their shoulder and sit with them, or do you need to pass them. If you pass them and then they pass you back, do you stay with your race plan, or do you lose focus and start to get in a physical battle with the athlete. So many people forget about their race plan and then expend energy they don’t need to. If you pass them will they give up?

The back straight is where you start setting your race outcome up. This sounds funny, but we change stride, our breathing patterns settle and we’re in auto mode, getting ready to hit the most crucial part of the race. The bend from the 200m – 300m mark.

At the 200m mark the race has settled, it’s at the 300m mark you can break athletes spirits by passing them, or just sit on their shoulders. Also at times you must know who you’ve got on your inside lines. If they pass you, do you need to go with them or does history show they haven’t got the fuel in the tank and will fade in the final straight.

So if we reference the 400m to a Motocross race, we know it’s important to set yourself up early on in the race. Laps 2 onwards really let’s the rider settle into a pattern much like the back straight in a 400m race. It’s here you’re thinking about the position you’re in, where your opponents are at and sticking to your race plan. So a question to ask yourself from lap 2 onwards is, “Is my race plan going to plan, or do I need to make adjustments”

Do you need to keep charging to the front of the pack, using energy you really hadn’t planned?

Do you settle, knowing the position you are in has put you in good position for the final laps.

I’m going to create a scenario here. MX1 class, Matt Moss is in 2nd place behind Dan Reardon on Lap 3. They’ve both passed some Privateers in laps 1-2 so know there possibly is a gap behind them from the other contenders.

  • Does Matt go for the charge and try n pass Dan Reardon?
  • Does Matt settle in behind Dan knowing he is a safe rider and can save energy following his lines?
  • What is the pit board saying after each lap, what’s you’re awareness like of knowing which riders are behind you? At some point on the track there’s opportunities to check that out.
  • Does Matt pass Dan, knowing Dan wont put up a fight?
  • Will Dan drop off if he passes him, but then pressure Matt straight back, and possibly slow each other up.

What Matt has to establish is can he settle into his race plan and much like the back straight in a 400m race, can he back off the intensity by just 5%, ride that little bit within himself, saving energy, focusing on breathing, checking out the track, looking for new lines when he may need them.

What’s Dan thinking at this time on the bike? Is he riding a maximal output thinking Matt is trying to pass him, is he worried about Matt behind him and changing his race plan, is he nervous that Matt is going to come under him in a corner coming up? Who know’s what Dan’s thinking.

Matt’s 300m bend run of a 400m race is the last 3-4 laps on a MX track. About 7minutes to go in an MX1 race. This is where he makes the decision to pull the hammer. He has got to set himself up either for a big challenge from Dan or an easy pass. Will Dan fight back, will Dan fade, will Dan run out of juice because he’s ran his race mid race thinking Matt was trying to pass him?

A perfect race is for Matt to hit the last straight in exactly where he had planned at the start of the race. The perfect 400m race for me is hitting the front straight with a 100m to run with plenty left in the tank. Either a nose in front or just about to hit my stride if need be.

In Motocross for Matt, he’d want this charge with 3 laps to go, knowing his last 3 laps he has the lead, he can settle into a good rhythm, knowing he has plenty of energy in the tank if he needs to pick up the pace. But ideally he should be finishing his last 2 laps at 85% his maximal effort.

The Final Frontier

If in the event the last 100m is all about the lactate threshold training, spending every last ounce of energy you’ve got and pushing your limits physically as well as mentally, it all comes back to what you’ve done in the gym. Your technique and ability on the bike has put you in the position you are in. Now it’s up to all the work you’ve done in the gym that will allow your body to match that of your ability.

We all know motocross is the most physically demanding sport in the world. So first of all, identify on the bike if you are losing time as the race goes on, are you feeling body fatigue, are you getting arm pump or are you having stupid little crashes coming out or into a corner that you just shouldn’t have?

We all know if you tilted your motor on the bike by 2 inches to the left how much this would throw the bike off balance. But what if you were physically fatigued that you can no longer hold your body in the correct position when it counted most. The last 3-4 laps!

The fitter athlete that has been able to conserve enough energy mid race will be the likely winner! Their technique has put them into a great position, but it’s their physical, mental and cognitive skills that will keep them upright in the last charge on the last few laps.

Of all the athletes I’ve trained you learn to fully understand their bodies ability in the gym. With that knowledge I already know how a rider will react on the track in so many ways.

I’ll give one example of a rider I’ve trained in the past.

His attitude, passion and enthusiasm in the gym is amazing. He will put every last effort into the workout, often going above his comfort zone. If you watch him on the bike, he rides exactly this way. Probably why he is so successful. What I’ve also established in the gym though with my programming and the design of my workouts is he struggles to maintain technique and really struggles with cognitive tasks when exhausted. But he will always be giving his 100% effort. Where does this come unstuck on the bike on race day.

Let’s review an example in the gym first…

My focus on a particular session with this rider was to work on his cognitive skills and also see if he can increase his stability and balance whilst under fatigue.

My goal, not unlike a motocross race is to elevate his heart rate as fast as I can first of all using a strength exercise. Push Ups – Pull Ups for example. Then I throw him on the Concept 2 Rower and get him to push at 90% maximal heart rate whilst already the muscles are fatiguing from the first exercise. Immediately getting off the rower he then must work straight into Kettlebell swings. An exercise that I’ve made relatively easy by the weight used but will keep his heart rate elevated and I explain to him at this time he needs to focus on his technique to make it easier to lift the kettlebell as well as trying to slow his breathing down for recovery. Then I’ll throw him back on the rower for a maximal 100% all out effort for up to 60 seconds, fatiguing as much of the body as I can. (not unlike fighting off a rider trying to pass you mid race) Get of the rower and simply kneel on a fitball (a task very easily done when fresh) and catch a tennis balls that I’m throwing to the rider for him to catch. It’s here where he fails 90% of the time. Unable to stay focused on a task normally very easy to achieve, then off the ball and into a 1-leg squat with a lateral raise for 45 seconds. Here is where shit hits the fan… I set him a goal to continually stay moving in the exercise for the entire duration, again with a weight very easily achievable. All he’s thinking of what I’ve told him. “Keep moving continuously” But where he fails is when he starts losing balance he does not slow down, does not react to the instability and tries to keep performing the movement. Which leads to failure and loss of balance.

Let’s transform this program to the track. I know he’s going to give his absolute 100%. But where this fails is that he is not recognizing his fatigue, possibly trying to ride above his limits. It’s at stages of a race where he feels fatigue setting in, or he’s starting to make mistakes on the bike he needs to back off the throttle a bit and just recompose himself for 20-30seconds. But his competitive nature and his all or nothing attitude and another rider trying to pass him his race plan goes out the window and he rides above his ability. Eventually crashing.

For a coach it’s my responsibility to train a rider in preparation for a race day. Identify with the rider where his/her weaknesses are and then work on these whilst also ensuring his strengths are fore ever increasing on a weekly basis. After all a rider doesn’t become great because of their weaknesses.

So it’s in the gym where it all starts to unfold on the track.

Identify where you fail or fatigue in the gym and then I can guarantee this is where you fail on the track.

It’s all about the program! It’s how the rider performs it, how they react to cognitive tasks mixed with physical tasks, combined with then mental stimulation along with balance and stability…

More so… it’s all about the coach / trainer understanding your riders ability and then helping him/her establish a race plan based on where the rider is at in what stage of their racing career.

We all can’t just rely on twisting the throttle and hoping for the best.

Shaun Baxter

Performance Coach.

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