How To Improve XC Race Performance
Motivated athletes put a big focus on building their fitness and so they should. You’re probably one of them actually. Developing the key physiological markers like V02Max, lactate threshold, anaerobic capacity etc is obviously critical to performance and is a huge part of what happens on race/event day.
But are athletes ignoring other important skills that affect race/event day performance in a blinkered attempt to gain more and more fitness?
If you’ll allow the ”building a house” metaphor one more use, focusing only on fitness development for peak performance can be likened to not finishing off said house with a good roof (or at the very a leaky roof).
Performance on race/event day depends on a lot of things, some of which are out of your control, but many more that are in fact within your grasp. Some real world examples could be:
- your cornering speed in a cross-country mountain bike race
- how you eat and drink during a 6-hour cycling sportive
- staying calm and fast during a transition in a sprint distance triathlon
With insufficient practice of these other aspects of performance in favour of excessive fitness developing, athletes can expect a weaker showing when it matters. These are weaknesses that can potentially be exploited by a competitor too.
These non-fitness building practices can be harder to justify to yourself, especially for those on tight time constraints. Technical skills or practicing eating on the go can’t easily be quantified or measured in the same way as fitness building can, but this doesn’t make them any less important for success. What’s more, these practices offer the athlete essential variety in their training and can be looked at as “functional fun”, where training is enjoyable, but still helping the athlete to progress towards their goals. This in turn also helps to avoid stagnation and overtraining.
Like many things with performance preparation, it’s another balancing act, and one without the other compromises performance. I always try to have this question of balance in the back of my mind when planning training.