12 Hour Solo Preparation

Tom Kissel | Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The first thing that people ask me when I tell them I race anywhere from 6-12 hour endurance mountain bike events is, “how do you train for that?!” I will take you through my preparation leading into this year's Mcleans Island 12 Hour Solo race to help you gain a better idea of what it takes to perform at your best in longer events. These principles are applicable to all.

Training Through Winter

I had set myself the goal of racing the 2015 Mcleans 12 Hour Solo about 10 months out from the event. As the race is in the middle of October, I knew the biggest component to success was to ride all winter.

I have a 30km commute to work on my cyclocross bike and the goal was to ride to and from every single day throughout the coldest months to form a solid base. The new CX bike helped as it was a lot more fun riding the North Canterbury gravel backroads than pounding the pavement. With an average of 11 hours per week in the rain, shine (yeah, right), hail and snow, I made it through winter with base fitness like never before for this time of year and rearing to get into the next phase of training in the 6-7 weeks before the race. The only time I didn't ride was when the snow was pelting down so much that my lovely wife picked me up as it was not safe. Yes, I tried to stop her from picking me up but she has a lot more sense than me. As long as you have some good gear, riding through the colder months is not as bad as many think.

To go with the added fitness, you also gain a huge amount of resilience and mental conditioning which puts you in good steed come race day. The lowest temperature I recorded was -10 degrees. Every shitty day out there I just told myself, “this is why I am going to win." I also saved myself approximately $700 in gas.

The Real Build Up

The last 6 weeks before the race is where the training heats up in specificity and importance. Averaging 16 hour weeks and riding 1 day each weekend out on course. It always amazes me when people say, “it's Mcleans, it's easy, you don't need to see the course." Tell that to those slipping and skidding through the corners for the first few hours before they find the rhythm of the track. In a race that is 12 hours long, every 2-3 seconds you gain in a corner over the course of the day adds up to big time gains at the end. Knowing how every corner runs at your race speed gives you huge confidence come race day wherever your race is.

During the weekdays my commute began to get longer with harder efforts and an overall higher tempo. I train 80% off-road, which I think was another huge factor in my build up. During this phase I also fine tune my recovery. Once every 2 weeks I would see my chiropractor, have sports massage and ensure I was stretching every single day. I increased my protein intake and tried to eat as healthy and nutritious as possible for the effort I was putting in. The focus during this period is recovery. By doing all of these things you can train better, and the better you train the more fit you become. Just going out and riding your bike for a few hours doesn't equate to much if you then follow it up with a sleep on the couch and junk food.

During this phase your mental preparation must begin, too. A lot of people give little thought to this. Personally, I know it pays huge dividends if you have a clear head and are ready for all circumstances. Visualising the race and all possible scenarios means you are prepared for anything on the start line and I make this a big part of my preparation. There is so much more than being physically fit to achieve your goal, you need to be mentally ready, too.

Race Day

It's always good to finally get to race day and even better to get started! This year there was a super strong field and I knew I would have to put my best foot forward. We started as 1 big group of 12 hour solo and teams as well as all of the 6 hour solo and teams. After I safely (just!) made it through the narrow and snaking starting shoot I was quickly onto the wheel of one of our customers and team competitor, George Lucas. I knew sticking with him would guarantee I'd be near the front for the first lap, out of trouble and hopefully open gap to my other competitors. My aim was to race from the front and ride faster than anyone thought was feasible to maintain. I knew I would recover and settle in after a fast start. Coming though the pit area for the first time I knew I had a gap but it wasn't until the next time through that I was told by my crew that I had 2 minute on the first lap! I was lucky enough to have my brother fly down from Auckland with his fiancé to provide cover for me throughout the day as they did last year. As it turned out they proved to be my secret weapon. With clip board in hand that had the entry list and the names of those to watch highlighted I had accurate time checks all day which made my day that much easier. Knowing where everyone was helped me maintain my effort and stay focused for the whole day. After a fast first 2 laps I settled into 30 minute laps from there on and continued to add anywhere from 30sec to 2 min consistently throughout the whole day. Every single lap I took on food and water at the same point, as needed.

I had picked a few points on the track so that I knew how my timing was going each lap to help me stay consistent. On my Garmin, I had showing my previous lap time and current lap times showing so that I could monitor my effort. I knew that I needed to average 25 km/h to get the result that I wanted so I kept a close eye on this also. The weather played quite a big factor in the day as it was cold, drizzly and windy all day. Just was well I trained through winter! 

At 7:30 pm you have to wear lights on course as it starts to get darker. I had another helmet set up with my nightlight and stopped to put this on at my pit site. I stopped for 20 seconds to do this, my only stop all day. I wanted every second possible. Once your lights are on the race changes a lot. It is like you are riding a whole new track as trees jump out at you and you can no longer see the loose dust and metal on the corners so your concentration must be on point for the last few hours.

The result in the end was one I was hugely proud of, lapping nearly the whole field, apart from second place, and setting what I believe is a distance record of 296.7 km in 11 hours 47 minutes. It was only on the very last lap that my body finally started to fatigue and I had a slower last lap to cruise in for my third Mcleans 12 Hour Solo Open Men win and second consecutive. Throughout the race, I felt amazing and was able to keep focus and my preparation meant I had the perfect day. For my the coolest part of the day is getting the result and sharing that with my friends and family. Rolling over the finish line and

The Day After

A lot of people are often interested in my recovery after a big race. It's pretty simple. Eat well, drink heaps and replace all of the energy you have used. Get back on and ride your bike as soon as you are able to. This will help ease out your muscles and flush out some of the built up toxins. And of course, have a beer! Mentally after such a big build up it is important to relax and get back to some more normal life pleasures that you have been missing out on.