The Demands of Enduro Racing: An Overview of Race Power Files

The first thing you need to do when deciding how to prepare for a sport is gain an intimate knowledge into what the sport demands.  This sounds pretty easy if you are into the sport already, but sometimes how you ‘feel’ isn’t exactly how it actually is- there may be different demands than what you actually perceive.

For example, in Enduro, we feel like we are absolutely smashing the pedals every chance we get.  So many people ‘train’ by heading out onto the trails and smashing the pedals every chance they get.  It kinda makes sense, so that’s why we do it.  But gaining a different insight into what you are really doing and critically evaluating it can help you perform better; we’ll do that here with two different Enduro runs and a transition climb.

The following data was taken from a Quarq powermeter, sampled every second onto a Garmin 500.  The data is pretty raw and not smoothed.  Power is shown in yellow, red is heart rate, and brown is elevation.

Run1 is shown above.  Absolute power is not important to know for these cases, it is however important to look where this power falls in this rider’s zone (shown on left with corresponding ranges of power).  The run was 7 minutes long and dropped over 800’ in 1.7 miles.  From the start it was straight into repeated supramaximal efforts; these can’t be maintained without rest for more than a few seconds).  And the heart rate was at its highest sustainable level within 30seconds of the start.  This likely stayed elevated due to short recoveries before the next effort and also having to complete difficult parts of the track.  Sure there were periods of coasting, but there was heaps of hard pedalling.  It’s fair to note that the efforts were hard, but not quite at the highest maximum possible for this rider. 

Run2 was more of the same.  At just over 5 minutes and a mile long, it was quick, and judging by the gaps between power spikes, some spots were just too gnarly or fast to pedal, especially in the beginning.  Lots of hard pedal efforts here.  The heart rate drops early on from stopping to put on a dropped chain (mechanicals happen).  The run finished just before the heart rate begins to drop from near maximum.  Like in Run1, the heart rate continued to climb throughout, suggesting this effort was not sustainable.

Climb2 is a good example of how not to transition between stages, but also of a trap that many of us get caught in—going too hard!  This rider spent the majority of the time during this 20-minute climb at a pace that wouldn’t be much more sustainable beyond this amount of time.   This likely started to deplete energy stores and had a negative impact on Run2.  Let this be an example for you to take it easier on the transitions than you think you should!  Wasted energy adds up quick. 

The above power files are important for coaches to appropriately outline training for Enduro and for its athletes to get a better idea of what their bodies are doing.  The bottom line is that Enduro requires athletes to produce huge forces (power, really) with short recoveries.  It also requires us to do this while riding scared and trying to flow trails.  At first glance, it would appear that the training most Enduro races do –going out and smashing some pedals- would work great.  And it might; it probably works for most people.  However, this isn’t what I have my Elite athlete do, given a few sound principles:

  1.    The ability to do repeat sprint efforts is based on AEROBIC efficiency.  I outlined this in a recent paper in the Journal of Science and Cycling with many references.  Interestingly, we found the ability to do repeat efforts was closely related to a person’s sustained high-level aerobic ability, but that a paramount for MTB performance was placed on the ability to do these repeat efforts.  In short, riders need to improve their lower level aerobic fitness to help recover between very hard efforts, which is the ultimate goal.
  2. It is REALLY HARD to recover between these super hard workouts.  Having trained this way into chronic fatigue several years ago, I've since learned the hard way that doing efforts like we do in a race are not meant to be done every day.  Once or twice per week (including races) should do you just fine.
  3. The more hard sprints you do in a row, the lower your ability to complete them gets.  Doing just a handful of very hard efforts with a longer recovery will ensure you can throw down your desired power.
  4.  Sometimes a great way to train to create huge power comes in the gym.  Given power is force*velocity, and larger muscles can create more force, I have riders spend quite a bit of time in the gym.  This is of course periodized appropriately and eventually leads to plyometrics (which are power workouts in their strictest sense).  Girls also lift, and appropriately (for the phase) heavy.
  5. Skill training could potentially make you more efficient during skillfull parts, thus saving energy for pedal bits.
  6. But finally, training like this once in a while is great!  I often have enduro athletes complete an Enduro Test, where they go out and smash a loop out with specified segments and transitions, approaching just like a race.  We use this as a baseline to track fitness.  Keep in mind the variability in conditions when doing this, though.

  1. Enduro is meant to be fun, and that doesn’t mean a little work before racing won’t lead to you being fitter, faster and having more fun!  Sometimes doing a bit more ‘homework’ can have you perform better when you test yourself at a race!

Matt Miler is a researcher at Massey Unversity and a proud Enduro racer.  This is written for the Triple Crown Enduro Series as Official Series Coach.

Matt Miller


Look for our next article on pacing soon!