Early December is an interesting time for riders. By now, everyone has been suffering through boot camp for over a month. The repetition seems to never end. On the positive side, though, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. There is less than a month until Anaheim 1, Christmas is only a couple of weeks away, and that lovely time called "tapering" is on the horizon. For now, though, it's still time for the hard work. The endless laps, miles (kilometres if you are so inclined), and gym sessions completed now are what dictate success in the coming months. What does a typical day look like, you ask?
These training days mimic each other almost like clockwork. The only real variation is typically in lap duration or format of riding and even then it's usually not a huge difference. Every morning starts with a gym session but not the iron pumping, meathead variety you might find at your local gym. The emphasis these days is more on stretching, core strength and pliability. Strength gains are definitely a goal, but not so much the typical "beach" muscles. Leg strength for gripping the bike and core strength for balance and maintaining proper ride position are much more important than "curls for the girls."
After the gym, a light breakfast is eaten before arriving to the track by 10am. Most of these programmes are run on a tight time schedule, so the track has been prepped and the motorcycles have been serviced. That all cuts down on wait time from arrival to beginning of ride time. With everything ready, it's time for the most important part of the process: Riding.
Different times of the season dictate different riding itineraries. Early in the off-season, say October and November, the focus is on building a base of fitness. That means long days, long motos and high lap counts. Every programme is different but the bare minimum at that time of year involves a warm up, sprint laps, and two 20-lap motos. That can ramp up significantly, though. In 2004, Tim Ferry and I had worked up to three 30-lap motos by the end of November. That was the culmination of months of riding, cycling and running to build up our fitness base. Not only that, our bodies needed to be able to withstand that level of abuse every day. Our hands needed to callous, back muscles needed to slowly atone for all of that torture and, well, Monkey Butt is always a problem when riding that much.
By December, that focus shifts to intensity and speed. Riders have now spent months and months building up the fitness for a gruelling spring. With a base built, it's time to sharpen the spear with sprint laps, heat-race replications and technique work to eek out tenths of a second per lap. There is an art form to riding above one's comfort zone, even if for a lap. Those 90-lap days are torturous and necessary but if you aren't fast enough, none of it matters.
That leads me to another point, actually. I often see so many pro privateer riders nowadays just hammering out long motos leading up to the supercross season. I totally understand why but I also question the strategy. The likelihood of them consistently making main events is often low. If that's the reality, why worry about being able to do 20 minutes? The entire emphasis should be on improving speed for 6-8 minutes. Being able to get into those main events often determines a year's success or failure. Sponsors want riders in the main events.
Making the main event for privateers means everything. I would (and did) do 8-lap race simulations until the sun goes down. The margin of difference for those on the qualifying bubble is often very small, making any extra speed advantage incredibly valuable. Fitness is great and much of this article speaks to how factory level riders reach their peak but if your goal is just to make the main event, become an expert at the shorter races that dictate that fate.
Okay, back to the topic at hand: The training day. After riding has been completed, riders will shower and regroup. It's now usually 3pm by now and in late November, there is only a couple hours of daylight left. Trainers will be diligent to get their guys moving so they don't run out of time for their bike ride or run. Road cycling is the preferred cardio training for many, simply because the impact on joints is less and it's easy to maintain a targeted heart rate.
On a heavy riding day, the cycling would be somewhere between 1-2 hours. On a day where riding is shorter or an off-day, that cycling duration could be up closer to 3 hours. In December when the intensity focus is ramped up, the cycling rides include interval sprints. The goal is to train your body to hit maximum heart rate, recover back to a manageable effort level and then immediately ramp back up to maximum effort. Hopefully, the body will be trained to handle huge spikes in heart rate and avoid "blowing up" in the middle of a battle.
Finally, the slow cruise back into the driveway has come and riders get to unclip from their bicycle pedals. The highest level riders might still have a massage that night to flush that lactic acid build and prepare to do it all over again the next day. Being able to put in brutally tough training days over and over is where the magic is made. What seems like cruel and unusual torture in October becomes mundane by early December.
Trainers are moulding rider bodies and psyche, hardening them in every sense. Ricky Carmichael often told me that Saturday (race day in America) was his easiest day of the week. His training regimen was so brutal that race day was a walk in the park. That's the goal for every trainer. Create a rider so finely tuned that his race day feels like a day off. It makes sense, right? On a normal training day, that twenty-minute main event would be just one of many torture tests that day.
In a nutshell, the off-season is a suffer-fest. Every day looks like the day before. Bodies ache, enthusiasm wanes and, personally, I whined incessantly. I knew it was necessary but I also voiced my displeasure to anyone with ears. I can also assure you, though, that as I sat on the starting line every year at Anaheim, I was very thankful for the work I had put in. There is no worse feeling than knowing you are not ready for the upcoming season. Now as we roll into a new week, the hard work will continue. There is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, yes, but the hard yards are not quite done. Anaheim is coming. Who will be ready?
Words: Jason Thomas | Lead Image: KTM/Simon Cudby