Training for the Iceman Cometh MTB Race
by Jake Rytlewski, September 2019
If you have ever heard of or been to Kalkaska, Michigan chances are you have done or heard of the Iceman Cometh. The Iceman Cometh is a 27 mile point to point mountain bike race in northern Michigan held yearly on the first Saturday of November. What started off as a small event with only a handful of races has turned into an end of the year party drawing over 4,000 racers. Even though there is a lot of talk about the after party, many riders like to finish of the year on a high note with a good result.
Of course the biggest variable is the weather where it can be anywhere from 70 degrees to 20 degrees and 6 inches of snow or anything in between. In our Iceman training plan, each week has a day dedicated to mountain bike skills. Try to ride in different trail conditions such as sand and mud so you will be ready and confident.
Iceman is said to be a road racers course with all the two track and dirt roads. You will need a huge aerobic engine (hint hint: sweet spot training) as you will be spending a lot of time riding as close to your FTP as possible, while being able to make those anaerobic efforts getting over the short steep climbs.
From the start you have to be ready to go Full Gas. This is true regardless if you are looking for a result or just to do personal best time. There is a holeshot at the start into the singletrack: get in position to hit the trails in the front, and for those looking for a fast time you will want to take advantage of the draft from the other riders. You will be sprinting off the start line and fighting for position to get to and stay near the front for the first 2 miles. Once you hit the trails it is single file and there is very little passing. Without a good position you can find yourself losing the leaders, and or being held up by slower riders and crashes. With Iceman being more a road course it is crucial to draft and stay with the leaders. You don’t hit the first single track until 8 miles into the race.
You get 2 miles of single track after the fast start and need to keep up. Again any mishaps or slow up will cost you as the race heads for Steve’s secret and some tough climbs before opening back up on some two track and dirt roads. After 4 miles of fast two track and dirt roads you will be approaching the Williamsburg road crossing. This is a great opportunity to get a feed or make sure are eating and topping off with fuel (click here for our fueling recommendations) . You will then have a fast mile or two before hitting the Vasa Trail.
The Vasa Trail can either be your friend or enemy! If you have been able to sit in the draft, been staying fueled and have put in the training you can really enjoy the last 8 miles. Here you will find many little climbs that can make or break you race. These hills will take you 1 - 4 minutes at a full gas effort. You want to stay smooth through here and keep the pressure on over the top of the climbs. Use the last ones as a launch pad to try to separate yourself from the rest. You’ll want to be in the front before you hit the last twisty mile through the camp ground as you will find little opportunities to pass.
For the first build cycle of this training plan you will be focusing on your aerobic engine with just hint of anaerobic efforts. You will begin with sweet spot and some long tempo intervals to help build up your aerobic engine to be ready to race hard for 2 - 3 hours. The plan mixes in the anaerobic efforts with tempo burst workouts during the week and the weekends mix in Zone 5 and 6 efforts in with aerobic intervals. In a race you will very rarely just sit at a steady pace throughout. By mixing in these surges it trains your body to be able to respond and recover between harder anaerobic efforts.
During the second build cycle you will start working on your FTP with threshold intervals. Having a high FTP for Iceman is important as you will be spending a lot of time at it and above. The sweet spot intervals will continue during this phase as well, but they will be longer. You will be doing up to and over an hour total of sweet spot riding on your weekend rides. Really helping you be prepared to put in over 2 hours of hard race. These efforts are going to carry you through the fast two tracks and dirt roads. By the end of this cycle you start some Zone 5 intervals.
Come the third build cycle you will be focused on intensity! You will be 4 weeks from the race and it is time to lower the duration a bit and ramp up the intensity. It is the time you want to be making hard race like efforts. You will be doing Vo2 Max and Zone 6 anaerobic intervals. These are going to help prepare you for the race surges and many short steep hills you will find on course including Steve’s Secret and on the Vasa Trail. These are the efforts you will be making though out the race from the start to the last hills on the Vasa Trail.
"Jake racing the IceMan Cometh MTB" Coach Jake racing to a 7th place PRO finish in the 2009 IceMan[/caption] You can mix your riding on and off road. Just make sure that you are getting in the skills day. Even though the course is mostly two track there are sections you will to be ready for so you don’t lose valuable time or energy. Also every 4th week is a rest week! Make sure to take it easy and let your muscles regenerate from the accumulative training stress. This is when you get stronger and ready for the coming up training block!How to ride in the sweet spot
Sweet spot is a training term and intensity you will frequently see in this training calendar. To ride in your sweet spot, adjust your pace between medium and maximal, in a zone you’d call “medium hard.” By power or heart rate, sweet spot is between 83 and 97 percent of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). If you have a power meter, you can use it to pace yourself between 91 and 105 percent of your FTP, or even more if your form is good.
Setting your FTP
You will want to have a properly set FTP to help set up your training zones. You may already have one set from a long year of racing. You can use your peak 1 hour norm power or 95% of your peak 20 minute average power. Look to race files for possible peaks. Or you could conduct your own field test.
This is a 6 week training plan. You will be doing race specific intervals. Make sure you have a recovery drink and food ready at the completion of each workout. Also be sure to staying hydrated and fueled during your workouts. Not only will it help you that day, but it also keeps you from falling in a deficit, especially as the workload increases.
Work, family, and other commitments can make completing every workout a challenge. Even if you can only ride for one hour, perform the intervals and try to balance your time so that you can consistently ride each training day. It’s better to ride for one hour each training day rather than three hours one day a week. Set a personal goal for your own Iceman because improving as a cyclist is all about setting goals and working toward them.
Copyright 2019 , FasCat Coaching
Jake is an Associate Coach with FasCat Coaching. He is a full time professional USA cycling and TrainingPeaks certified coach and finished 7th overall in the 2009 IceMan. To talk with Jake about racing the IceMan, and building power on the bike fill out our New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation.