Annual Training Plan(ning) - Blocks vs. Pre/In Season Plans?

Hi all,

Warning - long, detailed post. Hoping to spur some discussion and also help others think about this subject.

I have a question about annual planning, specifically how to best use Sufferfest to structure my training.

My XC mountain bike season leads up to an annual A-Race on the first Saturday of October, a 40-80K mountain bike race (usually do the 40K but may choose the 80K). I also plan to compete in short-course XC races throughout the year (e.g., week night race series) and 2-4 XC olympic and marathon races during summer 2021 (if held).

Objectives are to build on my 2020 fitness (first year back to serious training after several years off from cycling) with a stretch goal of hitting 4W/KG (I’m 3.4w/kg based on 4DP test done a month ago) on a limited training load. My main limiter is time with 4-6 hours of weekly training as my usual load given other commitments and the majority of my training is done indoors. More than that and I’m making significant trade-offs. The goal isn’t winning races or hitting specific times. I mostly want to see what my potential is as a mid-30s dad working full-time. Overarching principle is that this is a fun and healthy hobby. No more, no less.

Also - I like structure. Just ‘taking it easy’ isn’t an ideal recipe for me.

Option 1

Follow the strategy outlined in the [Blocks article] ( This more closely aligns with Cyclist Training Bible methodology. I would go Base - Tempo - FTP - MAP - AC/NM blocks or simply use Trainer Road’s free plan builder to create my annual plan and follow that methodology using the appropriate blocks (hint, hint - a plan builder could be a valuable Sufferfest tool…).

Option 2

Leverage the Pre- and In-Season XC Plans, as follows:

  • Pre-Season XC Plan - 12 weeks
  • Training block (e.g., base, tempo to maintain fitness but reset a bit) - 3 weeks
  • Pre-Season XC Plan - 12 weeks
  • Training block (e.g., same idea as before) - 4 weeks (extra week leads me into the correct start date for 12 week plan)
  • In-Season XC Plan - 12 weeks, leading me to early October A-Race.

Option 1 is interesting because it allows me to leverage my full year and provides more customization (e.g., 4 week base block, 3 week tempo block to build then back into a 4 week base block for winter months). Main concern is the value doing base training during winter months when I could be better using my time with more intensity as outlined in the ‘no base needed’ article. I’m doing a base block now, after a couple weeks of unstructured training, and it is a good mental reset/transition after a busy fall calendar (6-7 weeks of weekly XC races). Main concern is that volume isn’t high enough to be really beneficial (can’t/won’t do more volume given other commitments) versus other options.

Option 2 is interesting because it is fully planned for me, no need to think about blocks or progression, the strength/yoga/mental training is better integrated, and I take my time getting to my priority race (with races leading up to it). My concern is checking out before I get to In-Season Plan (mitigated with blocks between plans that can be used as recovery/buffer weeks/time off). My concern is that I’m not using these plans as intended, i.e., 12 Weeks Pre-Season Plan followed by 12 week In-Season Plan.

Normally, I would off-arse my off-season but jump into a plan leading up to an A race (I used the XC prep plan this season with success). I want to take a more strategic approach this year as I am 1) more motivated and focused to start early 2) want to improve performance but don’t want to be a ‘Christmas Star’ and 3) want to get the maximum from my Sufferfest subscription.

I searched and read related threads/articles but new functionalities are available and past discussions didn’t really answer specifics.

Looking forward to thoughts and thanks in advance for your comments.

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Option #2 would be my choice. I have done pre-season and in-season XC and really liked both and also felt that they helped me achieve my goals. I am also doing the Volcano Climbing plan and you may want to check that out in lieu of one of the blocks. I generally race in late September - 50 miles MTB with 8k feet of climbing. I didn’t have a race this year due to COVID but did stage a practice race with friends just to have something to plan for and felt that the XC plans kept me on track and improved my overall abilities.

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I would also do something along the lines of your Option 2. I think the 3-4 week training blocks are good fillers between the various 12 week plans.

I wouldn’t worry too much about “volume”. You can go a long way on 4-6 hours structured training and adding more volume around an already busy lifestyle can often be counter-productive, especially if you are racing regularly throughout the year.

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Sorry, not a reply to your specific questions but just want to say: Great post and questions :clap:
I’ve been wondering the same things, and with the same restrictions on my time.
Thanks for asking. I’ve book marked this so I don’t miss out on the replies.

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I’d go with option 2. I thought o read that SUF was going to come out with some longer man plans for marathon events.

I’d also do a 4dp test and get your numbers updated and then follow up with a half Monty in 6 weeks. Testing frequently is important.

You could look at the transition plans if you’ve been riding a lot

What are your limiters ?

Thanks all for the response so far. (can’t tag everyone who commented but all views were valuable). Interesting to read your views and looking forward to others. This is the first year blocks are available so new options are available to sufferlandrians to take an annual perspective to their training.

Not decided yet but option 2 seems to provide a balance between intensity/variety throughout the year (vs. 4 week blocks of the same type of training) and offers three cycles of linear progressions with a reset between each.

@JSampson - I like the idea of a practice race with friends! This year was a whirlwind. First, got ready for a strong early season, then everything is cancelled and finally some end of season races were held with COVID cases down (and strict distancing measures). Great idea about the other specialty plans like Volcano Climbing! I didn’t even think of those for ‘transition’ blocks between plans. Could be a useful way of focusing training on weakness between the two pre-season plans. How stressful are these blocks and do they have a built in recovery week? So long as they don’t cram loads of extra intensity between training plans, I think that could even be a better option (getting a mix of stimuli) compared to a single focus block).

@Peteski - My comment about volume should have been more specific. I meant not having enough volume for a beneficial base. I agree that 4-6 hours per week is good to build fitness but most research findings I’ve seen say base volume of less than 16 hours per week (ish) isn’t as valuable as alternatives (e.g., tempo training, interval training during off season).

mb207 - Plan is to retest using full frontal before starting on my chosen option. My limiter(s) according to my 4DP is VO2 max so raising my max aerobic power is a bridge to raising my FTP. Not sure about that because it also pegs me as a sprinter which my race finishes confirm I am not. Transition plans seem great but not quite what I’m looking for at this stage. I was already weeks into my own transition when these plans were launched so past their purpose for me.

ScottF - I think Sufferfest gets shortchanged as the ‘entertaining’ training app. There’s so much potential to go beyond the stock 12 week plans in a balanced manner.

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Yeah, I don’t bother with traditional low intensity “base” training for that very reason. From what I’ve read recently even some elite athletes appear to be moving more toward a more intensive sweet spot base regime with less volume.


Thanks for the great questions! As @ScottF said, he’s been wondering the same thing and I’m sure there are others too!

I think all of the advice already given from the SUF Community has been great. I’d recommend your proposed option 2, with some additional advice:

  • The Pre-season XC plan is definitely meant to be done before the In -season plan, so doing it before beginning the In-season plan is perfect, either immediately before or with a short 3 or 4-week block of whatever your limiter is (sounds like MAP right now, but it could change by then) in between.
  • If you do want to stick a 3 or 4-week block of training in between 12-week plans, you don’t have to follow the traditional structure. For example, if you start with the Pre-Season XC Plan, then go to a block plan, you don’t have to drop intensity. Since you’ll be performing a Full Frontal at the end of the plan, I’d choose the block that addresses your weakness which will be uncovered by the test. It’s perfectly ok to do a MAP or AC/NM block during the winter instead of a base block. As you’ve said, the volume of these plans is so low that you CAN do high-intensity sessions during the “off-season” or winter.
  • The specialty plans like Volcano climbing or Speed demon are also good options if they address your weakness, or the demands of your upcoming event. These plans ARE pretty challenging though, so if you choose one of these and find that you get run down, don’t be afraid to bail out on it, recover, and choose a different route. Changing course more than 12 weeks out from your A race won’t hurt your progress. If you feel like it’s just not suiting your needs, you’re better off changing course and trying something else than sticking to it if your gut tells you it isn’t working (though you may want to do a Half Monty or FF as a check-in before bailing out to check your progress objectively).

I hope this helps a little. Good luck and keep asking the good questions and give us progress updates!


I don’t want to speak for @joeramedecanot but thanks so much for your reply Suzie! It really helps.

This is one of the things I love about The Sufferfest, a really strong sports science team. Not only that, they are actually acessible to us mere mortals :slight_smile:

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@ScottF, @Coach.Suzie.S, all others,

These responses are great. Each response gave a useful bit of info. Really helped identify great options for annual planning. Although I was leaning towards option 1 initially (blocks), I think option 2 with transition blocks, will be the better option for me : pre season XC, 4 week block, pre season XC plan, 3 week block, In Season XC plan leading up to A-race!

Good idea of choosing a block based on 4DP weaknesses.

Have others planned their year around the SUF plans and/blocks?

Hi all.

Wanted to offer a reply to update on results mid season. Hopefully this will help others riding xc.

I went with option 2 (see initial post). I planned nearly my full year out, based in cyclist bible ideals. Did 2 12-week pre season XC plans with 2 training blocks in between, about to starty in-season XC plan. I picked a base block as a recovery block and an FTP block to build (see comment on ftp later).

Doing well on early season local XC short course races getting podium finishes weekly. I’m getting closer to my 4w/kg goal (may get it next test, at 3.9w/kg now, was closer to 3.4 in my original post). Progrssing well against last year’s results and happy with the results.

I’m finding the training plans to be very productive. Enjoy the structure and having the strength and yoga practice g built in with the cycling adapted to fit (two workouts per day with intensity adjusted accordingly).

I’m thinking about FTP progression and XC plans. Giving the lack of FTP level level work (5x5-8 minutes at FTP) comparing to an FTP byild plan, I find the FTP levels progress more slowly. I think this is because these plans don’t focus on this aspect. That said, the plans really reflect XC racing, loads of racing simulation, accelerations, start and go. Really happy with the results but maybe not as effective at building massive FTP numbers for that impressive W/KG stat because this type of riding isn’t condusive to high intensity steady state power.

Looking forward to the in-season progression!


This is a good callout. I don’t think it’s just that the plans don’t focus on it, it’s also that the time course of training adaptations for things like FTP is longer. And when we only have a limited budget of “hard” days each week–admittedly your budget for intensity is higher when the volume is lower, but still finite–you can run out of runway before your event.

I think it’s different for XCO-length and shorter, but for marathon distance, i have found i get best results (in terms of deep, end-of-race fitness) when i focus more time on tempo and FTP, only doing infrequent tune-ups of MAP and AC, and then only doing above-FTP intensity work at (what feels like) the very last minute. And even then, when i do “MAP” in prep for a marathon MTB event, i’m not doing 9 hammers, rather doing something like 4x5 at the end of a long endurance and tempo ride.

I used to do “standard” length blocks of endurance, tempo and FTP and then jump into MAP / AC about 10 weeks before my event, but have since learned that i could continue to reap benefits (and in fact more benefits) but continuing the focus on tempo/FTP longer, including doing things like multiple hard days in a row.

I was thinking along the same lines. But I guess that implies more training volume. A more traditional approach compared to low volume, higher intensity for the time-crunched athlete.

So could I ask what sort of volume you are doing in the Tempo/FTP phase of your marathon prep?

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I think that’s generally right. Like if you’re doing say three hard days a week, and those hard days are tempo or threshold, they will be longer than an equivalent MAP or higher intensity exercise. Especially once you work up to 90mins plus of tempo, you’re at at least 2 hrs with warmup and cool down vs. getting to do something like half is easy in 30 mins.

I was generally doing somewhere between 10 and 15 hours per week, but on one or two weeks, pushed it up to like 20 hrs. I ran my own training camps when my wife was out of town!

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This has been a fascinating thread for me to come back to. I love reading everyone’s chosen methods and experiences and how they end up working out.

As coaches, when we write training plans, the first thing we do or think about is the “needs analysis” - what are the demands of the target event or “A” race? The most important thing is to make sure the training plan addresses those specific needs.

Shorter xc races typically demand more accelerations and repeated efforts at higher intensities, and with a short(er) duration event, you can burn some matches throughout the race, as long as you’re aware of your limited supply of them and portion them out well. But that also means that you need to train all of the energy systems to be able to sustain high power outputs, accelerate quickly, recover quickly between efforts of all kinds of intensity, and still have something left for a potential sprint finish.

On the other hand, it’s probably not a great strategy to approach a marathon distance event in the same way. Attacking a climb or accelerating hard out of the corners won’t make as much of a difference over the longer distances. At the very least, the resulting risk or potential of blowing up 10 miles from the finish is greater than if you maintained a more even pace or energy expenditure, or even tried to execute a negative split strategy. We all know the people who start fast and fade are usually the ones who finish behind those who start moderate and maintain or even speed up throughout the event.

The other factor, of course is YOUR individual needs in terms of schedule, time available, recovery, other life stress, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Some people thrive on high volume while others just do better on low volume and high intensity. It’s fine to try different strategies, but if what someone else does just doesn’t seem to work for you, then don’t force it. Experiment and learn what works for you!