MTB Ride Strategy - Pace vs PR's

I am really enjoying the structured workouts and have realized that I can ride much faster/more power/higher cadence with a lower heart rate on the trainer than I can on the trails.

This was to be expected as the trails require much more effort than a stationary trainer (kickr) - however, what I am struggling with is not going all out every time I ride. Its like those PRs and KOMs are whispering in my ears even though I am telling myself (go slow, warm up, save it for a specific segment) and even worse, if I see someone else on the trails ahead - all I can think is I am going to catch/pass them.

I am trying to actually pay attention to my HR and cadence while riding (dont have power), I have an ELEMNT and figure I need to use it to hold back. What do others do to pace yourself over an 1-1.5 hour MTB ride? Should I be going all in, like its a race every time? I’ve done this pretty much for the last 3-4 years and hit a plateau (my HR pretty much maxes out during first 5 mins and stays there until I finish). What say you sufferlandrians?

It depends what you want to achieve.
If you’re looking primarily for gains, then you probably want your outdoor rides to just be working on sustaining a moderate (Z2-Z3) effort and use that to hold yourself back.
If you’re training just to improve your enjoyment outdoors though, do as you please, ride outside however you want to just to have fun… I’m like you either on trails or road, if there’s someone ahead then they’re a target. I have no racing plans, indoors is my training, outdoors is my enjoyment.

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@hagar_the_horrible I often do the same as you. It really comes down to either reminding yourself (or agreeing with friends) on the goal of the ride. I wear a HRM but mostly I just ride on RPE. Don’t sweat it if you hit a PR here or there (unless you are really trying to stay in a recovery zone).

My mtb rides are always pretty strenuous and I go pretty hard. There’s no getting around the long steep/tech climbs. Of course some of the time I’m coasting or descending. There’s nothing wrong with going hard as long as there’s adequate recovery.

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How many rides a week do you do on your MTB of the 1-1.5hr “race pace” ?

I used to do this 3 or even 4 days a week by early summer, I’d plateau and start to notice signs of overtraining like trouble sleeping and overheating legs in the night.

Since I got an HR monitor I’ve been able to recalibrate my RPE scale from 1-10, What I though was easy was too hard, and what I thought was hard was too easy. For the last 2 years I’ve been careful to avoid over doing it and by sticking to the SYSTM training plans improved my fitness to the point that climbs where I was high Z3/low Z4, I can now do in Z2. By going slower I can ride more days a week.

There’s no shame in going slower and I think a lot of people end up riding too fast as bikes come with gearing that is too hard for those who don’t have 5-6w/kg at threshold. When I moved from a flat coastal area to the mountains I swapped my 36T front ring for a 30T and swapped from a 11-32 to an 11-42 cassette. I could ride up the hills in 36:32 but I wouldn’t be able ride the next day.


In warm months (last year) I rode 3-4x/week and definitely leveled off - think I was over-training and starving myself.

I do use a HR monitor (Tickr), but my old eyes are not so good so it was hard to see on the ELEMNT. I have now made it old man size font and can see it when riding to help me stay at a more moderate pace during the warm up - then go all out for specific segments to bring on the fun.

My goal is exactly what you stated, I want to be able to ride more in Z2/3 (climbs/cruising) and use Z4 to attack. Sounds like I need to practice riding slower and ignore not being in 1st place every segment (for that day). Thanks!

I have my ELEMNT configured so that the LEDs on the top light up in different colors for my HR zones, these show up well even in daylight.
Blue - Z1
Green -Z2