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Training / Tips / The course / Your bike

Smart Training for the Contact Epic

Clocking in at 125 km, the Contact Epic is truly New Zealand’s ultimate mountain bike challenge. Whether you are tackling the full 125 km Epic, the 95 km Classic or the 35 km Traverse this is a race/ challenge/ adventure that you need to be prepared for.

The main problem people face when training for such an ‘epic’ endurance event is finding time for training. While professional athletes can spend all day training those with other commitments such as work and family need to be a little ‘smarter’ with their training approach. All too often competitors start the Contact Epic ill prepared for the challenge that lies ahead of them due to ineffective training and fail to reach their full potential. While on the flip side, many competitors line up exhausted, injured or over-trained due to inefficient training and are not able to realise their full potential either.

To help you prepare and train for the Contact Epic, Sport Scientist and Endurance Coach Matty Graham of Exponential Performance Coaching provides a free basic training plan and advice below. If you would like a more comprehensive training plan and guidance for the Contact Epic, Classic or Traverse then check out the different training plans tailored for a range of goals, races and individual needs on the Exponential Performance Coaching website.

Smart Training Basics

Smart training starts with making sure you get the basics right. Three of these important basics are your Nutrition, Recovery and Function. Without these basic underlying fundamentals then all of the hard training you do is a waste of time.


Nutrition is such an important aspect of any endurance athletes training. Most people only think about nutrition leading into race day in the form of what sticky gels and sweet sports drinks they are going to use for the race. However, the day to day nutrition that someone training for an endurance event consumes if even more important.  There is a mind set among many endurance athletes of ‘I can eat anything I want, because I will just burn it off in training’. While this is true, the reason you need to pay attention to your day to day nutrition is not so you do  not get fat, it is so you are providing your body with the raw ‘ingredients’ that it needs to

1) Function as a normal human being

2) Perform the required training

3) Repair and adapt to the training that you are doing.

To help you with your day to day and race day nutrition you can get a FREE 4 page E-handbook when you purchase any of the specific Contact Epic, Classic or Traverse training plans over at the Exponential Performance Coaching Website.


Recovery is just as important as your training. When you train you are actually putting a stress on your body that breaks it down and causes damage. It is then following your training during your recovery that your body is able to re-build, repair and adapt to the training. It is this recovery and adaption process  in which your performance improves.

Smart Training + Adequate Recovery = Improved Performance

Now recovery is not just ‘Doing Nothing’. However, doing nothing is an important form of recovery. Along with nutrition, two important aspects of recovery that will give you the biggest benefit are sleep and active recovery.

Sleep is critical for recovery. When you sleep your body releases many anabolic hormones that stimulate recovery and adaptation. Aiming to get to bed by 10 pm at the latest is important to maximise your hormonal cycles and help tick off at least 8 hours each night.

Easy active recovery sessions helps facilitate recovery through stimulating blood flow, hormone release and lymphatic drainage. It is critical that these sessions are performed at an easy intensity to gain the benefits that they offer.


Function relates to an individual’s mechanical function, muscle balance, posture and their ability to move and live as a human being. If you have poor posture, low back pain, struggle to get out of a chair and do not have adequate core strength to sit up straight then as soon as you start to train on the bike for the Contact Epic you will start overloading certain muscles, tendons and joints through poor movement patterns and become injured. Also those at the top end of the field wanting to race hard can improve their performance on the bike through improving their function off the bike.

Through stretching, strength training, massage and proper bike set up you can keep your body in one piece and get that peak performance you are after. Check out the gym training plan that Proactive Health has put together specifically for the Contact Epic.



Training Plan Notes

  • Load weeks: These are designed to load your body with training stress to stimulate adaptation. This will occur through a combination of longer and harder training sessions. During load weeks work on keeping your training consistent while focusing on completing the details outlined in the sessions.
  • Recovery weeks: These weeks are designed to allow your body to adapt to the training you have done in your last loading cycle. During these weeks focus on getting extra sleep where possible, maintain good nutrition and not pushing over the planned intensity or duration.
  • General ride: Your general ride makes up the bread and butter of your training. The aim of this session is to ‘clock up’ time in the saddle at a consistent zone 2-3 pace. On this ride take in a mixture of terrain and take some time to work on your technical riding skills.
  • Long ride: Your long ride is key for developing not only your physical endurance capacity but also your mental endurance capacity. Take in a mixture of gravel and sealed roads, single track and some rough 4wd tracks if possible over undulating terrain. On the hills work on staying seated as much as possible to develop your strength endurance.
  • AR/ tech ride: The aim of the active recovery (AR) and technical (tech) ride is to help facilitate recovery. It is key that this ride is done at an easy pace, so choose a flat course and ride in an easy gear. During this session it is an ideal time for you to work on your technical riding skills. So get out and hit some single track and work on developing those skills that you struggle with the most. If you improve your technical single track riding you will be able to ride faster across all types of terrain suck as rough 4wd tracks.
  • Hill ride: This session is all about developing your strength endurance. Plan your hill ride to take in as many medium length climbs (3-10 min) in the planned ride time. Work on climbing the uphill sections at a hard intensity both in and out of the saddle and using the downhill sections as recovery.
  • Hill intervals: This session is aimed at progressing your strength endurance development and working on your anaerobic threshold. Following a 10 – 15 min warm up perform 4-8×4 min uphill intervals in zone 4-5 on a prolonged moderate grade hill. During these intervals focus on holding your highest sustained workload for the full 4 min. Between intervals ride downhill at an easy pace for 2 min before repeating. Following these intervals ride steady up to the planned session time. In your first hill ride session perform 4 reps and then build up to 6 reps in the second session and then try and do 8 in the third session.
  • Race simulation: Plan a course that takes in terrain similar to that of the Contact Epic. Carry all of your planned race gear and use your planned race nutrition.
  • Optional ride: This session is an ‘extra for experts’ ride on Sunday for those who have some extra time and feel up to clocking up another general ride. If you are feeling overly tired then take this session as a recovery day.
  • Recovery day and focused stretching: This is a complete day off the bike to allow your body to recover and adapt. Rest up today and take 10-20 min to perform some focused stretching.
  • Gym session: Perform the gym session (see below) outlined by Proactive Health to help develop your function.
  • Priming session: This is the final session before the Contact Epic. The aim of this session is to check your gear and prime your energy systems so you are ready to roll tomorrow. Ride at an easy pace for 20min to turn your legs over as well as including 2x1min priming intervals with 2 min recovery between each. These intervals are not maximal efforts but a strong controlled effort. Following the intervals ride up to 20 min at an easy pace.
    • Perform this session ~ 24 hours before race start and consume a high carbohydrate meal immediately following.
  • Training intensity: Your training intensity is ‘how hard’ you are training. Your training intensity is important as it effects the energy systems you are training and therefore the different training effects. All of the training intensities outlined in this training plan are based on 5 subjective training zones outlined below.
    • You can more accurately monitor your training intensity using a heart rate monitor. A specific field test to calculate your personalised heart rate training zones is detailed as part of all the training plans that can be purchase over at the Exponential Performance Coaching website.


Physiological development aim of the session

Subjective rating


Session Type

1 Active Recovery Easy Recovery/ technique work
2 Aerobic Capacity Steady Long steady distance
3 Tempo Rides Moderate Up tempo
4 Anaerobic Threshold Hard Long intervals
5 VO2max Very hard (maximal) Short intervals

Comprehensive Training Plans and Personalised Training Programmes

If you have bigger goals than just completing the Contact Epic or if you are planning on riding the Classic or Traverse events then head on over to the Exponential Performance Coaching website. Here you will find a range of training plans for the beginner right through to the most competitive riders specifically designed for the Contact Epic, Classic and Traverse. All of these training plans come with a FREE Nutrition E-Handbook covering the important aspects of training and racing nutrition.

If feel you would like a personalised training programme designed specifically for you and your needs. Plus regular contact and valuable guidance from a coach check out the Personalised Training Programme options offered at Exponential Performance Coaching.



Contact Epic 6 Week Strength Programme



Warm up

After 5-10 minutes of cardio of your choice head into some dynamic exercises to prepare the body. Pick a selection of exercises that prepare the whole body e.g.

5 Walkouts

5:5 Worlds best stretch

10:10 Quadruped thoracic rotations

30 seconds Down dog to up dog

Repeat the circuit 2 to 3 times feel free to add any of your favourite warm up exercises and spend any extra time on any body parts that may require it.



Reps Weeks 1,2,3

Rest 45seconds to 1:15 between sets.

Weights should be challenging but all reps should be completed with good form.

Reps weeks 4,5,6

Rest 90sec to 2 mins between set to allow full recovery.

Weights should be challenging but all reps completed with no form failure.

1)      Goblet Squats 15 – 12 – 9 4 x 8

2)      Bent over DB Row

Or Suspension trainer row

15 -12 – 9 4 x 10
3)      Single Leg Deadlifts 3 x 8 each leg 4 x 6 each leg
4)      Split stance DB curl and press 4 x 12 each side 4 x 8

5)      DB Prone rows


4 x 7:7 4 x 5:5
6)      Walking or stationary lunges with Db’s at shoulder height 3 x 18 steps 4 x 10 steps
7)      Jacknife with optional push up using swiss ball or sus trainer 3 x 12 3 x 8
Finish with a nice easy cool down consisting of some easy flexibility work to help recover. Spending some extra time on areas that work hard while riding including, calves, quads, hip flexors and opening the front side of the upper body can be beneficial.

 Key considerations

Always warm up.

Weeks 1,2,3 are about building some strength while working through a full range of motion to maintain mobility to ride well and keep training.

Weeks 4,5,6 are about maintaining strength and good mobility. Avoid lifting weight that makes you sore. Strength is a great addition to your training program to help ride strong and pain free, but your gym work should not take away from your quality long rides this close to the event.

When possible finish each session and try to eat a good quality meal or smoothie which contains some protein to help boost recovery and get you ready to ride strong.

If any exercises cause pain or discomfort cease them immediately and seek guidance from a qualified professional such as a qualified PT or physio.

The program is designed to compliment a bikers training and keep them strong and mobile to help enjoy riding. Strength is a key component to riding to help you produce more power to ride faster, help you ride in a good strong position to improve bike handling breathing and overall efficiency and help prevent injury. If you would like to find out how we can help feel free to contact us at www.thefitcollective.co.nz  | coachme@thefitcollective.co.nz


The bike – The Course – Repairs – The Body –

The Contact Epic is an iconic journey into the back country. You need to be prepared to get the most out of this event and enjoy the wilderness. Personal responsibility is a key theme of this race and below is a few helpful hints from a few local experts to help prepare your body and your bike.

The Bike

Doug Hamilton is a local MTB legend from Wanaka and has written a few pointers for you to consider.

This event is a major undertaking for all entrants and bike preparation is as equally important as body preparation. Your bike should be in top running condition, having been serviced no less than two weeks before the race start. This amount of time will give you more saddle time to get used to any changes made to your bike and to make 100% sure that everything is working perfectly.

Ideally, your bike should be a good quality ‘Cross Country’ hard-tail or short-travel dual suspension bike. The majority of the ride is on fast surfaces, sealed road, gravel road and 4wd tracks, so fast rolling tyres are the go, but there are some rocky, technical descents in there too. A light weight higher-volume tyre works best for this mix of terrain.

The Course-How to Ride it

The 125km ride starts with 20km of sealed road, with one big hill along the way at about the 15km mark. It then turns off the highway onto a fast gravel road to reach the 95km start point. This first part of the course will be on public roads, so normal road rules apply. No more than 2 riders abreast at any time and you need to keep an eye out for cars coming from both directions.

After the 95km start point, and passing by Hunter Valley Homestead, the gravel road soon turns to a 4wd farm track and the second climb soon begins. The course is really like a big rollercoaster, lots of ups and lots of downs, but nothing very long. Most of the downs are fast, open 4wd tracks so keep your speed in check and keep to the left of the track so faster riders can pass.

Crossing the Hunter River is approximately the halfway point. This is a big river and the water height can range from shin deep to waist deep, depending on recent rainfall. It’s about 150 metres from one side to the other, usually crossing several braids of the river. You will have to carry your bike across this river. Trying to ride your bike across will end in you getting very wet and cold, maybe even losing your bike downstream.

Once you are on the other side of the river the course becomes a little more technical, with very rough, rocky sections where slips and washes have come down. This is a prime place to get a puncture, so take it easy. You are soon back on 4wd track and heading for Dingle Burn Station. More rollercoaster type terrain with a little more climbing than on the first part of the course.

The course runs through the Dingle Burn Station Homestead, signalling the start of the gravel road back to Hawea. This road is very narrow in places with vertical bluffs dropping down into the lake. Take care passing along here. There’s more fast riding with a few short, sharp climbs. The climb up from Timaru Creek is the last big effort and the road is mostly flat back to Hawea from here with around 5km of sealed road to ride to finish line.

It’s a long ride, pace yourself and don’t forget to look at the view!!

Tools and Trailside Repairs

You will need to carry a good tool kit consisting of a multi-tool, chain-breaker, spare chain links, 2 spare tubes, tyre levers, patch kit and a small bottle of chain lube.

On a long ride like this anything can happen to your bike, even if it was running perfectly at the start. There are many small creek and water crossings along the way, so the lube on your chain will get washed off quickly. Use a quality wet lube and plenty of it. Carry extra in your backpack. If you get chain-suck along the way, you will need your extra lube to stop this happening again. Bad chain-suck can break a chain and rip your rear derailleur off.

Practice how to repair a broken chain before the ride and how to use all your other tools as well. It will make life so much easier when you have a real break down to fix.

The Body

Dr Andrew McLeod, another local identity has competed in almost every major multi-sport event in the country.Here are a few points on looking after yourself on the day.

The adventure ride round Lake Hawea is both spectacular and challenging. To get the most out of your day a few simple physical and equipment preparations will make your day more enjoyable.

The top end of the ride is well up into the hills beside the southern divide and is subject to major weather fluctuations. You could see a day with gale force North-Westerlies, blazing sun, drenching rain, sleet or all of the above. You will need to carry a pack with extra thermal gear (regardless of the weather gurus’ best guess forecasts), waterproof jacket, woollen hat and gloves. If the weather does turn nasty, or you or your bike suffer an injury, you may be sitting waiting for a while to be collected to get home.

Although there will be assistance around the course the essence of back country travel is the need to be self sufficient. You are expected to carry a first aid kit including as a minimum gauze squares and tape to manage simple flesh wounds, a couple of Paracetamol or Nurofen tablets, and an elastic crepe bandage, sunscreen, and most important of all anti-chaff cream.

Food and fluid for the day requires careful planning. The water in the side creeks at the top end of the lake is probably safe to drink but water from creeks lower down may be contaminated by cattle. The lake water is safe and refreshing to drink. In hot conditions you may need to drink as much as 750ml per hour and some of this fluid should be in the form of an electrolyte drink to replace salt dripping off your brow.

Muscles need sugar to operate, if you are in a hurry the various commercial gels are convenient but if you are going to take time for some photos and a good look around there is nothing wrong with a few sandwiches, fruit, chocolate and cake. Treat yourself. You are burning up a few extra kilojoules! Bottom-line don’t skimp on the food. Take items that are appealing and tolerate being squashed.

Recognise that this ride is long enough and hilly enough to require a good level of fitness.