Now that cross season is over, it’s time to start planning for next year. Since each season builds on the previous, it’s important to start planning as soon as possible. Here are a bevy of helpful tips that will insure that you are stronger and more successful next season.
Take some time off. You might have wicked good fitness right now but it’s important to let your body and mind have some down time to recover. Some say a week or two is good and others say six weeks. I’ve found that two months off the bike is best. Then another three to four months should be dedicated to unstructured riding — limit yourself to light commuting or riding around town. I recommend riding a cruiser bike so as to not tempt undue strain on your system.
Refuel properly. Lots of serious racers watch their diets very carefully during the season so that they can maximize their performance. These limited diets, while fine for competition season, can lead to serious deficiencies if followed year round. Of course I’m talking about beer deficiency. And desert deficiency too. And the very serious Cheetos deficiency. Also, it’s unhealthy to stay really skinny for entire 12 month periods at a time. The off season is the perfect time to put on those healthy 20 pounds. Once your serious training begins, there will be plenty of time to lose that weight. Plus, the extra pounds are an excellent training tool. Imagine how fast you’ll feel once you drop them.
Don’t over train. Too many cross racers will race other disciplines in the off season. That’s just a recipe for over training. It’s much better to come into cross season with fresh legs and a hungry attitude. If you must compete, I suggest cross training with another sport like golf, darts, or bowling.
Increase lung capacity: The deep inhalations associated with smoking are excellent for increasing lung capacity. The tobacco companies have a large library detailing the health benefits of smoking. Plus, all the old school Tour winners smoked like chimneys. Who can argue against success?
Renovate your bathroom. I recommend that you do this project yourself and that you start a month before the season begins since that should be plenty of time to finish. Don’t worry that your wife will likely hound you every weekend, telling you that the bathroom better be done before her mom visits in October.
For a limited time, I’m offering free coaching and training plans to any local racers planning on competing in the 35+A category next year.
I’ve been otherwise detained much of this week so I’ve been slacking with the posts. So I’ll get back on board with some discussion of a post Simon Burney wrote over on his Cross Advice blog. He writes about a friend of his racing his first season of cross over here in Portland, OR. His friend is pretty fit but not able to hang with the leaders of the pack and wonders why. Simon suggests that he’s not getting on the pedals hard enough after the transitions (planks, runs, corners, general slowing, etc.).
This year I’ve found a few guys at work who cross and we’ve headed out to a park right next to our buildings at lunch for some cross practice. Mostly we’ve been doing laps around a short course that takes perhaps a minute and forty-five seconds to negotiate. It’s got loads of turns and three dismounts. Two of the dismounts are contrived just to shoulder the bike and then there are a set of barriers. That translates into lots of places that require effort to get back up to speed.
Kevin, one of the regulars for the weekly session, is one of the faster A racers. Usually the drill is that Kevin starts out at a “reasonable” pace then starts dialing it up until I can’t hang. I’ll then cut the course to get ahead of him so he has to pass me and I have added incentive to stay in front, then chase hard when he passes me. Today we did a fun alternative where three of us did staggered starts — slowest off first. One of those heats produced a very exciting series of passes when we all came together at the same time.
Since there are so many transitions on this course, there’s not much room to wind it up. A determined rider can hold off pursuers by digging hard out of the transitions and getting to the next one even a whisker earlier than the chasers. This head to head riding on a twisty course has really raised my appreciation for the significant benefit of getting up to speed as fast as possible after a transition.
Fitness plays a part in a racer’s ability to hammer out of the transitions but there is a big mental aspect too. Suppose you are following someone and they get a little gap out of a corner. What should you do? The obvious answer is to shut down the gap ASAP. But that takes a brief hard effort that can be mentally taxing in the middle of a race. When you’re already hurting, taking it up a notch seems like more than you can handle. The reality is that a brief hard effort can pay dividends over the next section because it’s lots easier to stick to a wheel than try to pace 20 feet back — way easier mentally and a tad easier physically.
Getting back to those hot laps I was talking about … Kevin is way faster than I am. He’s going to be putting a minute into me every lap in a race. However, when we’re out in the park, I can hang for a bit if I will myself to make those short hard efforts to get back to his wheel since he’ll have to slow to set up the next transition in a moment. And sometimes I can keep him at bay for a turn or so if I dig deep coming out of the transitions.
If you have the opportunity, get out once a week with a friend or five and do some sets of hot laps. Set up a short course with lots of transitions. Focus on sprinting out of the corners. Don’t ride outside your technical abilities and wash out all over the place. Stay solid on the corners and relax through the dismounts. Focus all your energy on jumping hard every time you get past the slow bit. If you find yourself losing that focus, take a break and try it again.
Not satisfied with my lunch time workout, I headed over to P-town for a skills clinic Friday evening. I split my time between helping out and practicing barriers. The great thing about getting together with other folks (especially some way more experienced than me) is that you might just learn something.
What I picked up was a better definition of an idea that I’d been working out this year. Last season, I had an atrocious time with the barriers. I’d worked on them quite a bit as was looking to hone my technique to such an extent that I was super fast and smooth. During a session I’d feel great about my technique but come race day, I’d start having difficulty.
So this season I figured that I would be better served looking for smooth and consistent at the expense of fast. I wanted to feel relaxed and comfortable through the barriers. Well, I was still having trouble
Last night I got the key. Slow in, fast out. Throw that leg over the bike early and coast into the barriers. Take a moment of recovery. Hop off smooth and get through the barriers building speed for the other side. Sprint hard and remount. Then go, go, go.
It works like a charm.
I had been worrying too much about pedaling right up to the barriers and hurrying the dismount. That was just messing me up big time. Tomorrow is the day to put into action.
On Fridays at lunch, I head out to a park right next to work and mess around on cross skills. I keep a set of PVC barriers in my cube so that I don’t have to lug them around on the commute. Anyway, it rained last night, early this morning, and then a series of hard showers rolled through mid-morning. It looked like it was clearing up for noon time so I headed out.
Well, it rained. Sometimes pretty hard. I hunkered under some big Doug firs for the worst of it but since it was cross practice, I figured I had better get my butt out in it.
My training clinchers are getting darned bald and the grass was rather slick but I only ate it two or three times. I debated whether training on baldies was good or bad. It might make me overly cautious in the corners on race day. However, it might make me focus on good technique that could help keep me upright when I’m trying to make corners when my reason and strength are fast deserting me. Dunno.
Of course I did a bunch of barriers — sucked on the early ones and did better on the later ones. This year my philosophy is do them smooth and don’t worry about speed as much. I also set up an off-camber turn that I practiced both directions. The slippery grass made those drills pretty cool. I slid out a few times and stuck the inside foot down to correct — sure do lose a lot of momentum when that happens though. I also set up some cones on the flats did figure-eights between them to practice for the chicanes.
I bailed when the thunder started rolling overhead. The lunch time runners told me I had missed the worst of the weather since I didn’t get pelted by hail like they did.
I’ve just returned from five wonderful days in Bend, OR with the fam. That was five days off the bike. I ran one day because we went on a hike that turned out to be longer than expected and the kids wanted a ride back in the car. So I ran back to the car. It actually felt pretty good.
So my super secret training program is to incorporate a whole lot more rest than I usually do. A couple of months ago I managed to get myself over trained and was feeling pretty burned out. So in August, I decided to switch to a two on and one off training schedule. Last week was my second “off” week and I made it count by going on vacation. In two more weeks, I’ll be heading to the coast for a few days of forced R&R.
I decided to go to the two weeks on, one week off schedule for two reasons; 1) Friel suggests it for older racers and at 42 (this past Thursday), I reluctantly fit the bill, and 2) a triathlon friend of mine ended up going to this schedule and had some really great results this year. So far so good. The second on week leading up to this past off week was a great week of training for me. I feel like I’m able to get more out of the intensity workouts when I get adequate recovery.
It has been a challenge to lose the hammer head mindset where I feel that if I’m not training hard every week then I’m falling behind. I believe that I’m seeing some good results from the new program and I have decided that I want to feel good come November. I’m sure the extra rest will help me stay physically sharp and mentally focused for the whole season.
My legs felt heavy on the commute to work today after five days off the bike. But they should come around in a day or so. I’m curious how they will react to intervals tomorrow though …
Here’s the video I shot of my barriers practice on Friday. I did several sets of four of five. I didn’t cut any bad runs from the sets and I’m pretty pleased with my consistency. Since I was alone, I had to set the camera up in a stationary position so there’s not as much detail as I would have liked. The barriers are on a slight incline which made modulating speed a bit easier.
Here it is August 9th and I’m chomping at the bit. I’ve been trolling the cross related web sites for any tasty bites of information (there aren’t many). There’s still some Summer left and I feel guilty about wishing it away but I’m ready to race. Of course I need to use some of the time remaining to find a little more fitness (or is that what the early season races are for?).
Did I mention it’s August? That means you had better be out doing a cross practice once a week. Here’s what you should be doing:
Barriers: You probably aren’t going to win races through the barriers but you might lose some. You want to have practiced barriers so many times they’ve been burning into your muscle memory. Perfect your technique. Practice them at race pace. Remember, getting through the barriers is the most important thing. One fall and you will have wasted all the extra seconds (plus some) you might have gained living on the razor’s edge.
Shoulder the bike: Find a run up and come into it hot. Dismount, shoulder the bike and start running. At one of the Alpenrose clinics, Erik Tonkin gave out some excellent advice about shouldering the bike (this is applicable to the under the down tube method and I don’t know how well it translates to the around the head tube method). Once you’ve got the bike on your shoulder, flex your bicep. This 1) holds the bike steady, 2) takes some weight off your shoulder, and 3) keeps the seat from whacking you in the back of the helmet.
Starts: Dial in the gear combination works best for you. Try out a few. Try it on pavement, grass, dirt, and packed gravel. Work on clipping in first try. Work on getting power to the pedals while clipping in after a missed clip.
Handling: Make a bunch of hard corners (both directions) on differing terrain. See how much speed you can carry. Hints: brake before the turn, trim speed with your rear brake, pedaling through will improve traction.
Hot laps: Put everything together for some hot laps. See how it all works out under pressure.
Don’t practice any of the skills too long. As soon as you think your form is deteriorating, rest of move on to something else. Never practice skills with poor form.
Here’s the setting: Four guys out at lunch during the week trying to get in a nice 30 mile ride in 90 minutes or less. There’s Kevin, who races cyclocross A and expert mtb, Glenn, who recently finished second in the solo division of Race Across Oregon, and Cal, who is an all around strong guy that used to be a very fast Cat 3 back when he trained — plus me. We’re almost to the half-way point and the ride has been pretty flat. We’ve traded a few pulls and fought a fluttery headwind. It rained on us.
Up ahead is a short hill. It’s about 150 yards and in the 15-17% grade range. Punchy. We’re all together at the bottom. I start spinning into the hill and quickly my breath gets faster. The grade turns way up and I’m out of the saddle, in front of the others. Kevin is close behind but Glenn and Cal are fading back. I’m stomping on the pedals and I can feel my thighs burning and my breath is quick with ragged edges. My bike rocks back and forth as I push and pull on the pedals. Kevin’s right there. The grade starts to ease and I sit and *click* shift up and spin hard. *Click, click* and more spinning until I hit the crest and sit up.
Kevin comes up beside me and I say, “Nice little kick in the ass.”
He nods, “Yeah, that hurt.”
My reaction, which I didn’t voice was, “Not so much.” Sure it was hard and I pushed my physical limits (as evidenced by my recorded heart rate), but it wasn’t really painful. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs or arguing semantics but that kind of effort isn’t painful. It’s taxing, difficult, really frickin’ hard, but not painful. Of course it just might be that I haven’t pushed myself hard enough to understand what real suffering on the bike is all about.
Frankly, I find it hard to believe that I haven’t reached the pain threshold on a bike since I’ve raced cyclocross for four seasons. However, I’ve heard fellow competitors talking about wanting to puke or collapsing after a race. I’ve never experienced that. Sure, I’ve been pretty knackered and don’t really feel up for another go round and usually have to take a few minutes to compose myself after a race. So I suppose it’s possible that I just haven’t pushed myself as hard as I possibly can. Maybe I’m not leaving it all out there on the course. Perhaps my brain throttles my effort just as things are getting really, really hairy.
Currently, I’m taking a little cycling hiatus. I’m pretty fried right now — over trained or under rested, if you will. So when I start kicking it hard again, I solemnly swear to push it that little bit extra to see if I can feel the pain.
While fartleks are commonly employed by runners serious about getting faster, cyclists don’t know diddly about this great workout. Except maybe they do. You see, fartleks are unstructured intervals. Sprint for that sign, go hard up this hill, accelerate through that turn. The principles that make fartleks effective are the same as those that make intervals such great workouts. In fact, when Gosta Holmer invented them back in the 1930s, it was quite the revolution.
If you’re like me and have a hard time getting motivated to do intervals, try fartleks instead. Some fun suggestions are:
Charge up small rises
Ride an uncomfortable pace up longer hills
Sprint up to speed after corners, stop signs and traffic lights
Go hard for landmarks
One of the best aspects of fartleks is that you don’t have to find that perfect piece of road to perform them on. Just make it a part of any of your rides.
Some pointers … Fartlek sessions should be between 30 and 45 minutes with lots of tempo changes. A fartlek session can be integrated into rides of practically any length but I like to do them when I’m out for 70-90 minutes so I can really thrash my legs. Don’t do them every ride — once or twice a week is plenty. Make sure you get adequate rest.