Inevitably or eternally, #CrossIsComing, so when you decide it’s time to get ready for CX season what workouts are best for you to do?
The best workouts for one athlete may not be the best ones for you. Your friend, or your favorite pro, may be very good at high power, sprints and spend the summer racing road while you may be a time-trialist all summer with limited time to train. You may be much older or younger, or you may have a background in BMX-racing or no cycling background at all! We need to consider many factors when choosing our key workouts to get ready for cyclocross to ensure we have worked on our limiters.
Below are three general scenarios that athlete ‘types’ that you may fit into. I have included some workout ideas that you may want to include as cyclocross season approaches. I am not suggesting all of these be done in a single week, but you may very well find yourself spending a month on each of these ‘scenarios’ as you go through the cross season and your abilities and strengths evolve.
1) Technically limited, struggle with continuous but undulating efforts of cross
If you haven’t spent much time off-road, especially racing off-road than cross practice will be your friend, and getting skill coaching will also be valuable. If you can get riding on a cross course frequently, or setup some obstacles around your house, this will be very helpful.
Workouts that require you to alternate your output and skills will also be great. Micro-intervals where you ride hard and easy (15 seconds hard /15 seconds easy and 30/30 are most common). Most often these are done for 10-30 minutes and should feel very much like the unrelenting hard work of cyclocross!
Including running in these micro-intervals can be another way to simulate race situations and improve technique (once you have the basics down at slow speed with low fatigue). Try building a short loop that makes you ride hard for ~30 seconds, recover on a descent or set of corners, then dismount for a barrier and do a run up a steep hill, then do a bunch of corners back to the start of the short loop for a 1-3 minute repetition.
I usually do 1-5 x 1-2 min rounds together, take a 5-10 minute break then do another 2 sets. Mix very short and maximal efforts with longer efforts in another session in the week to get really fun and specific workout.
2) Struggle with ‘going all in’, starts, attacks, sprints
This is common in endurance mountain bikers, gravel-grinders, Fondo-riders or time-trialists. Putting yourself into some criteriums, hard group rides or short cyclocross practice races will be helpful in developing the love of going hard!
Many times cross practices will include some start repetitions, which really help develop your ‘starting routine’ and your starting power. On your own, you can do this by practicing 6-10 short (10-20sec) start efforts from standing at the beginning of a few workouts each week.
If you are not a sprinter or struggle with maximal short efforts, it is worth putting a focus on this by doing a focused workout on sprinting or very short efforts with full recoveries (8+ minutes). It is quite valuable to get skill-coaching for standing and sprinting as your power can increase simply by learning the technique of sprinting.
These start efforts might be paired a workout that puts you on your limit and then makes you attack over that intensity. These might be called ‘over-unders’ or ‘threshold with bursts’ depending on the coach but basically, we want to ride at a hard pace and then surge for 15-60seconds before returning to that hard pace.
Start at 2-3 reps of 11 minutes (1 minute hard/4 min threshold/1 minute hard/4min threshold/1min hard). Use longer recoveries 5-10 minutes of light pedaling to ensure you will push the pace. While it is tempting to do this on cyclocross course it is best done on the road to ensure your power output is hard alternated with very hard, and to track your progress.
3) Great technical skills, low fitness, or tired/sick from a lot of summer racing
Did you spend the summer in the bike park, racing BMX, winning every criterium, or were you off the bike a lot for injury or vacation? If you believe you will be limited by your engine more than your driving skills then bias towards extended road-endurance sessions 2-3x a week. If your technical ability is sufficient this can be polished or maintained around the focused intensity days and/or at a weekly cross practice, which could be included after intervals, or for fit athletes with a lot of cyclocross skills, after some endurance road riding.
*If you are racing twice on a weekend during the cross season this can also be a nice way to spend your weekdays to provide enough recovery between weekends while maintaining some training load.
Once you are back to feeling good on the bike during these endurance sessions you can start to include 1-2 sessions of threshold intervals per week. Progress a set of 3 x 10 minutes towards a burly 2 x 20-minute session over 4 – 8 weeks keeping an eye on your intensity (more is not more). Recovery is 5-10 minutes typically.
In all of these scenarios, the focus/interval days will vary but these in all cases these couple of days should be surrounded by sufficient rest, cross-training and low end, steady endurance. 1-2 days of focused training (intervals/skills) with lower intensity and recovery will ensure you make progress in the desired areas. Work hard on the hard days then recover and allow yourself to improve!
I worked with Canadian Cycling Magazine on 3 videos to help enhance your cross experience. These 3 foundational skills critical to review and practice frequently if you want to have a great cyclocross season. The dismount and mount are also very important for mountain bike bikers and triathletes.
What is Your Big Crazy Goal this Season and Why did you pick it?
I did an Ironman last weekend. It was my first triathlon, which is sort of a crazy way to start doing a triathlon, but I like a good challenge and I had a lot of relevant experience that made an Ironman a doable but still Big Crazy Goal.
I thought a post on WHY a mountain biker would decide to spend time away from his mountain bike to learn to swim, ride hunched over in aero position and run for extended durations on the pavement.
Why and How can we pick BIG, CRAZY GOALS that will serve us well in the run-up to the event, provide a great experience during the event and provide skills/experiences we can use in life and future adventures?
Do our goals serve to let us grow or do they create stress at home because we miss too many important family parties, picking the kids up at daycare, missing dinner with your family? Do our goals move us further away from other bigger, longer-term goals?
For me, this meant considering if the time spent on swimming/running would hamper my ability to qualify for races or take me further away from being a ‘Consummate Athlete’, or have too much risk to health (ie. long term ankle/foot injury from running).
Crazy GOALS TO BOOST YOUR GOAL FITNESS
For a mountain biker, it might be worth scaring yourself by signing up for a big 200km Gran Fondo. The time on the road building endurance and speed skill will boost your fitness off-road. For a road cyclist looking at Leadville or a marathon MTB race the pedal stroke, technical skills and time spent climbing will often make road riding seem more comfortable and easier to focus on the steady road efforts.
MEDIUM VS. LONG TERM
Goal setting can be belabored, it is easy to spend too much time dreaming of ‘when we get there’. A goal in the long-term, dream stage might be intimidating but if success is achieved along the way, as a consequence of striving for excellence there are many wins before the ‘big-crazy-day’.
Giving thought to the process that you will take to get to the big-crazy-goal will help you decide if it is a goal worth chasing. It is, after all, largely about the journey.
WHY did I choose Ironman as my Big-Crazy goal?
A) scare myself into learning to swim, not just ok but sufficient that I could swim for extended periods, save my life, adventure at something like a Mudrun/OCR, Otillio Swim-Run, go surfing or just float down a river. Swimming WAS a basic human movement I lacked and one I wanted to really learn … anything short of an Ironman didn’t scare me enough to learn.
Molly on bike during Ironman Canada
B)Molly (my wife) wanted to do another Ironman. She had done one about 5 years ago, but very narrowly avoided DNF and was a wreck for much of it and for a while after. She was a second test subject to design/adjust training for, and since we had a similar goal this also meant we could do more adventures (err… training) together.
The social side of the goal and the fact we were stacking some learning/coaching with some social/relationship time made this big-crazy-Ironman goal make sense. We were able to go to the pool together and take over a lane, do a lot of running/walking together, some strength and a little bit of riding. This is not to mention the comfort of traveling to and navigating the hectic race-week environment and logistics!
Most importantly I was able to run and swim with a few friends in preparation and we have made a big summer trip out of MTB Nationals, the Ironman and a CX clinic in Virginia that we have been planning and looking forward to for many months. This is a big part of why goals and goal-setting with consideration on the process are important!
C) To Refine my aero position and look into tri/TT possibility and also understand demands for clients doing either discipline. Aero is becoming big in many disciplines, including mtb-xc, so why not force me to learn more. If a 2nd go at Leadville is in the cards–I am not saying it is–this will be very important as well.
** BIG thanks to Trek Torontofor helping get me on a very fast SpeedConcept for the event, I am going to have a post on all the gear I used in the coming days (will link here)**
D) Coaching – I like to know what athletes are going through. I can’t know every event but I pride myself on the range of movements I know well and this helps me build better training for clients. With more clients coming to Smart Athlete from the Tri-world to develop their bike/run I wanted to immerse myself in the training, literature, tools, tactics and race environment.
Through the Consummate Athlete Podcast, we had several guests provide really great information about doing your first Triathlon, going faster in one of the sports or learning the sports. Carolyn Gaynortalked about guiding visually impaired cyclists through Ironman,Rich Padywalked me through each sport and transitions,Terry From Total Immersiontalked about learning to swim for beginners and
Being able to chat with new coaches I wouldn’t usually chat with (i.e. swimming or tri specific) was a great experience. There are always concepts, technologies and, well, awesome people, in areas outside our usual. Pushing our boundaries in sport and being open to learning is awesome if you think about it this way.
Specific Ironman Bike training in Bromont, QC
So that is the story. I did it, I am done with triathlon but the year of adventures, skill acquisition, reading, new contacts/friends and training methods I can carry forward into new adventures, challenges and projects made this Big-Crazy goal well worth the investment and discomfort. Hopefully, this post will help you choose a great-big-crazy-goal this coming year.
So what is your next Big Crazy goal (and what are the benefits of completion and the process)?
Feel free to tell meabout it here, if you have questions or doubts. With some planning, many wild goals become much more accessible than you may think!