Get Some Skillz: Cyclocross Basics
It’s that time of year and I’m getting lots of questions about how to train and prepare for cyclocross. Training is a whole can of worms I’m probably not really qualified to go into, but it can be pretty simple if you let it. Here it is… wait for it…
Go hard on Wednesdays.
Yep, that’s it. Especially if you’re racing both weekend days (seems to be the new trend in Portland what with the super kick-ass Molly Cameron Gran Prix in play), you need to spend most of your time recovering and going pretty easy. ‘Cross is an intensive, crazy-hard effort and it takes a toll on muscles. Go too hard too often and you’re gonna get mighty tired, mighty quickly.
So, what does “go hard” mean? Again – don’t over-think it. If you haven’t done much training before, find a big hill that takes you 15-20 minutes to climb. Do it twice at race pace or just a little under race pace (it should hurt). Don’t stress about the exact amount of time between intervals or the length of the interval or your heart rate or any of that crap. Just do it – HARD – twice. The trick is to make your hard days very hard and your easy days very easy. You don’t get stronger when you’re beating the crap out of yourself up Saltzman, you get stronger during the following hours and days when your body is repairing itself. Recovery is your friend. Alternately, if you train at a medium endurance pace all the time, you will race at a medium pace.
On Mondays after a race weekend you should be off the bike or spinning super easy. For other days, throw in some steady endurance riding – or not – the great thing about ‘cross is that you can really get by on very minimal training hours, you just have to make the time on the bike really count. Throw some skill practice in for good measure.
Speaking of Skills
I have been helping Russell Cree teach his Thursday night women’s clinics at Alpenrose and there are always a ton of questions from beginners about mounts and remounts. I’ll tell you plain and clear: the only way to get better at these things is to practice – again and again and again and again. Repetition is your friend. If you ask Russell about this he’ll tell you some really long story about the four phases of motor memory development. I’m not gonna do that to you, I’m just going to call you out. You’re not practicing enough. Do I sound like your childhood piano teacher yet? Good.
It comes down to an approach that I call “100 throws and catches”. That’s how my mom made us start every softball practice as kids. 100 stupid throws and catches. We groaned and moaned, but at the end of the day we busted suckers because our fundamentals were solid. And I can still huck a softball 60 or 70 miles per hour and hit a catcher from deep center.
A final note about remounts: yes, these are harder than dismounts. Yes, it will take longer to get it right. You are not alone – everyone goes through this. But, remember this:
Even if you have a stutter step, you’re still getting back on the bike pretty quickly. You’ll be ok, it will work for right now. Keep working on it, but don’t freak out. It’s not the end of the world. It will come. Stop obsessing over it and work on being smoother and faster through the barriers – you should be running over them, not leaping.
(And if you want to get rid of that stutter step? Yep, you guessed it – go practice a lot.) Or come to a clinic!
Finally, if you really want to geek out and learn all of the nitty gritty obsessive shit there is to know about LT intervals and VO2 torture and crap, well, consider hiring yourself a coach. Totally not necessary to have a boatload of fun racing ‘cross, but pretty fun for those of us who consider ourselves our own favorite science experiment and can’t leave well enough alone.