Well… it’s that time of year already.
Seems like people start talking and thinking and writing and plotting and planning about cyclo-cross earlier every year and, based on what I’ve been seeing out there on the interwebs, this year “earlier” means, well, now.
That’s not such a bad thing.
If you’re in the “cross is what I really care about” camp and the other disciplines – road, track, mtb – are something that you do largely to stay in shape and fill the time until the fall finally rolls around, you probably should be taking some of the following steps right about, well, now.
Develop your high level aerobic base. One of the single best things about racing cyclo-cross is that cross riders get to lay down their fitness foundation in the best time of the year to be out on the bike, the summer. While all the hard-core roadies are out slaving away on training rides in the depths of winter, us cross folk get to go long now, the time of year when even non-cyclists can see the logic in throwing their leg over a bicycle.
So, take advantage of the weather. Get out there and ride this month. What should you be doing? In short, think about riding long and riding a lot. I mean, it’s nice out, right? It’s fun to ride for 4, 5, even 6 hours when it’s not too hot and not raining.
Long doesn’t mean slow.
Traditionally, this is time of the season when the big-time Euro-cross racers are out on the road clogging up the gruppetto in week long stage races and last weekend we saw Jeremy Powers made a discrete appearance at Tulsa Tough. They aren’t in these races to win them, they’re in them to get pushed to greater levels of fitness by stringing long days of hard effort together in a way that’s always been tough to do when riding by yourself.
“Tough” doesn’t mean impossible.
You aren’t going to go out and get a Tour de Luxembourg level of training out of your hard weekend of riding but if you follow the principles that underlie the intent of these week-long training races, you can probably do better than you’re doing now and set yourself up for success in the fall.
Why all this hard riding now? Because, it’s incredibly difficult to make profound physiological improvements in your underlying, base-level fitness during cross season.
Can you and should you get faster during the course of a season?
When you race hard every weekend, you’ll spend most of a week recovering from the past weekend and getting opened up for the next weekend. You can do some small work mid-week to improve deficiencies or hone strengths, but you really can’t do the kind of work that it takes to bump your FTP enough to get to the front of the group you raced in last season, to be competitive at the next category level, or to win one of those races where you’ve been so close for so long. The kind of work we’re talking about is the systematic sort that if you did it on a Wednesday, you’d be off the back come the weekend, and that’s assuming you could take a day off to do it mid-week and still be free to race on the weekend. Sound like fun for both mind and body? I didn’t think so.
These are rides where, when you get home, you need to drink a Coke to summon the energy needed to order takeout.
Now, though? No such problems. Want to be stronger this cross season? Spend your weekends for the next month or so doing long, hard, fast training rides. This isn’t long, slow distance we’re talking about, this is “Oh crap, how am I going to finish this ride” kind of stuff. These are the rides where you barely manage to drag yourself in the door of your house when you get home. These are rides where, when you get home, you need to drink a Coke to summon the energy needed to order takeout. 4, 5, 6 hours of glorious suffering. That’s what we’re talking about.
Try one this Saturday. Then wake up Sunday and do it again. Give me a few weeks of this, and you’ll be really, really strong. Then we can start to work on making you fast…