You may or may not love running, but your cyclocross running should be skill to focus on during cyclocross season. Building a program for cyclocross running that is specific to your abilities as a cyclist is the key. You're not Usain Bolt and shouldn't try to be!
Yes, you should train for the run in cyclocross, but we recommend that you do it in a cyclocross specific way. Cyclocross running includes short, explosive deliberate 'sprinting', just like what happens in a race. Run training for cyclocross is not a 30 minute (or longer) 'jog' especially if you are not a runner. It may be if you are.... more on that later in the training tip.
We checked in with National Champion Jeremy Powers to ask about his cyclocross running and here's what he said, "Start slow and build a base, don't go out thinking you're Prefontaine. Build a base like anything, then add intensity. Train for what you're actually going to do. No need for 1 hr runs when you run maybe 10 to 20 seconds all out in a cx race."
Jeremy leading this group up the stairs at the 2015 Hoogerheide World Cup. Photo Credit: Molly Hurford / Aspire Racing
Here are 4 progressive short cyclocross running workouts to perform once a week this summer before the season starts.
These cyclocross runs start gradually and become more advanced by integrating a cyclocross skill in week 3 and beyond. We'll describe the workouts first and then go back to the preparation you should do in training before converting your cycling legs into cyclocrosser legs.
To quote JPows Cyclocross Coach John Verheul of JBV Coaching, "For the majority of American races (Jingle Cross' Mt. Krumpet is probably an exception), there are no long runs where you can gain or lose a lot of time. So the focus is less on being a strong runner, and more on not spending a lot of energy on the run. Dismounts, remounts and proper carrying technique are elements you should incorporate into your running drills once your legs are used to running for 'cross."
Cyclocross Running Workout # 1
Ride your bike to a grassy park with a hill and/or stairs (see image above). Your riding shoes are fine. Ideally, this is a 10 - 30-second hill or 25 - 45 stair steps. This is the core workout the next 3 workouts will build off of. So finding a hill or set of stairs is super important! If not then we are talking about a grassy park. Stretch first, do some jumping jacks, burpees, and single legged leaps. Above all warm up. Begin with a slow 5 minute 'jog' (yes I know I said no jogging). Now you are warmed up and ready to run specific to cyclocross, From the bottom of your hill or stairs run up fast just over cyclocross race pace. Focus not on full strides but shorter steps. Tap tap tap, accentuate your footwork. Repeat 3 -5 times walking downhill/ down the stairs in between each run-up. For the off the couch cyclist (hasn't run since last cx season or in over 6 months), start with 1 set (5 stair repeats) for the first week. This workout would be in week 1, just once a week. Short and sweet.
Jeremy Powers running his way to victory at the 2016 US National Cyclocross Championships
Cyclocross Running Workout # 2
Perform Cyclocross Run Workout #1 but instead of 1 set, we'll go for two. The first 1 at cx race pace (from workout # 1). Then the 2nd set FULL GAS, sprint, as hard as you can. Remember to maintain your footwork but keep the speed high! The key is running UP quickly, not forward quickly. This workout would be in week 2, also just once a week.
Cyclocross Running Workout # 3
Now, let's integrate your cyclocross bike into the workout so we can practice the all-important skills of dismounting and remounting. From here on out all your cyclocross run workouts will include the bike and a skill. We call them "2 fers" - two aspects of cyclocross at once, which is so much of what cyclocross is. Perform Cyclocross Run Workout # 2 including a 30 minute Zone 2 ride. But now you are going to ride into the run section (hill or stairs) dismount and run up carrying your bike. Depending on the run-up you are either shouldering or 'suitcase carrying' your bike. Ride your bike down easy (or walk if stairs) and recover for 1-2 minutes before the next set. For workout # 3 we'll do 3 sets (progressing from 1 & 2 sets previously)). Do one set suitcase carrying, the other set shouldering and the third set whichever method is faster. Perform short runs on the order of 10 seconds where you are running fast, always concentrating on your footwork. Run as fast as cyclocross and even faster to amplify the physiological adaptation from running. For shouldering, really pump your left arm to help propel you up the hill or stairs. This workout would be in week 3, but you can perform it twice a week along with another cycling workout to make it a "3 fer".
Cyclocross Running Workout # 4
By now your legs are acclimated to the intensity of running specifically for 'cross so we can hit it harder. All running should be in short bursts, full gas, with primo footwork, faster than the races, carrying your bike. 4 sets (5 run ups per set): warm up on the bike for 30 minutes in Zone 2 Sets 1: This are your warm-up sets (Cyclocross Workout # 1), focusing on dismounting smooth, timing carrying the bike, running under race past up the hill/stairs in short small steps, not full strides Set 2: Ride into the dismount easy, focusing on timing your dismount, carrying your bike smooth and running up deliberately and controlled, not full gas, more like tempo. BUT half way up hit the gas as hard as hard as you can! Tap tap tap, short steps like Adri van de Poel (and of course Jeremy Powers). Here, footwork is so important: by running short steps you don't load up your legs and suffer as much when you get back up on the bike. Think of these short steps like your cadence: spin a higher cadence and easier gear. See Footwork training below. Set 3: Just like set two but as hard and as fast and you can from top to bottom. Sets 4 : Ride into the dismount section with some speed and run up as hard as you can. Focusing on everything as before but at the top remount and accelerate back up to speed, ride around the to bottom and hit it 5 more times. HUP HUP!!
5 Elements of Cyclocross Running to Undergo before you Actually Run :
Our bodies are adapted to a single plane pedaling movement. Send any cyclist out on their first run since the last cyclocross race and I guarantee they come back wicked sore! Here are 4 'trainings' you can do year round and especially in June and July to prepare for the Cyclocross Workouts 1 - 4 described above.
Hiking: a great way to train with the family, bring some balance to your cycling and accentuate lateral side to side movements that pedaling a bike. I have all my athletes go on at least one hike before that take one run step.
Yoga: Yoga stretches and opens up your hips which will really take a beating if you don't prepare before the cyclocross season. When you do incorporate yoga into your training the running will have less of an impact and you'll recover better so that you can get back to on the bike intensity without being. Here is a 22 minute quad and hip stretching yoga routine. No excuses not to do this! We also recommend YogaGlo's Cycling Series (YogaGlo also sponsors a bad ass Cyclocross Team).
Strength and Mobility: this is the traditional gym work that al cyclocross athletes to integrate into their off season cyclocross training
Footwork: Picture in your head football players running thru tires. High steps, light on the feet, quick quick quick. Actually what's better for us 'cross is the ladder run where you are placing your feet inside each box and moving thru the ladder with quick, short steps as fast as possible. Watch HERE (hokey video and music but the content is spot on). This is the essential footwork teaching short quick steps (not full strides) that will 'save' your legs in the cyclocross racers.
Plyometrics: Explosive Movements for jumping on and off the bike, jumping over barriers and giving you legs the ability to sprint, not just run. My favorite plyometrics for 'crossers is the single legged split squat jump + box and depth jumps.