Four years ago this month in May I got divorced and had to move out of my house and away from my kids. I was wrecked and had no idea what to do. So I rode my bike. In the mountains. All day (on the weekends). During that time I was able to process some things, gather my wits and figure my new life’s game plan. Along the way I got pretty fit and after 3 weeks I was feeling pretty good so I hatched the idea for a road trip and a race. The Crusher in the Tushar was in 3 weeks, perfect. I’d road trip to the Crusher, race my bike and then spend a few nights camping in Crested Butte mountain biking on the way back.
With this ‘goal’ in mind, my riding had new meaning and that was refreshing; it was fun and it reminded me of my younger days when life was simpler. Eat sleep train. Goto work. Repeat.
Why am I telling you this? Well if you are reading this in the third week of May and you are interested in Crusher in the Tushar training, I’d like to share my six-week journey and my experience training for the Crusher to help you train and prepare for this beast of a race.
If you do one thing for your Crusher in the Tushar training do long rides. The kind where you head out at in the morning and come back in the afternoon. Like this one*. The more and harder climbing the better. One a week would be great. Start with a 2.5 hour ride and add 30 minutes to your ride each week. In six weeks you’ll be up to a 6.5 hour ride which is just about right for the Crusher.
*this is as close to the two one hour climbs in the Crushar as I can find in Boulder, CO with the exception of using the 4 Mile Canyon to Gold Hill climb. Long rides like this are your “Crusher Simulation Rides”. Embrace them: prepare mentally and physically by choosing the gnarliest, most difficult climbs you can find and push your body up and over these routes. Fortunately, that’s what most of us “enjoy” anyway and now you are giving these rides meaning. Here’s your inspiration:
Working Man’s/Woman’s mid-week Training
During your work week you gotta get specific and maximize your time. Sweet Spot climbing intervals between 20 – 40 minutes uphill are extremely effective. One to 2 hour rides. Don’t be afraid to take rest blocks after your long rides. 4 years ago when my life was upside down I had stretches of 2-3 days where I simply couldn’t ride. What I learned is that those forced rest blocks helped me recover* and gave me the omphff to go big the next weekend.
*recover: as master cyclists, when we do 4, 5 , 6 hour rides – those ‘leave a mark’ and warrant more than a Monday rest day. Don’t be afraid to take Monday AND Tuesday off. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how your power feels during your sweet spot intervals on Wednesday.
I outlined the 4 key elements of gravel grinding training here a few weeks ago. Those DEFinitely apply to the Crusher. Use the word ‘grinder’ literally because that’s what yo have to train up steep ass long climbs. I call it “push, pull, drag, tow” your body and machine up these climbs.
What you Eat and Drink
I mentioned nutrition & hydration in my gravel grinder tip but it is worth mentioning again. The best time to dial in what you eat and drink is during your gravel simulation rides. Practice how you want to play! Personally I have had very good results with Skratch Lab’s Rice Cakes. Raspberry and Mint Chocolate Chip to be specific. Make those the day before, eat one per hour and see how you go during your simulation rides. I try to eat my calories and drink my electrolytes, thus I use Skratch Exercise Hydration Mix and I’ll even experiment with their Hyper Hydration Mix for the long sections of time in-between when I when I run out of bottles and the next opp to fill them up with water (remote mountain gravel roads).
Treat each simulation ride like an experiment: take what worked, discard what didn’t. Refine and test out your new strategy. How much food/hydration and how frequently are the two biggest variable to experiment with. You’ll be dog tired at the end of your Crusher simulation rides but if you are bonking you didn’t eat enough. Try to eat more the next ride. Power output will also decline with dehydration so drink up. Its hot and I really don’t think you can drink too much during such a grueling race and training rides. The tough part is figuring out how to carry all this food and water and where you can fill up along the way.
With 10,000 feet of climbing your body weight matters. Honestly with all the training you are going to be doing, you don’t have room to cut calories because you won’t be able to belt out the watts for training. Instead cut out added sugar and beer. I know that’s blasphemy but you are seeking glory during the Crusher and that beer can wait. I’ve seen many athletes peel off 5-6 pounds in six weeks by cutting sugar and alcohol. Try it and you’ll feel better too and go uphill a lot faster. If you want more info on weight loss, read another training tip I wrote about sensible weight loss here.
When I showed up to the start line in 2013, I just loved hearing the race announcer heckle us as we faced 70 miles and 10,000 ft of high altitude climbing by exclaiming, “no matter what bike you’re on, you’ll be dead wrong at some point in the race!”. Thank you Mister Race Announcer for that fear of the unknown! I’ve had many many equipment discussions with a lot of Crusher racers, athletes and riding buddies but I’ll summarize it here for you:
You want a light AF bike that can handle a beating. First and foremost you need 36mm tubeless or bigger tires and a huge gear. Like a 34 x 32 or bigger. A cyclocross bike or gravel grinder bike with a light, yet bomber tubeless wheelset. Honestly a road bike would work if you could fit 36mm tires into the frame. But since that doesn’t exist(?) a cross bike or one of the new gravel grinder bikes are great. I see a lot of single chain set up these days and while they look like a good idea, the rear derailleurs and cogsets are really really heavy. The weight you save from a single ring setup is likely offset but heavy parts. And you lose the versatility of and range of a double ring setup. I personally like a 50/34 with a 32t rear cassette. There is a long paved run out at the bottom of the Col de Crushar that it helps to have a 50x 11 to chase back onto any leaders. This also allows you to back off the speed on the Col de Crushar descent to save yourself from flatting. With a 50 x 11 its easy to catch back on whereas I’d be worried with a 42 x 11. Light bike, tubeless 36mm or great tires and big gears and you’ll be all set. For further reading, BikeRadar did a fun little write up of my race last year (2016) which concentrates on equipment and how the race played out for me.
Final Crusher Thoughts and the 2017 Race
Yea, I had some time on my hands 4 years ago and kinda won the Crusher accidentally by circumstance. But if you like riding your bike a lot and want to apply yourself, the Crusher in the Tushar is a fantastically epic event to go for. It doesn’t require a high VO2 or crazy genetic talent like road racing does. For the Crusher if you have the will there is a way and that ‘way’ is bundled up into our six week Crusher in the Tushar training plan.
If you are like me in 2017, your training hasn’t exactly been smooth or easy. Turns out life after divorce doesn’t get any simpler or easier and that impacts your training. I’m going to be doubling down and going into monk mode these next 6 weeks as I seek out glory in 2017.
If you want to do some of this:
Then you better do some of this
You get a free TrainingPeaks Premium account with a mobile app so you can see your ride data and always know what to do each and every day for six weeks leading into your rendezvous with glory.
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Frank is the founder and owner of FasCat Coaching in Boulder, CO. In 2013 Frank uncorked one to win the amateur Crusher in the Tushar and finished 13th overall against the pros. Frank and the FasCat Coaches have been designing training programs to coached athletes for 15 years and have introduced the very same training programs for only $49 in 2017. You can buy Frank’s six week Crusher Training Plan here.