When I sat down to write this article about the training benefits of cyclocross racing I couldn’t help but reminisce about a picture that hangs above my desk. This truly epic ‘cross race brought back memories of an incredible day. The picture was taken in 1998 from the Boulder, Colorado “Jailhouse” Supercup put on by Chris Grealish. The bike I’m carrying was brand new at the start and completely trashed at the end.
Cross is like a really hard criterium without the coasting
I came in 2nd that day in the Cat 3 race and forever became addicted to the joy and pain served up in the “hour of power”. Cyclocross is one hour of racing wide open, all out, guns blazing. A typical power output profile from a cross race resembles the power output from a fast criterium but with much less zero time. Instead of just short bursts of neuromuscular power, longer anaerobic efforts, and drool inducing VO2max efforts, cross has all of that with threshold intensity as filler. Cyclocross demands such a wide range of your training zones that it’s no wonder why it is a great way to stay in shape in the off season and even expand your limits as a racer.
So without going on and on about training for cross, get out there and see for yourself! Racing cross is the best form of training for cross. If you need structured workouts try five all out one minute intervals with one minute of rest in-between. Also work on your acceleration by performing 10 to 20 standing start sprints of 10-20 seconds in length with an equivalent amount of rest. If you have time spend another day riding “tempo” for 15-45 minutes in a nearby park where you can practice your dismount, remount, and bike handling skills.
|But now back to that picture
As I’m writing I’m still mesmerized by that epic day. The conditions that day were atrocious, the mud was slick as snot, and it was cold. A swift moving snowstorm had blown in overnight dumping 3-4 inches of snow. It was so cold I drove the 2 miles to the race.I warmed up for maybe 5 minutes and despite that short amount of time, I still felt that special somethin’ in the legs.
You never know what might happen
On the start line I saw the familiar faces of stronger competitors so I had no expectations. Even though I was scared of the conditions, I distinctly remember being really fired up to race. I kept saying to myself, “you’re a mountain biker, they are roadies, you have the advantage”. But I had no idea of what was about to happen.
When the race started I had a huge surge of adrenaline and I sprinted all out until I was completely winded and in the “pain cave”. From there on out the chaos and the noise disappeared. It was just me, myself, my breath and the mud. I pedaled furiously out in front sliding around with a clear view of the lines in the mud just trying not to crash. On the first run up the hill in the picture I could feel the energy of the crowd that was full of my teammates, friends, and my future wife. The race announcer was actually cheering me on so I ran harder.
Over the course of 45 minutes I kept going as hard as I could despite the freezing cold, the pain, and the aforementioned mud. I crossed the line sooo glad the race was over but ever since then I’ve wished I could repeat that race, those powerful sensations and have another incredible race.
Ever since the Boulder cross race in ’98 I’ve been on a mission. I have kept going back to that special place in my head trying to wrestle mind over body. I have hardly had any luck with cyclocross: in 2000 I snapped my finger like a pencil and as a result I have a commemorative titanium plate as a souvenir. Season over.
In 2001 I pulled my soleus muscle in my calf on a run up. Result: season over. In 2002 I limped through the season as pack fill. But I tell ya what: each year I got in some great training and I pushed my limits farther than I ever would in a road or mountain bike race. I came out of the off season flying and every now and then I have that “special” race. And cyclocross is the reason why. So get out there this winter and suffer! You just might surprise yourself and uncork that special race that makes it all worthwhile.
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