The spring bike racing season is upon us. If you’re a cyclocross racer this can be a tough time of year. While your buddies are hitting peak form and looking to mix it up at the front of the pack, you’re feeling a bit flat and out of race shape. Maybe you’ve been on a few group rides and felt you could barely hang on or even got dropped. Perhaps you’ve jumped in a couple races and felt just plain awful. If you have been working with a coach we hope this was by design and you were mentally prepared for the walk to the woodshed. If you weren’t then it’s time to look at your goals for the season.
Are you trying to do well in early season races or are you planning to have your best cyclocross season? If it’s the latter then you need to use the early season races as training days and incorporate these races in to your plan. Do not try to peak for these events or get discouraged if you don’t do well. Keep your eyes on the prize, which are podium appearances in the fall!
Don’t race because you think it’s better than a training day. You train to race, not race to train. There’s nothing better than a stress-free morning and a productive training ride followed by a solid recovery plan and a good night’s sleep. You might think racing is better for you because you are working harder, but it most cases you are going to be pushing too hard both physically and mentally way too early in the season. You need to save these high intensity efforts for when the time is right. Think of your season as a book of matches. You only have so many high intensity matches to burn. Once these matches are used you will not go any faster and will eventually get slower.
When I was focused on having a successful cyclocross season I pretty much stopped all racing in the spring and summer except for a couple events. I would sign up for the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race, which is held annually on the Fourth of July in Breckenridge, Colorado. I did this event for two reasons. One, it’s a super fun event. Two, it forced me to do a few longer rides on my mountain bike that otherwise I might not have done. The other racing I would do was a local Wednesday night short track mountain bike race series held at a local bike park during the summer months. This was a 20-25 minute effort after work and I usually had already done a workout in the morning. This was some great intensity that got my engine ready for the cyclocross season without burning a match.
You should only race if you think the event can mimic what your planned workout for this day is or you have discussed this effort with your coach. Another reason to race is because you love the event or sense of community and don’t want to miss it! There’s nothing wrong with racing this time of year if you make it part of the overall plan and don’t take it too seriously. Save that for the fall!