by Lee Waldman and Kim Gilbert
Kim Gilbert: It’s that time of year when I flip my calendar a month ahead and see that my Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays have titles. Back-to-Basics CX, Kick-It CX, Body Synx CX, Schoolyard CX, Cyclo X. What happened to those lazy weekends where I get my training in late in the day before BBQing on the deck? The BBQs will still happen, but they’ll take place in a parking lot somewhere, the air filled with the smell of frost and the sound of cowbells.
’Cross season starts in less than a month, and Lee, you had a scary crash at an endurance mountain bike race a few weeks ago. How do you feel now?
Lee Waldman: The broken ribs are healing, slowly, but healing nevertheless. I can definitely tell that I’m getting older because they’re taking longer than they used to. Oh well…
Even though it’s only mid-August I can see the days getting shorter. It’s beginning to look a lot like ’cross! We haven’t talked a lot about the ways we get ready for the season. I’m a creature of habit, doing what I’ve done for the past 20 plus years. I tweak things a bit every year based on what I’ve read and learned from talking to other riders but I’d say that the last five or six, since I stopped racing on the road, have all followed the same basic pattern. During the summer’s long term pre-season prep, I seem to focus on riding my mountain bike and my ’cross bike. The road bike is a tool, used primarily for long rides on easy days, for intervals and for those days when I just want to go faster than knobbies allow; I love the feeling of speed and the effortless way it climbs so I’ll never get rid of it, but it now has to share space with its other more blue-collar brothers.
What about you, Kim? You’re fairly new to cross racing, so what do you do to get you excited about the new season?
Kim Gilbert: This will be my third season racing ’cross. There was no real preparation for my first races except to get up early one morning, drink coffee, put my bike on the roof of the car, drive the twenty minutes to the venue, and register. Last season, I stepped up my nonexistent training to include some trips to the park with my kids, so I could practice on my new homemade barriers. They played; I tried not to hurt myself too badly before our picnic lunch. This did help me during the season as I caught several Cat 4 ladies who were ahead of me at the cursed barriers. Of course, they soon passed me on the course because my fitness level was fairly low. (I did, however, win a race after leading my competition off course: not once, but twice. You might want to give this a try if you’re desperate or get confused by trail markers, like me!)
Lee Waldman: Kim, I always return to skills practice before every season starts. My mantra is, “go slow to go fast.” I’m also working on dismounts, remounts, and carries at the same time. I start out at a walking pace, back and forth across the soccer field in the middle of the course, trying to make everything as smooth and seamless as possible. First, just stepping off and then stepping back on concentrating on sliding back onto the saddle, the inside of my thigh hitting before I slide completely on. Then I add in lifting the bike, setting it down and within three steps, remounting. I gradually pick up the speed and incorporate shouldering the bike (my preferred way to carry, I’m old school). I do this for as long as it takes until I know I’ve got it dialed in again. Then, and only then, do I add it barriers or steps, following the same pattern of going slow to go fast.
Kim Gilbert: I’ve just started to get back outside, Lee; I’ve spent a lot of time trying to improve my endurance, but that’s been a struggle sometimes with my two crazy kids. This summer has been filled with many rides, mostly in the basement on my trainer. These rides last one hour. My solitude is penetrated every twenty minutes with “HIYA,” as my six-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son practice ninja moves on the floor above my head. The hum of my back wheel drowns out most of the screaming, and I silently hope that no one will appear crying, accusing the other of an illegal face kick before my hour on the trainer is up. That’s all I can get before I’m discovered and the “Mommy, I’m starving” demands begin. I take my mountain bike out when the kids are with their dad, and tootle along trails stopping to take lots of pictures. I run three miles outside once a week and listen to NPR; I get on the stair stepper at the gym for thirty minutes and read my latest book on brain research.
Lee Waldman: What’s really helped me has been talking with my coach Ben. We review my training, look at the race calendar and set goals for the season. Races are identified that are priorities, the ones to peak for. We look at the weeks when I can train through the races because they lead to the bigger ones. And, this part is the hardest for me, we identify weeks when I’m not going to race. This sometimes becomes a negotiation process, but in the end we reach consensus.
Kim Gilbert: I’d love to get a coach; I bet that really helps focus your training and preparation. Last spring I decided I needed an action plan, maybe a training regimen. I thought about getting a coach, but the cost was out of my budget. There were some online options—experts in Excel spreadsheets who provided 9 week or 12 week or 16 week training plans—that were within reason. I marked the May start date on my calendar and waited, rode my single speed mountain bike a few times, and never paid the $100. May came and went, and I bought another mountain bike instead. Evidently, my budget concerns don’t apply to bike purchases.
Lee Waldman: Biting the bullet and finding a coach was probably the smartest thing I’ve done for my ’cross racing. First of all, it takes all of the guess work out of training. I know when to go hard, when to go easy and most important of all, when to rest. I just put all of the decisions on Ben’s shoulders and do what I’m told. The result… The last three seasons have been the most consistent of my career.
Readying my new or old bikes every year is important to my process of preparing for the season, too. July and August is the time of the year when I take stock of equipment. Does my chain need replacing? What’s creaking now that I need to take care of before the season starts. Will the drivetrain make it through another season? What about tires? Do I have enough. I don’t even ask if the need to be re-glued, I just do it. These are the things I can do myself. Bikes have become much more sophisticated in the past few years and so my next step is a trip to Jason, my mechanic. I just hand him the bike and ask him to get it race ready, and he does.
Kim Gilbert: I’m starting to sense a trend here! Your process is definitely more organized, and, shall I say, focused than mine! My ’cross bike has been hanging in the garage most of the summer. I rode it on a trail near my house a couple months ago and wiped out on a dusty descent. The crash alerted me to the fact that my back tire needed to be replaced. This is how I discover most of my bike’s needs. Crashing. These crashes force me to fix my bike. Knocking things back into place with the palm of my hand. Bike seats, brake levers. I have a lovely roadie husband who babies my bike while cursing my name. He lubes the chain, juices the tires, and washes away the dirt I ask him to leave (I’m superstitious about overly clean bikes.)
Lee Waldman: Whatever state the bike is in, you have to get out and ride it now. During late-summer, I switch almost exclusively to my ’cross bike. 20 minutes from my house, I have access to a semi- permanent ’cross course, the one that I promote a Wednesday evening series on during the season.
Kim Gilbert: I am looking forward to your Wednesday night series because of the fun and camaraderie I feel on the course. My bike has a new back tire, and my son has a new mountain bike. I took him out on Sunday to your course, and he rode around with me. This will be the last bit of preparation I do before the season starts: riding on dirt and becoming one with the bike, again. My son was disappointed when I told him I was headed out to ride last night without him. Maybe he’ll consider a break from the ninja training camp, and I’ll have an outdoor riding partner for the next month?
Lee Waldman: Done for now. Go ride!
Lee Waldman is our favorite regular Masters columnist and Kim Gilbert is a two year race veteran of cyclocross who, with the powerful cheering energy of her daughter and son’s unwavering hope that mommy will win a “trophy” this year, will possibly cat up from fours to threes. She schedules her training around a full time teaching position, endless lists of books to read, and trips to Yogurtland.