An attempt at healthier eating with a grocery trip to Trader Joes. © Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
As May turned to June and as June is quickly disappearing, it’s occurred to me that the start of cyclocross season is actually not as far away as I thought. At first, this notion made me want to start jumping for joy. But then … it hit me just how unprepared I am for cyclocross season and just how big my “to do” list is. Like Mike Birner suggested in his piece on Building a Base in the Off-Season, I had made a list of what I needed to work on over the summer. And yeah, it’s a long list.
On that list, things in bold include building up my two frames into bikes (I’m happy to say that I am about 45% done with that one!), get much better at dismounts and remounts (maybe at 11% on that one), improve handling skills by mountain biking (that one I’m at a solid 70% or more), get better at riding in sand and mud (a woeful 0%) and that one essential component that’s key to any athlete’s season: dial in my nutrition.
Nutrition is one of those things that I love to talk and write about. Ask me about B-12, Omega-3 fatty acids, protein requirements, the nutritional guidelines on the amount of fruits and vegetables an average person needs in a day or anything involving the word “electrolyte” and I can talk for hours. However, when it comes down to it, I have to admit: I’m a talker, not a do-er. I can tell you why you should be eating nine servings of vegetables a day, and even offer fiber and calorie counts for various leafy greens. But when confronted with a side salad versus French fries, the fries win, hands down. Yep, I’m a bad eater.
I’m also terrible when it comes to nutrition on the bike. When Mark and I were out on a mountain bike ride in 90 degree heat (can that count as heat training?) last week, as we hit the turnaround point about an hour in, I stopped to take a sip of my Gatorade. Mark looked at the bottle, shocked. “You haven’t drank anything yet?” he asked. Nope, I hadn’t. It’s strange: I can run 24 miles without needing more than a few ounces of water, and oftentimes, if I do drink more, my stomach will hurt. However, I believe that’s more a function of how infrequently I practice drinking while riding/running, and is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed. I tend to start races under-nourished and not as hydrated as I should be, and I know that impacts my ability to finish strong. In cyclocross, you don’t necessarily drink much on the bike, but that makes pre-race nutrition and hydration all the more important.
I read books like The Thrive Diet, I’ve been a vegetarian for over eight years and heck, I write articles about using supplements like creatine. Additionally, as someone who cares about cyclocross this much and has such big goals for the season, it should stand to reason that I’d be willing to do whatever it takes to improve my riding, from the foundation up. For me, building a foundation doesn’t start at base miles, it starts at being at optimum health before even thinking about a training plan.
Setting up a foundation of a healthy lifestyle should be every bit as important as getting in those base miles. Essentially, getting nutrition and health sorted out is a base for beginning base training. Unfortunately, at the moment I am woefully behind schedule. It’s the tail end of June, and for the past week I have been S-I-C-K. I have to admit, while I’m sure this cold was unavoidable, I think I made it a lot easier for germs to sneak in, thanks to my sub-par nutrition. For me, nutrition doesn’t come naturally. I’m not one of those lucky people that thinks a salad is a delicious meal choice or that fruit counts as dessert.
I do the “right thing” at the grocery store and stock up on fresh fruits and veggies, as well as the other recommended “whole foods.” When I put my mind to it, I can go a week without eating any dessert. If I try, I can go from cramping to the point of not walking to being fine in the race with the proper application of fluids the day prior and pre-race. (Coconut water, diet tonic water with quinine, sports drink and a whole lot of plain water.) But when it comes to establishing new, permanent eating solutions, I just can’t seem to stick to healthy eating, and more often than not, the end of the week finds moldy produce in the fridge.
So, I’ve started to “cheat” my way into healthier eating. Instead of making the smoothies recommended in the many books I’ve read on nutrition for athletes, I buy the pre-made all-natural kind. I eat a whole lot of fresh salsa in lieu of eating nine straight servings of veggies. I make vegan banana bread muffins with hemp protein and ground flax and zero sugar. (Want the recipe? Ask, and I’ll post it in the comments. They’re delicious!)
You don't get to be as good as Katie Compton without some seriously hard work, both on and off the bike. © Bart Hazen
The point is … I’m trying. But until now, I haven’t been trying to lead a healthy lifestyle as much as I should be, if I really want to have a killer ’cross season. I’m not a pro athlete, sure, but why should that mean I don’t try to improve my performance in every way possible?
This all reminds me of this book, Critical Space by Greg Rucka. There’s a great quote in it: “It is always about you and your body. It’s how you see yourself, and as a result, how you see the rest of the world. The body dictates everything.” While he’s talking about being physically prepared to defend himself from an assassin, I think that the same holds true on the ’cross course. You can have the fanciest bike around, be kitted out in the most impressively aero gear and silliest sunglasses possible, but when it comes down to it, when it’s crunch time, when you’re going into that final sprint, it’s all about you and your body, and how well you’ve prepared for that moment.
I’d like to hear from you: how do you maintain optimum health for cyclocross? Do you ever struggle with keeping up with good nutrition? What are your favorite nutrition tips? Let me know in the comments below!
A parting note: if you recall my column from two weeks ago, No Fear, you may remember me talking about the terrifying steep downhill into a creek and the sharp uphill that came immediately after. You also may recall me making the bold claim that I would eventually ride it, rather than falling into it. Well, a few days ago, I finally managed to ride it, after only two false starts. And of course, after I reached the summit, it hit me: “man, that was easy!” I wanted to have struggled to the top like Rocky running the stairs in Philly, wanted to lift my arms up and feel like I accomplished a major life goal, but all I could think was, “I was scared of that?” It just goes to show how unfounded some fears can be. Hopefully I’ll think like that next time I need to remount on a downhill!
If you want to read more about my training, racing and editing exploits, you can find the painfully full version of events here: Molly’s CX Adventures.