Cyclocross Magazine columnist Paul Warloski profiles his return to cyclocross after a near-devastating injury. Follow Paul as he takes us along for a ride of trials and tribulations of a cyclocrosser with a refreshed perspective. If you missed it, check out Paul’s last column, Flow – Or Learning Not to Think.

Sometimes, you need to ignore your training program and just have fun riding. Photo from flickr, courtesy of Jonf728

Sometimes, you need to ignore your training program and just have fun riding. Photo from flickr, courtesy of Jonf728

When to Ignore Coach Crusty’s Program

by Paul Warloski

It was one of those rare days this summer in Wisconsin: sunny, 75 degrees, mild winds. I was camping with a buddy in Boulder Junction, home of some beautiful woodsy roads and trails.

My friend was going fishing, and I was headed out on the ride. The training program told me to ride zone 2 for 80 minutes.

When I returned, my friend asked me where I’d been.

“Riding. Why?”

“You’ve been gone three and a half hours!”  And since I’d forgotten the bike computer at home, I had zero data on heart rate and power.

It had been an incredible ride. I found some dirt roads leading into the middle of a forest, another road that turned from dirt into two inches of sand.

I had a lot of practice riding through sand that day. I learned to sit back a little and power through it. If I could manage riding through sand on road tires, I’m excited about what I can do with ’cross tires.

The next day, I was scheduled for LT intervals, six intervals of five minutes each at just below threshold power with another 45 minutes of zone 2 riding.

Oops. Again, over three hours later, I came back. I found another dirt road and found some amazing paved trails around Boulder Junction. I rode hard on flat roads, powered up steep hills and coasted the downhills. On one part of the trail, I rode quickly in a light gear, getting my heart rate up and carving all the corners.

It was a blast. And none of it was on the training program.

Coach Crusty (whose real name is Craig) and most other coaches, will always tell their client to not be slaves to the program. I pay Craig, though, to simply tell me what to do so I don’t have to think.

I’ve been working with Craig for about four years. His nickname is Crusty because he’s a bit of a curmudgeon. But I love him, he’s a damn good coach, and his approach with me has worked. We have also become friends along the way.

Minutes before the crash that nearly killed me, I wanted to stop and call Craig to tell him how good I was feeling already in March. My legs were tired and thick from lifting and riding, but it was one of those days when you just know you’re going to have a little something, a little snap, that season.

And after the crash, Craig has been carefully and slowly bringing me back. He has had me in the gym a lot, doing traditional lifting and a lot of functional training. He’s had me put a lot of base miles in at a zone 2 or 3 pace to rebuild my aerobic system. He’s listened often to complaining how tired I was or how slow the recovery was going.

And always he’d remind me of what had happened to me and that recovery would take time.

Sometimes, we cyclists get a little fixated on data and our training plan rather than going out and just riding. Sometimes, we just have to leave the power meter at home and ride.

Some days, I love nothing more than pointing my bike in one direction, getting lost, then riding to find my way home. It’s important to bring your phone and some money for those days because they can turn into epic long rides. Or I go out to the Kettle Moraine Park or Crystal Ridge to just ride the mountain bike.

And those rides are usually the ones highest on the WFQ (Warloski Fun Quotient) so I can give myself a lot of points! The rides in Boulder Junction were huge on the WFQ scale.

Even when there are specific intervals to do, I still can ride aimlessly to find interesting places to visit. I don’t do enough of that now.

So after I put in a lot of miles up north, I’m listened to my body and took a rest day, pedaling my commuter bike to the coffee shop to write.

Maybe the pros aren’t able to approach their training like this and still be successful. Most of us aren’t pros, though. We race cyclocross because it’s the most fun we can have on two wheels.

I’m learning to change my perspective on training. For the most part, I follow Crusty’s program religiously. When the program is challenging or tough, I use the intervals as an opportunity to push myself, to visualize riding hard in a ’cross race, to dig a little deeper than I think I can.

I love those days, love it when I can complete a specific task that’s challenging, and complete it to the best of my ability.

But some days, we have to be flexible enough in our programs that we can just go ride, explore the worlds around us and remember why we love riding that bike in the first place.

Paul Warloski races cyclocross for the my wife inc cyclocross team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is 47 and a middle school English teacher. He was nearly killed in a 2009 crash when a large pick up truck broadsided him on a training ride. In this column, he is documenting a year learning how to be positive regardless of results. He maintains an irregular blog at http://warloski.blogspot.com and his race reports, along with reports from the rest of the mwi crew, can be found at http://mwicrossteam.blogspot.com.