While Rochester’s U.S. UCI-opening weekend was an epic dust bowl, racers in much of the country could face muddy races at any moment, while the rest of us in areas like California anxiously await for the rainy season to arrive in a few months. JBV Coaching’s Chris Mayhew helps you be prepared for muddy races, whenever they arrive, in this week’s Training Tuesday piece.
Mud. It’s what we all think of when we think cyclocross. If you’re really a ’crosser it’s likely the thing you look forward to as the season goes on. But it also requires the most work on your part before, during and after a race. It’s hard on equipment. It’s hard to get out of clothing. It’s hard to know how to dress for it.
You’ll have to deal with all those things on race day and afterwards at a place that may not be your home. As I’ve stressed many times in these articles, cyclocross is about executing a checklist. If you can get a good list and tick off those boxes, you’re doing the best you can. So let’s cover mud.
Pre-race Planning for the Sloppy Stuff
The first issues are pre-race related. If you’ve talked to an experienced ’crosser you know they own at least two of everything, and gloves for every five degree increment. It seems like overkill until you get a muddy race or two under your belt. I’m not saying rush out and buy a ton of gear, but every season, think about what one or two items you wished you’d had, and keep an eye out for a sale on them. Also hold onto your used but usable stuff (shoes and helmets for example). Soon you’ll end up with a real arsenal of clothing to warm up in that allows you to keep your race clothes clean and dry.
As we discussed in a previous column on warming up for your race, you’re going to do three to eight laps on the course prior to your race. You may just need a rain layer depending on how cold it is. You might need some warmth under there as well. But a shell layer is nice for staying warm and dry. When you get back to the car, throw all that clothing in a bag (bring bags!) so it doesn’t ruin your race bag or vehicle interior. Then change into your race clothes. Changing into a complete set of new dry clothes (including socks) lets you bring some creature comforts to an otherwise uncomfortable day.
Speaking of changing, get a mat you can stand on. It’s such a simple thing that will make a world of difference. A rubber floor mat from a car works well. The Mountainsmith Deluxe bags (my current favorite bag) comes with one. Anything you can put on the ground to stay dry while changing clothes will make your life a lot easier.
In terms of how to dress for cold and muddy races, think first about your core. This Outside Magazine article makes it vividly clear that your body is protecting the core first and foremost. Keep that warm and the rest will follow. After that focus on keeping your hands warm with good gloves. Keep your head covered, to stay warm and dry—a visor works well to keep rain and spray out of your eyes. Lastly, do what you can do keep your feet warm. Freezing hands and feet are what get people into trouble during races. Keeping your core warm is critical to that but follow on protection to one or both is equally important.
You may want to wear some clothes over your race clothes, and perhaps shoe covers to stay warm on the line. Make sure those are easy to remove, or if they’re not take them off early. I have been standing on the line (at Nationals!) removing clothes when the whistle blows. It was suboptimal. If no one is taking your clothes on the line bring a bag and place them in there (and make sure they’re labeled). That way they’ll be protected from the rain and mud while you race and you can have them for after your race.
Post-race is where things really get hectic in terms of dealing with mud. Getting clean enough to get into the car is often a hassle. A spray bottle full of rubbing alcohol and a towel is a great clean up tool. But it’s often not enough. You may need a gallon of water as well. If I am staying overnight somewhere sometimes I will just put my “ride to the line” clothes on to keep the car clean and worry about showering at home.
Keep reading for how to manage the mud during your cyclocross race.