One of the great things about cyclocross riders of all skill levels get to hit the course and race their race on any given day. However, with a wide range of abilities and levels of experience, training advice that applies to one athlete will not apply to another.
For this week’s Training Tuesday, we developed a list of questions cyclocross riders might have for a coach and posed them to Coach Chris Mayhew. Some are asking for a friend situations, others are, yes we are actually asking for a friend and some might be amalgamations of things we have heard before.
Mayhew’s answers for Part 1 of our queries are below. Stay tuned for a Part 2 next week.
If you have questions of your own, you can reach out to Mayhew in the comments or on Twitter at @csmayhew and on Instagram at @seemayhem and he will add responses to next week’s column. If you are in the Pittsburgh area on Sunday, September 8, you can also attend a clinic hosted by Mayhew and ask him in person!
’Cross Questions with Coach Mayhew, Part 1
Question: I’m a road rider who is ’cross curious but never takes the next step to race. I’ve seen the success Van der Poel and Van Aert have had. Should I pull the trigger on racing ’cross this year to get better for next road season?
Chris Mayhew: Yes you should! I think everyone can benefit from racing another discipline. Whether you’re gaining handling skills, pure aerobic fitness or just checking out another scene, there’s always something to learn. And while keeping a beginner’s mindset is always beneficial sometimes that’s hard to maintain if you’ve been doing something for a while. Try something new that you’ve never done before. Even if you don’t like it you learned something about bikes and yourself.
Beyond all that I think there’s something to be said for racing hard but short in the fall to maintain some fitness and pick up some handling skills. And the running is good for your bones that are probably too thin.
Question: Every year I seem to get really excited for ’cross and do a bunch of intense intervals, only to burn out in October after a strong start. How can I better manage my prep and training load to stay strong through December? What mistakes am I likely making?
CM: That’s a very common issue, and I don’t think you’re really doing anything wrong in your approach. Your fitness has a shelf life of about 6-8 weeks. So all that August prep that you follow up with race and recovery can only last so long. I think the trap most people fall into is not being proactive about what to do near the end of those 6 to 8 weeks.
You’ll notice a lull in the pro calendar where most of the pros take a weekend off and train. That’s basically what you should be doing too. If you start racing September 1, find a time in mid-October where you can stay home, recover a bit and then hit a training block to refresh for the second half of the season.
Or, if you’re racing cyclocross to burn off some summer fitness, know that it won’t last forever and that at some point (hopefully before racing becomes un-fun) you should bring and end to your season. Most experienced ’crossers are used to getting their heads kicked in on dry courses by really fit road racers, especially now that racing starts at the beginning of September, but a lot of those people are gone by late October.
Question: Every year I try to “race my way into shape,” but it doesn’t really work. I have a family and work, but is there a way to get that intense work so I am ready for the season?
CM: I think so. That’s definitely a discussion to have with a coach. That said, there are some simple precepts to keep in mind. Keep your training bouts short, intense and specific. With ’cross that is not hard. A few starts, Tabatas and openers and that’s a pretty solid week. None of those take that long and you really only need a few days a week to do that. I’d throw in a 20-minute skill session once or twice a week too. With 30 minutes every day, you could be a much better ’crosser.
I’d also want to discuss “doesn’t work” and maybe talk about reframing your overall approach and expectations and a focus on results versus process.
Question: I am a mid-pack Cat 3 and have been so for a while. What are some tangible things I can shoot for, both in terms of results and my training?
CM: Oh man, there are so many things you can focus on! Start really small; what are you doing every day to check the box of “getting better?” Maybe that’s a training ride or skills session or doing laundry so you have all your clothes ready and packed. Some other questions to think about include:
How’s your diet each day?
Sleep (both quality and quantity)?
How well is your week structured towards coming into race day fresh and rested?
How well do you execute on race day?
Is your equipment flawless the morning of a race?
What’s your course recon and prep like?
How well can you focus on doing one lap really well in each race—and then do it again, and again?
Can you learn from your mistakes each lap but not let those mistakes get you down?
There are a million things you can focus on. When you get all of the above nailed down that’s going to result in your best race.
Question: I’ve been doing the same thing for years—do some intense intervals, go to the weekly ’cross practice—what are some drills or training ideas to mix things up and give me an edge?
CM: Come to my clinics and find out! Next question.
For real, I think a little bit of grinding on things you find tricky is where it’s at. It’s not sexy, maybe it’s not even fun, but it’s where the magic happens.
Do you repeat the same corner 20 times? Do you work at doing your dismount slow so it’s perfect when you do it fast? My experience from ’cross practice is people want to do things really fast but not necessarily right. You’ll fight like you train. We’ve added “foot down” to ’cross practice and people love it, along with figure 8 racing from Skills, Drills and Bellyaches.
Fitness-wise, I’m really into hard-start, VO2 intervals, and Tabatas are always a favorite of mine. And you can never go wrong doing ’cross starts against your friends. Follow the pros on Instagram. They demo a lot of cool stuff, as does Montana Cross Camp.
Question: Last year there was that one person I just could not beat last year. This summer I’ve been watching their Strava and riding just as much. What are some things I can do to get an edge and finally beat my “rival?”
CM: Hire me! For real, that’s how I get a lot of clients.
For you, I would say focus on the little things that add up. (As an aside, I am so angry that “marginal gains” got tied to Team Sky) How recovered are you from your workouts? That’s what really matters, especially during ’cross season. What state is your equipment in? So many people fall victim to broken chains and whatnot. That’s something completely under your control.
Lastly, I’d say be calm and race your race. So many people force the issue by focusing on the other person and making their goal “be in front of them.” That leads to a lot of forced errors. If you’re focused on carving the best lines you can and hitting the course hard where it warrants, then you’ll turn your best lap times and ultimately end up in front of your rival. Don’t Leroy Jenkins the third corner or take some hot line on the last lap just to get in front of the other person.
Question: I have been close to getting the results I want but tend to fade or make stupid mistakes in the last lap. How can I improve and finally get on the podium and not finish in 5th again?
CM: I’d focus on two things. One is primary aerobic fitness. That last lap is about who can make the fewest mistakes. If you’re a bit less tired going into the last lap you’ve got an edge. Long, steady intervals will help with that. The classic workout there is 2 x 20-minutes.
The second issue is mindset. In the last two laps, focus on no mistakes. Take whatever caution you need to to keep from falling down or dabbing. It sounds dumb but it’s hard late in a race and it’s typically what wins the place you’re battling for. Cyclocross races are almost never decided in a head-to-head sprint.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next Tuesday.