With the holidays here and cyclocross seasons winding down or getting ready to gear up for Nationals, now is a good time to prepare to finish strong. This piece that originally ran in November, 2016 provides evergreen advice for closing out the season in good form and navigating the holiday party scene.
Whether you’re gearing up for a big late-season push or soon winding down and hanging up the cyclocross bike, coach Chris Mayhew of JBV Coaching covers the topics of goals, taking a break, indoor training and holiday eating for this week’s Training Tuesday.
As a coach, writing a program, I like to start with a blank sheet of paper. I start with a Notepad file that has the dates pre-filled. From there I write in the immutable things like goal events, travel and such. Then I work back from the goals and pencil in the things that need to happen such as workouts and rest. Once you get that done you’d be surprised how easy it is to fill in the rest of the schedule, as most of it has written itself and what’s needed in the blank spots becomes pretty clear. We’re coming up on, or are at, one of those immutable points in the season. To my mind, it’s simply a flow chart from here to the end of the season with regard to planning your workouts. So let’s talk about that.
If you read and followed my “Shape of Your Season” column, you’ve been racing and recovery mode since about Labor Day. That was a long time ago! There are four things to think about when training; volume, duration, intensity and specificity. Intensity and specificity have been at 120% these last few weeks. But duration (per day) and volume (monthly, weekly) have fallen off a cliff. ’Cross is also very hard on the body and that is probably catching up to you around now. What I would strongly suggest is that you plan a weekend or two away from racing. Find a weekend you can skip or that is open. Take the preceding Monday, Tuesday and possibly Wednesday off.
After such a mental and physical break, start a low key block of training. I’m a big fan of doing the opposite of what you want to do or have been doing. You have been doing short intense races on the weekend. Schedule some long but easy rides for the weekend and enjoy the fall weather. Get in some Steady Eddy sweet spot or threshold workouts during the week. Do as many as you can within your scheduling constraints, making sure that you’ll come into your next race fresh and rested.
Speaking of doing some training, remember all those times I told you to take a break? Well, now’s the time to put in work, to go to that well. The days are shorter and most people are training indoors. Even if you are not indoors, logistics of training may be more difficult with sometimes challenging weather and shorter days. It’s hard to train with the motivation that you did in August when it was easier in many aspects. There’s a reason the ’cross season starts around Labor Day now but races in December are hard to find. It’s time to be a diehard cyclocross racer and buckle down.
Sure, you might have to resort to indoor trainer workouts, but if you do, keep trainer workouts to no more than one hour, have the biggest fan you can blowing directly on you from the front (and if you can do anything to lower the room temperature do that too), and no more than three workouts on the trainer a week unless you know yourself well enough to know riding indoors more than that won’t crack you. And learn to ride rollers. They require more focus than a trainer, develop riding skills and are a great way to break up the monotony of the trainer. Don’t own some? Ask your local cycling community. Someone has them in a basement that they will loan you.
Personally, I have a no indoors riding policy which necessitates an investment in lights and clothing. Pick your poison.
So, let’s say that none of the above sounds appealing to you, which is perfectly reasonable. Some people are riding off of good road form. Others just want to race on the weekend and see what comes. Cyclocross is unique in that you really can’t go out and do it on your own like road or mountain bike racing. So if you like ’cross, now is the time. But without taking a break your form will probably start lacking soon and burnout can become an issue. Lots of people stop racing ’cross after the time change and that’s fine. If you don’t take a break, know that you may start to find it less fun than you did. I advise my road clients riding out their summer form to check in with themselves often around this time and give themselves permission to stop when things become less fun. If you want to stop, do that now while it’s a voluntary decision, instead of later getting forced off the bike from burnout, or worse, injury.
The above are the immediate decision points. The next one is when does your season end? For most amateurs it’s early December. If that’s you, your early November rest and reload will be enough to get you through. You won’t be in flying form but late-season races are often much more about mental attitude, preparation and handling skills as much as anything else. “You’ve got to be excited about racing when it’s 40°F and raining,” says John Verheul. So ride your form out and enjoy it, because the season is winding down.
Are you going to Nationals? Then ride out your November rest and reload and then decide when in December you can stop racing so you can do another rebuild. This is perhaps the hardest of the paths. You’ll be training indoors for a month. You really won’t have other people with whom to train (although I would encourage you to get out with roadies while they do their base miles). Basically it’s a lot of drudgery and grinding to pursue your goal in early January. That’s an admirable mindset.
Know working towards a late-season goal like Nationals is going to be hard and you’ll be digging deep into your mental reserves. Treat it with the respect that it deserves. Know that it will be hard on those around you as you’re in bike racer mode when the rest of the nation is in holiday mode. Summer season has a holiday every month at best and it’s easy to go for a ride and then hit the 4th of July BBQ. Have some grace with those around you, and the food they are offering, through the next three holidays that come in quick succession. If you can do that, to be frank, you’re being a better person than I (or Peppermint Patty) can muster.
“Have some grace with those around you, and the food they are offering, through the next three holidays that come in quick succession. If you can do that, to be frank, you’re being a better person than I can muster.”
There are some decision points coming up in your season, very soon. Instead of flying into those blind and being forced by circumstances to make a decision, look ahead to the end goal and plan backwards to those points. Once you start filling in the known way points it makes filling in the unknown points much easier. Figure out how much more racing you want to do this year, then figure out how much more training you need to do to get there. Good luck!
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