Kenton Berg finds his form and power returning after testing the sharpness of the local pricker population. ©Andrew Malakoff

Kenton Berg finds his form and power returning. ©Andrew Malakoff

Not sure if you’re training effectively? Have some ambitious goals for the season but feel like your racing has plateaued? Cyclocross Magazine’s Kenton Berg has been stuck in this situation and decided to seek professional help. This is his fifth entry. Read his previous entry here.

Back from Injury: One Month In

What a difference a month makes… Just a month ago, I was just coming back from some downtime due to an injury and had no idea of where I might be by now. Well, I’ve had my chief “fixer” working on me and the decompression therapy I’ve undergone has done wonders to alleviate my back pain. I’m back to full-on racing and training and I’m looking forward to the next five weeks and 10 races that make up the rest of my season.

Some bad days, but some good ones too

I’ve raced five times since coming back and have had some reasonable results – 16th, 19th, 12th with a crash, 2nd and 4th. The 2nd place finish was a great result for me because I hadn’t really thought about being in the running on this particular day, I just planned to go out and drill it for as long as I could. But the course suited me (technical skills required) and I was able to use my strengths to my advantage. Many years of mountain biking and the ability to find good lines paid huge dividends with a lot of short down hills followed by power uphill grinds. My technical riding put me in the front of the race, but my training came through and took delivery of that great finish.  For this first time this season I felt like I had some race fitness and I didn’t totally fade on the final two laps, a testament to my training and persistence, despite the injury setback. Taking second did wonders for my confidence and that helped boost me to last weekend’s 4th place finish – I knew I was finding the form to compete again. So yes, the race fitness is now starting to come around and it is the result of the training plan (plus racing)!

Training, hard and strong

Kenton's Instruments of training & recuperation

Kenton's Instruments of training & recuperation

So after wallowing in my misery thinking I was possibly done for the year, I found that during my injury time and recovery I didn’t lose any fitness. Since I was able to ride, just not hard, I didn’t gain any fitness, but I didn’t lose much either.

Now that I’m back in the saddle full-on it’s time to rev up the high-end work…anaerobic type efforts. You know, the “I’m on the limit but I need to stay with the leaders” type stuff. This produces the form that lets me run into the red zone multiple times in a race without a meltdown or early collapse, used for attacking, coming out of corners hard, and trying to bridge up to the group in front.. The workouts are 30-30’s, 30 seconds full tilt followed by a mere 30 seconds recovery and repeat many times.  These near-puking efforts aren’t much fun, but the pay off will be. It’s time to remember that pain is temporary.

The other component I continue to work on is strength. This comes in two flavors – on-the-bike and off-the-bike. On the bike, I’m strength-training by riding in the Single Speed class. By limiting myself to one gear I’m having to do some grinding efforts that are helping me build power out of turns and hard efforts to bridge up. The off-the-bike part is coming in the form of squats, lunges, and plyometric work like box jumps, tuck jumps, and bounding type efforts.  These do wonders to provide explosive strength that translates to output in watts on the bike. I’m putting this all together with back strengthening and stretching work and it’s the best I’ve felt in a few months.

Moving on from the injury: advice

What have I learned from this injury experience and how can you, the reader, benefit?

First of all, if you have the insurance or finances to make it happen, have injuries checked out! Especially if you battle the dreaded “cross back.” I’ve come to learn that low back pain is typically much more than hurt caused by racing on bumpy terrain and jumping barriers. Compressed discs, serious muscle imbalances and chronic tightness are typical culprits and tend to plague bike riders. In fact, I spoke to another racer this past weekend who has had identical symptoms as mine and is really hurting. My advice, seek answers from experts as well as researching things yourself. Also, seek more than one opinion and ask lots of questions!

Kenton is about to test the theory that pine needles are soft. ©Tim Burke

Kenton is about to test the theory that pine needles are soft. ©Tim Burke

Keep the positive attitude going…communicate with your family, coach, friends, and teammates about what is going on. They can help or may know someone who can. Referrals are the best way to find quality providers.

Be patient, fitness doesn’t happen overnight nor do race results. Keep plugging away and evaluate what works, and what doesn’t. For example, coach Kristi and I talked specifically about positioning in the first 2 laps of a race and how you can use your knowledge of your body (and how it handles high heart rate etc.), your competitors, and the course to your advantage. Out of this evaluation I changed some tactics on race day that seemed work for me and achieved a good result.

And finally, look at the big picture…the season isn’t results in one or two races (unless it’s Nats), but the culmination of many races and the training you put into them. This also includes the proper rest. I’ve learned this the hard way, but my best result this year has come after a rest week where I rode maybe a total of three hours the week before the race. Come race time, I was physically and mentally fresh and I let the months of hard effort that had accumulated do their work. Let’s hope I can keep it up.

Thanks for reading.