How to Prep for Your Cyclocross Season
Tips for both roadies and mountain bikers for their fall CX races
If you’re a roadie or mountain biker who will switch to cyclocross racing at the end of your season, you’ll have to plan ahead for some of the changes you’ll need to make in your training. Both roadies and mountain bikers will need to work on their running and mobility in order to both perform and avoid injury. Technique is important. Roadies will likely have more work to do in this department. Also, end-of-season fatigue and fitness levels will also play a role in your preparation.
Begin running well ahead of cyclocross season. (See “Hit the Ground Running Before CX Season” for an eight-week plan.) You can’t start running without making sure that you also work on your ankle mobility. In ’cross races, you’re mostly on your feet on uphill sections. You’ll need good mobility in your ankles to make sure you don’t blow out your calves. Each day, gently stretch your calves, hamstrings and hips. We can’t stress the importance of this process so you can avoid injury.
The technique side of ’cross racing – dismounting and mounting the bike quickly – will most likely pose more of a challenge for the roadie than the mountain biker. Whichever type of rider you are, you should incorporate some technique-specific training i nto your program. Closer to the season, do an easy ’ cross ride once per week with dismounts and mounts, and walks or jogs uphill. Think of these rides as starting base mileage and tempo for the muscles that aren’t quite in shape yet like the cycling-specific ones. You will also get used to the different handling of the ’cross bike with its different position, braking characteristics and tires.
To help with the greater physicality of ‘cross racing, roadies – and mountain bikers if they aren’t doing so – should consider starting a gentle plyometric or circuittraining program to improve their athleticism.
Lastly, one of the biggest factors to consider as you come into the ‘ cross season is your fitness. For either a roadie or mountain bike rider who has just raced a full season, doing some solid base mileage will be key. If you are a roadie, you’ll likely be facing some solid fatigue near the end of the season. You don’t want to lose fitness, but doing hard intervals will only make you more tired. Some long, endurance base miles are the perfect way to recover somewhat from the season and keep the legs turning. If you’re a mountain biker, the challenge is different. Keeping up the mileage across a mountain bike season is tough. Mountain biking is more muscular, often requiring a bit more rest. Before you know it, the next race comes up, which once again keeps you from doing big miles.
All riders will worry about the lack of intensity in their training. But the ‘cross season is long now, meaning that there is plenty of racing to use as a means of getting that intensityagainandfindingthehigherend fitness.
If you are thinking about doing some ‘cross racing, make sure you plan ahead a bit. While ’cross racing is a sport on a bike, it has unique challenges different from both mountain and road riding. Take the time to prep a few things such as running, technique and your overall fitness; you’ll have a much better season.
Sleep is important, but unlike fancy gadgets and hacks, it’s boring. We sleep every night. So when an expert tells you that sleep is important, it doesn’t seem that significant because you do it already. But in the past year, sleep has become one of the biggest topics in sports science. It’s also an area on which professional sports teams are spending time and money on to gain an edge on their competition. But does this mean you or I should look more closely at our sleep? With longer work hours, more screen time and television binge watching featuring in most of our lives, it’s more than likely that we could all gain a few watts by learning to sleep better.
Amy Bender is a sleep specialist who works with elite athletes at the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance, a medical sleep lab and testing facility in Calgary. “Sleep was once overlooked but is now becoming one of the pillars for athletic performance, alongside training and nutrition,” she says.
As a coach and athlete, I have come to appreciate how much my sleep affects my own performance and also how limited the busy athletes I work with can be by their limited daily shut-eye. When we sleep, we absorb the training we’ve done. Getting rest also helps us focus on work and our effort during workouts and races. “A shorter nap, roughly 20 minutes, before training or competition will likely boost alertness and performance for up to four hours after the nap. A longer nap, about 90 minutes, after a training session will help you recover and repair the body by allowing growth hormone to be released when you reach deep sleep during the longer sleep period,” Bender says.
Does that restless night with fitful dreams of showing up at the start line sans chamois mean a bad result on race day? Bender says, “We don’t believe
a bad night’s sleep is a big deal unless it is extreme, like pulling an all-nighter. Banking sleep by getting extra sleep the weeks before an important event or race can help mitigate the negative effects of any sleep disruption the night before due to anxiety and nerves.”
So if the night before doesn’t matter but the weeks ahead do, how much do we actually need? Bender suggests we need seven to nine hours of sleep generally. Athletes, especially those doing endurance sports, will be on the higher end of the range. Female and younger athletes also tend to excel with longer sleep durations. “The problem is that we are not good judges of how we are performing on less sleep,” Bender says. “You may think you need less but, in reality, the sleep-deprived brain is not a good judge.”
As an endurance coach, I keep a close eye on clients’ performance numbers (wattage) and race results. They should trend upward. I also check if athletes feel rested each day. Do they fall asleep unexpectedly, while watching TV or even during a meeting? Are they consuming too much caffeine or other stimulants? If any of these metrics are off or if things are trending negatively, then we will try improving sleep hygiene. You, too, should keep an eye on your shut-eye.