I just wrote a really long e-mail to a friend about racing cyclocross. She's just started training to do her first Century, with an eye to doing it toward the end of April and she's also interested in racing cyclocross, although she's expressed some doubts about whether or not she can be ready. There's some other content in the exchange, but I'm excerpting the part that I think is interesting in the context of this blog, which is to say that it concerns something going on in my head.
Don't count yourself out of this coming race season too early. If you keep doing long rides, your low speed will drift upwards. Commuting has done a surprising amount for my high speed, even when I haven't been doing other kinds of riding. You can start accelerating a little harder out of traffic signals and maintaining higher speeds up Dexter, Bell, 2nd and 3rd if you're worried about it. One thing I sometimes do is skip the downshift coming into an intersection if it's stopped, and then sprint back up to my original speed in the same gear. It's inefficient, but so is racing. Bear in mind also that racing involves a unique skill set. Unless your level of fitness is significantly higher than everyone who's done a couple of seasons, they will kick your ass. Even if their levels of fitness are a little lower. By the end of this season, I was racing strongly enough to hang off the back of the main pack, which felt pretty good. At my last race, I actually had a group of racers riding my wheel for about a lap and a half, and then dropped them. That 33rd place finish felt awesome. Some kid still beat me to 32nd, and battling for that spot is one of the more awesome things I've done. Next time... Try to beat him into the esses. The point is that you shouldn't worry about being too competitive in the first season. Finishing every race was a pretty big accomplishment for me.
When I started getting ready for the racing season, I started doing speed workouts. For me, that's interval training on hills, although I also did some rides where I just tried to maintain a high but consistent level of effort for the whole ride. The Locks to Locks route is one of my favorites because it's pretty and most of it is on low-traffic roads and paths. My races were on Sunday, so my race week, from Saturday through Friday, might be
- Saturday: fairly easy ride with a couple of sprints and things, to shake off the cobwebs
- Sunday: race. Probably some easy riding around afterwards to facilitate recovery.
- Monday: recovery ride (optional)
- Tuesday: "go fast" ride or intervals (optional)
- Wednesday: "go fast" ride or intervals If I only had time to do the
- Tuesday or Wednesday ride, and not both, I typically chose intervals.
- Thursday: recovery ride (optional, especially if I rode on both Monday and Tuesday, or I'd already hit my mileage for the week)
- Friday: offStretching after riding is very important for me. Especially after riding hard.
On a non-race week, substitute a fast ride or intervals for the race. A lot of schedules recommend putting the race at the end of the training week, not near the beginning. I felt like I was still tired when I started my race even if Saturday was a recovery ride, and I think I got better results when I started leaving the bike at home on Fridays. I think I get better results if race day is not my first day back on the bike. You really have to experiment with this stuff -it's not consistent. I also think it's important that I be in good shape on a day that I do more strenuous workouts. If I'm feeling sick or beat up, all I'm doing is practicing being sick or beating myself up more. If I feel like I can conquer the world and then I ride my bike, I'm practicing enjoying riding hard, and I frequently also found it in myself to do my hills workout in a higher gear and dig a little deeper for a sprint at the top. The "go fast" ride, in the context of cyclocross, is a substitution for a long ride. Because the race only lasts half an hour for a Cat. 4, I only had to last half an hour. Assuming that I've been doing distance rides all season and I'm in good aerobic shape, I really don't need to work on my endurance much beyond that distance. An ideal fast ride would be to take enough time to properly warm up, then ride at the fastest pace I can sustain for 45 minutes, then take enough time to cool down and call it a day. So the whole thing can be done in an hour and a half. I didn't really pay a lot of attention to how long my intervals workout took. It was more that when I got to Roosevelt, if I was feeling really demolished I'd call it done and go home, and if I was feeling good I'd keep going. Sometimes I also cut the workout short if I was planning to ride with Point83 or something. On every day except for Friday, and possibly Monday if I felt really beat up, I was also commuting on my bike - six miles each way. If I was quick about changing and skipping bikes, it meant that I could skip the warmup before working out, although in practice I was usually pretty hungry by the time I got home and wanted a snack. Still, commuting by bike makes maintaining a good training week easier because it gives you a certain amount of built-in mileage that you don't need to shoehorn into your schedule when you could be home or going out or something, and sometimes you can skip recovery rides if you can get back to where you're feeling good riding the bike before the commute ends. Otherwise, drop your bag, grab a powerbar or something, and keep going until you loosen up (or find that it's not going to happen.)
I gave myself a much easier week if there wasn't going to be a cyclocross race at the end of the following week. Then I'd probably just commute, maybe go on some Point83 or Humpday Hustle rides, and try to do a fast ride in the middle of the week as a substitution for intervals. I thought of the training I was doing in a given week as being for the race at the end of the following week, not that week. That was good because the race series skipped a couple weeks and by the time I got to a break week, I was generally quite content to have a break. I've also found that my second day back on a bike is frequently my strongest. I think taking chill-out weeks from time to time is somewhat underrated, and a lot of training books recommend taking one every month. I also think that chill-out rides within a week are good, even if I sometimes need to exercise a certain amount of discipline not to start pushing myself on them.
Bear in mind that I screwed up my ankle pretty badly in August, so I left out some things I'd have preferred to include. A lot of people recommend running once or twice a week in preparation for, and during, a cyclocross season. It's also really important, especially for new racers, to practice mounts and dismounts. In retrospect, I think that I would probably have done a little better if I'd continued practicing mounts and dismounts throughout the season, and it certainly wouldn't have hurt to have been running regularly. As it was, I only practiced my mounts and dismounts a little bit one evening before the series started and I didn't do any running outside of racing. I think that I would try to run on days that I didn't have plans to ride hard, but not on off days. Also, if I had time, I would probably have done better if I went to practice sessions on Wednesdays. If I did, I would drop either intervals or "go fast" rides, depending on what I thought I needed more.
So including the race, this schedule only has two or three hard workouts a week. The other rides are pretty easy. I was a little surprised when my schedule ended up looking like that - I thought I'd be doing more training rides - but there are only seven days in a week and this is what happened when I worked backwards from race day. I'd say that you shouldn't even start thinking about aiming your training at cyclocross yet - the first race is probably going to be on Labor Day, so at the end of June we can look at where you are with your cycling and talk about preparation for those races. I think that doing a non-stop Century is an excellent goal for now and if you run once or twice a week and keep working out, you'll be in a fine place to start looking at cyclocross when July rolls around and the season is a little closer. (assuming that the races you're interested in taking seriously are the Seattle Cyclocross Series races, and you don't mind if the earlier September races are practice/C races.) Anyway, at this rate you'll be more than ready to hang up the bike for a while in December and shop for smaller clothes.
When I decided to start working on mileage slowly and safely back at the beginning of last year, it felt really weird to be able to mark mileage goals on my calendar for months in advance. Two things to bear in mind are that you can't control everything that happens and it's relatively easy for a training schedule, especially a really long-term one, to get derailed, and a lot of rides that you'd do anyway can be part of your training week. Continuing to raise your mileage is important, but it's not worth stressing out about it and it's very important to be flexible. It also felt really good for me to see improvement in what I could do on a bike and I credit a lot of that to being pretty good about following my plan and also to paying attention to what my body was telling me and adapting my plan as needed. I think that you can have both your Century this summer and a productive cyclocross season this Fall if you're smart and disciplined about your training and you make sure to keep having fun with what you do on bikes.