Cyclocross, once considered the red headed stepchild of bike racing, has gained vast popularity in the US. It requires some varied talents and it favors hard men/women. There are two key areas that cyclists should focus their attention on to make building fitness for a successful cyclocross season go a little smoother.
The first area that a cyclocross athlete should focus on is running. One of the larger challenges for a cyclist taking up cyclocross is that, generally speaking, cyclists are not runners. Even if a cyclist comes from a running background the type of running encountered in cyclocross races is quite different than an aerobic pace most former runners will be used to. In cross races, the longest runs tend to only be in the neighborhood of 30 seconds to one minute. Towards this end, long sustained runs are not a huge necessity and instead a cross racer should focus more on short, high intensity running efforts.
When it comes to prescribing training for a cyclist to prepare for cross season, I say that as soon as they are able to jog/run for 15min continuously without being outrageously sore then they are ready to tackle running intervals. Intervals work on two fronts: one is to being able to operate anaerobically and, the other is to train the body to, literally, hit the ground running. When you come off the bike you’re moving pretty fast and training the body to tolerate this will allow you to scrub less speed when it comes time to dismount.
Running intervals should range from 15 seconds to 1 minute at speeds that are just above your comfort level. These intervals should be polarized so make sure your recovery period between intervals is equal to the effort. As a nice secondary benefit, running will help with bone density, which is an area most cyclists are lacking in.
The second area that ‘cross athletes should focus their attention is technique. Mounts and dismounts are an area that makes ‘cross uniquely hard and, specifically, technique intensive. Spending time working on mounts and dismounts cannot be over emphasized.
When working on dismounting/mounting technique the key is to remember that the bike is considerably faster than running, so the less time you can spend on the ground running the better. The goal is to be able to ride the bike as close as possible to the dismount, get over the barrier or obstacle and then back on the bike as quickly as possible. This will reduce your energy expenditure, which, in the course of a 1hr race, you’ll be thankful for. There are a variety of clinics at many races that you can take advantage of to polish up your skills. Additionally, watching the big guns during their race would be time well spent. Some of these guys make it look effortless.
Cyclocross requires a little more well rounded athlete. The right preparation makes ‘cross a lot more fun and, hopefully, will improve your results too. Taking advantage of resources in your area to improve your technique and doing a little bit of running is an easy way to have your best ‘cross season yet!
Ainslie MacEachran, author of “Simple Cycling Performance”, is a USACycling level 2 coach, a AAAI/ISMA personal trainer and the owner/head coach of www.geminitrainingsystems.com. If you’d like help getting ready for CX season you can email Ainslie through the website.