In keeping with my theme from the 2017 season, I did not have a very good start at Charm City Cyclocross. On a hot, humid day, I found myself chasing from the back of the field. Fortunately, the climbing heavy course was good to me and I was able to make up a lot of ground, finding myself in the top ten with a few laps to go. I was paying for these efforts as the race went on though, and with every turn I could see the women breathing down my neck. At one point, the only way I could maintain a gap from my chasers was to sprint the start of each downhill. The descents were gradual and the turns were sweeping; with no need to brake at the bottom, the faster you could accelerate to your descending speed at the start of the downhill, the more speed you would carry the whole way down (thanks physics!).
I did have to give myself a pep talk before each of these shorts efforts, saying that I could recover after standing for ten pedal strokes. It worked and thanks to an ability to get out of my saddle and accelerate, I managed to hang on to a top ten result even though I was completely thrashed.
This year my goal is to improve my starts, but to still make sure I have the legs to accelerate out of corners as the race progresses.
The below workouts will help train your body to achieve each of these goals. Aim to complete one of each type of workout during the training week. If you plan to race two days in a row this fall, try completing the workouts on back-to-back days to prepare your body for the challenges of a full weekend of racing.
Workout 1: 1 Minute Efforts
The goal of this workout is to both develop high sustained power and to learn to keep attacking at the start of a race or on an extended flat or climb. One minute of high intensity can feel really LONG! Fighting through will allow you to battle for extra spots each time there is an extended section of pedaling.
Each interval will consist of one HARD minute. Start from a standstill and immediately begin pushing as hard as you can. Your body will want to ease off at some point during the interval, block out that thought and attack the entire minute. Remember, you can recover once the interval is over.
My preference is to complete these intervals on my local cross course with training partners. We push each other to keep attacking and it also simulates the battle for position you will encounter during a cross race. Furthermore, I can then ride course laps between interval sets, training my body to stay composed on course even when I am fatigued.
If you cannot complete this workout on course and have a power meter, start each interval with an acceleration above 175% of your functional threshold power (FTP). Keep pushing for the entire minute, but power will naturally come down. Aim to hold power above 120% of FTP for the whole interval.
If you are training solo but are able to ride a course, pick a landmark that is a stretch to get to in a minute and push as hard as you can to get close during each interval.
- Week 1: 2 sets of 4 repetitions with 1.5-2 minutes of recovery between reps. After each set, ride about 2 laps of your local CX course (approximately 10-12 minutes), then recover for another 3-5 minutes before starting set 2.
- Week 2: 2 sets of 5 repetitions with 1.5-2 minutes of recovery between reps. After each set, ride about 2 laps of your local CX course (approximately 10-12 minutes), then recover for another 3-5 minutes before starting set 2.
- Week 3: 1 set of 8 repetitions with 1.5-2 minute of recovery between reps. Recover for about 5 minutes after the interval block, then ride some laps of your local course to keep your skills sharp.
Workout 2: 15 Second Accelerations
During this workout, your goal is to repeatedly accelerate well above your functional threshold power and to mimic the on/off pedaling nature of a cyclocross race. Each interval block will consist of a 15 second standing acceleration, followed by 15 seconds of coasting.
If you have a power meter, aim to ride above 150% of functional threshold power for each 15 second interval. If you do not have power data available, focus on standing and accelerating to start each interval (as if you want to see how quickly you can get up to speed), then shift into a heavier gear so you can keep pushing towards the end of the interval.
Heart rate should gradually jump up during the first half of your workout, and then should be at or near threshold for the second half of the interval block.
While I am a firm believer in training power on varied outdoor terrain for cyclocross, between a tight schedule and nonstop thunderstorms on the East Coast, I usually complete this workout on the trainer. It allows me to develop power and train my body to stand and push over and over without having to worry about finding the ideal training spot or watch for outdoor distractions.
- Week 1: Complete 3 sets of 16 repetitions with 15 seconds of recovery between reps; each set will be 8 minutes long. Recover for 3-5 minutes between sets. If you are newer to interval training, this may be a stretch; you can complete 4 sets of 10 reps for a total set time of 5 minutes.
- Week 2: Complete 2 sets of 20 repetitions with 15 seconds of recovery between reps; each set will be 10 minutes long.
- Week 3: 2 sets of 24 repetitions with 15 seconds of recovery between reps; each set will be 12 minutes long.
After a block of recovery and easy riding, I like to combine the two workouts to fine tune my body for cross season. Start this workout by completing one minute at or above VO2 Max intensity, recover for 15-30 seconds, then immediately jump into a 5-minute block of 15 second accelerations with 15 seconds of recovery between accelerations.
It is really challenging to force the body to accelerate again after hammering for a minute, but it closely resembles the way we ride in a cross race. During these intervals, I don’t stress about power targets. It is obviously great if you can hit them, but this workout is tough! Don’t get discouraged if the power starts to slip; one of the goals of this workout is to get out of your comfort zone and push your limits. Just keep digging and you will still make gains.