Cyclocross racing completely drains my body. The effort alone is enough that I struggle walking up stairs the following day. Once you combine the actual race intensity with pre-riding, warming up, cooling down, cleaning equipment, traveling, and hanging outside all day, and my body needs some serious recovery. As the season gets underway, we all tend to get too excited about racing and training. We pinpoint what we need to work on, then get after it with high intensity and hot laps during the week so we are ready to improve our results on the weekend.

Consider slowing down!

When you stop to think about how much high intensity training you were doing each week of the summer, you start to recognize that you’re doing almost the same amount if not more during a race weekend. At some point, your body will simply quit if you try to race every weekend and continue with interval training during the week. We’ve all had a time where our results didn’t reflect our capabilities, and often it was because we were overreaching or over training. In order to race well but still continue to improve, I break my season into racing blocks and training blocks.

During the racing blocks, I prioritize feeling fresh on the weekends. My racing blocks typically align with three straight weekends of UCI racing. I want to perform at each of these races, and therefore, training becomes limited so I am recovered for the weekends.There’s nothing worse than showing up to a race with heavy legs. It is truly better to miss a workout during the week so you can ride hard on the weekend. My test for knowing if I’m feeling sluggish is to see if I want to take the stairs two at a time at home. If not, I might hold off on a high intensity mid-week training session. I sort of view the weekends as my training sessions for the week. I go as big as I can to make the most of each second on course.

My September started off with three hard weekends of racing. I can truly say that I went deep at each of the five races in which I competed. For example, my heart rate averaged 184 bpm for 50 minutes and topped out at 191 bpm at Go Cross in Roanoke, VA, and I can remember falling over at the finish line of at least three of these races. After these types of efforts, my body needs at least one day, but often two days, of complete recovery. My method for deciding if I need a second rest day is simple: if it sounds too difficult to ride my bike, I take the day off cycling and enjoy some extra yoga and dog walking. I love my bikes, so if I don’t want to ride, I am probably tired. While I’ve made some racing errors and haven’t been aggressive enough at the starting line, my legs and body felt ready to ride at each race.

For me, a typical week during this racing block included:

  • Monday: Rest Day
  • Tuesday: Endurance Pace Ride (1-1.5 hours) or Rest Day
  • Wednesday: Cyclocross Specific Ride (approximately 1.5 hours)
  • Thursday: Rest Day
  • Friday: Openers (45 minutes)
  • Saturday-Sunday: Race

Once I wrapped up Nittany Lion Cross, it was time to take a few extra recovery days and then prep for a training block. In order to decide when to include a training block, you should first layout your calendar and highlight your target races. For me, target races are usually international races rather than our local NJ Cyclocross Cup. However, your target races can be anything that’s important to you. Maybe there’s a big local race with bragging rights you want to prioritize, or your family is coming to spectate and you want to be flying high on a specific weekend. In the week prior to one of these races, it’s ok to ease up on a workout or take an extra recovery day so you are not tired when you roll to the start line.

Next pinpoint your “B” races. These are the races that you can approach with heavier legs. It can be really hard to start a race knowing you are not at your best, but remember, the training you put in during the week will have you riding stronger soon! In order to maintain a relaxed approach to these B races, I usually treat them just like a training day. I show up with less equipment, I socialize more than normal, sometimes pre-ride with coaching clients, and try to prioritize one specific aspect of the race.

At my most recent training race, my priority was the start. My focus was on getting the hole shot and holding this advantage into the first corner. From there, I just wanted to ride hard and fine tune my skills in the muddy conditions. Our local New Jersey series is a blast, but I’m willing to sacrifice my results in these races to complete some good training rides in the days prior.

My training block schedule is:

  • Week 1 (after a UCI race weekend):
    • Monday-Wednesday: Rest Days
    • Thursday: Endurance Ride with Hill Repeats (2 hours)
    • Friday: Endurance Ride with Tempo Intervals (2 hours)
    • Saturday: Cyclocross Hot Laps with Start Practice (1-1.5 hours)
    • Sunday: Local Race (treated as training)
  • Week 2 (after a single day local race):
    • Monday: Rest Day
    • Tuesday: Trail Ride (1.5 hours) and Tempo Intervals (1 hour)
    • Wednesday: Cadence Specific Threshold Intervals (1 hour) and Running Drills (30 minutes)
    • Thursday: Endurance Ride with Sand Practice (2 hours)
    • Friday: Rest Day
    • Saturday: Cyclocross Hot Laps with Start Practice (1-1.5 hours)
    • Sunday: Race

When you divide your season into racing and training blocks, it is important to make sure you really are racing hard at your target events. If you have a bad day on course during a racing block and just didn’t put a lot of effort into the race (for example, getting a mechanical a few laps into the race and pulling out), you probably want to grab an extra day of training during the week. Don’t beat yourself up about it, we all occasionally have a tough race, just make up the missed work during a weekday training session. If you have a hard time determining if you went deep enough during a race, wear a heart rate monitor and check out the data. Assuming you’re not wearing a ten year old strap, the numbers shouldn’t lie.

Start laying out those calendars, and next week I’ll break down specific training rides to incorporate during your racing blocks and training blocks!