Considering I just lined up for my first criterium of the spring season, it seems a little odd to be discussing cyclocross season, but now is an ideal time to start forming a tentative plan and setting some goals. Many athletes wait until July or August to plan their cross seasons, but this does not provide enough time to really make the fitness and technical gains needed to improve your results.
If you finished last season on a high note, you may have already set goals for next year. If you experienced difficulty in the last month of the season, you may need to figure out what will motivate you to head into next year stronger.
Did you have fun?
This is the first question I ask myself and athletes I coach at the end of the season. It is kind of cheesy, but I firmly believe we are more likely to stick with the sport if we are enjoying ourselves. Cyclocross has a big impact on both my physical and mental well-being, and it has created a healthier lifestyle for me; however, these benefits are likely to go away if I am not feeling fulfilled by the sport.
Hopefully your answer was a resounding YES! If for some reason it was not, now is the time to figure out why. Were you missing the camaraderie of a team? Were your race fields too easy or too challenging? Did you feel unprepared for the elements? Whatever your reasons were, be honest with yourself and write them down now. Reflecting on the details will allow you to create a plan for next season. It may mean a new team, a category upgrade, or more time spent running to get ready for mud.
Overall my season was great, but I missed some of the big East Coast races due to work conflicts. I love the challenging courses and the deep competition; I will ensure a few more domestic UCI events end up on my calendar next year.
Did your results meet your expectations?
Next let’s move on to our actual race performance. Did you achieve the results you thought you could? If you set goals before the season, evaluating your results becomes a little easier. Attempt to remove emotion and just look at the results.
I try to remind myself to look at my season from my own expectations, not those of others. It is always a compliment when someone thinks you should land on every podium, but no one else can really know what you were hoping to accomplish.
I was more motivated to compete in bigger races in 2018 than I was to target the quieter UCI events. I did find myself on the podium of one small UCI race, but overall, the highlight of my year was an eighth place in the C1 at Charm City Cyclocross. Based on the competition, I was pretty pleased, but I did not quite find the consistency I would have liked to with this type of performance. I will not be able to come up with a plan to improve consistency overnight, but I do know I want to be a more regular contender next year.
What were your strengths and weaknesses on race day?
Finally, take a look at the specific elements of your fitness, skillset, and race preparation that led to your results. Did you have great starts but fade by the last lap? Were you strong in the straightaways but lost time in the technical sections? Were you rushed trying to get to the start on time?
I tend to favor running obstacles over hopping them, but this cost me spots at the Bern World Cup. Each obstacle which you had to hop or roll over was followed by a power section where you would benefit from being on your bike. Because I dismount so often, I was unable to clear the obstacles at speed which set me back a place or two every lap. Knowing this was a weakness, I will look to spend more time working on my skills in 2019.
Now that we have an idea of what went well and what needs improvement, we can start setting some goals for 2019.
If that statement gave you anxiety, welcome to the club! I often struggle with goal setting. Goals can feel daunting and out of our control. The very things that make goals worthwhile also make them intimidating.
The way I get through this problem is by focusing less on outcome goals and more on performance and process goals. I definitely did not come up with these terms or the different types of goals, but they work for me and the athletes I coach
To break it down in a bit more detail, outcome goals are the big goals. These focus on the end result you are trying to achieve, for example, top five in a local series or a podium at the state championships. Outcome goals can change over time and from season to season.
When setting outcome goals, it is important to keep in mind that these are YOUR goals! Your outcome goals should motivate you. This seems obvious, but it is easy to let the opinion of others influence your goals. If your target goal does not make you excited but nervous, it is probably worth reconsidering. We are all going to have off days, but the goal should have you feeling energized about training. The goal should feel challenging enough that regularly skipping workouts and training sessions will have a negative impact on achieving it.
The one downside of outcome goals is they can be out of your control. Unfortunately when targeting a specific event, life happens and at times you can end up sick, injured, or tending to a personal need.
Nationals was a target event for me during the 2018-19 season. I was tailoring much of my late season training around being ready, but a fluke crash at the Supercross Cup UCI race in November ended my season early. With stitches in a tricky spot on my kneecap, I ended up being off the bike for almost two months and missed the big race.
It doesn’t mean my outcome goal wasn’t worth setting. There is always 2019!
Performance goals identify specific standards that will help you reach your outcome goals. Performance goals are often statistic or numerically based, making them very tangible and easy to track. They are also goals over which you have far more control.
Before the 2018 season, I knew my threshold power was where it needed to be, but my top end power was lacking. I set goals for both a one minute power target and a repeatable fifteen second power target. By charting these metrics over the spring and summer, I could measure my progress.
In general, plotting a power profile you would like to achieve is a great performance goal.
Process goals are not very glamorous. They are the day to day items that will help you achieve your performance and outcome goals. They can be as simple as completing interval training twice a week during training blocks, maintaining a training log, or riding with no more than two fingers on your brake levers. Focusing on the process should lead to better performance over time.
While process goals frequently involve addressing our weaknesses, I try to find a way to keep them fun. When I first started racing at the UCI level, I had good fitness from hours on the trainer, but my skills were lacking. Two years ago, I set a process goal of riding my cyclocross bike on the trails once a week. This has done wonders for both my handling and my confidence. It is very rare that I come across an obstacle on course that I fear.
As I get closer to the race season, I add in specific cyclocross skills, but riding in the woods is something that helps my performance and I look forward to every week.
Once you’ve put your goals in writing, go enjoy some fun spring rides and races, then we’ll start knocking out the cyclocross specific training!