Friday, November 19, 2010

My Personal Guide to 'Cross

Yeah, yeah, it's been close to 9 months since I posted anything and here I go with something about racing bikes. I'll post about life later but in the meantime, I really need to get some stuff out of my head. The past two months have been pretty good, racing wise that is. And, before I find myself sitting around around next August preparing for the 'cross season trying to remember what I did right this season, I figured I would write it all down. Novel idea right?

I do write some of it down in my training log but that is more about my ride that day, how I felt before and after etc... What it doesn't include are the details, yeah details. Not what workout I did on what day, when did I rest, but the real details, the little things outside of training that when you look back and think for a while really or break your season.

So here it goes, my brain dump of the top things that I feel made my season so good.

1. Get a coach. You may think this kind of conflicts with the "training is not the important part", right? Wrong. I started working with Mike Birner of Mid-Maryland Coaching last season and while I saw improvements, it was a bit too late to make an immediate impact as he had no control over what I did leading into the season. This year the focus was on 'cross and it's paid off, big. While some guys can go out and do whatever feels right and have a good season, I needed structure and direction and someone to consult with. In the past I would have this habit of backing off when feeling rundown or tired rather than pushing myself during the week or looking at each weekend as more important than the next. It really helped me keep my goals insight and not worry about my training week to week.

2. Take a break. I've always gone right from a long road season, starting as early as March and racing right up to the start of 'cross in late September. Not this year. Late July and August was down time with a relaxing beach vacation second week of August. A bit later than optimal for building up for 'cross but much needed. The break was not completely off the bike, just less structure and more fun. The beach was morning rides to the coffee shop in Lewes and towing Maddy and Leah around in the Burley. More importantly, it was also a mental break. 'Cross is a short, intense season and you need to be as fresh mentally as you do physically. Later in the season the days grow shorter and the weather turns sour makes training harder and harder so mentally preparing yourself for that is just as important as the saddle time.

3. Race day mentality. Coming in fresh physically helps but having the right mentality when lining up is also key. I used to hate starts. I would blow myself up mentally and take myself out of a race in the first few minutes. I really learned to relax at the starts and not let little things overwhelm me like the guy who can't lip into his pedals or just plain falls over for no reason. My starts have drastically improved, especially when starting a few rows back. I'm seeing openings and moving up before the course gets tight.

4. Race day routine. Probably the hardest thing for any athlete to figure out is how to prepare for an event the day of. It takes a lot of experimentation. For me, I always work backwards from my start time and starts around 4hrs before with breakfast, usually banana pancakes with blueberries, maybe some bacon and always coffee. The coffee is good for waking me up but bad in that it burns up my breakfast faster than I would like leaving a hole in my gut so I need to eat again closer to the race. I get my second meal in usually about 2hrs before, something easy to digest and sticks with me. I've found steel cut oatmeal with honey and brown sugar and maybe some dried fruit helps stave off the inevitable hunger pangs just before race start.

Last is warming up. My warm up routine actually starts at home, after a shower I go ahead and apply embrocation to the legs and put leg warmers on. It gives it plenty of time to work its way into the muscles and loosen them up on the drive. As for riding, I've found I get the best warm up just pre-riding the course. It's not always an option but I try to get to the race at least two races ahead of mine for two chances to get on the course. This also requires at least wearing my bibs to reduce extra time getting dressed once there. There is usually enough time for 2 laps between races so I make the best of it, if I can I hit the first lap a 80% race effort and up the intensity each lap until I get one good lap at almost full race effort. After that it's spinning on the trainer for about 20-30min., nothing really hard just a steady effort to keep the legs loose and open. With about 20min to race start I finish getting dressed, get my number on etc... then take in a Hammer gel or two and head to the start grid.

5. Not getting sick. Probably the hardest thing to do as you have the least control over it. Having kids makes it even harder, I think Maddy and Leah have had some form of cold or cough all season. I am usually the first to fall and typically harder than anything that they get. Last season it was bronchitis followed by pneumonia. This year I was a bit more proactive. Here's a bit of what got me through it, the Tylenol and Voltaren aren't for preventing sickness but are for recovery.

6. The Bike. It is about the bike. In a lot of ways 'cross is like time trial trialing in that you want the bike to fit like a glove, as if it is an extension of your body. It has to fit you well and make you feel comfortable no matter what the conditions. I didn't change much this season but what I did turned out to be significant. On the A bike I went with different bars, shape not size. Also switched to SRAM and swapped out for a sweat set of TRP magnesium brakes. This was great, up until the 5th race of the season when I found myself on the B bike which I had previously switched out to a double chainring with a Shimano setup. I hadn't ridden a double in over 6 seasons. While different than my A bike, I took advantage of the setup and feel more comfortable on it than my single. When the A frame broke I moved the brakes and bars over making it feel like the A bike again.

Anyway, just a few random thoughts I wanted to be able to look up next summer.