Training for Cyclocross
If road racing is a fringe sport in America, cyclocross is the red-headed stepchild of bike racing. It requires some varied talents and it favors hard men. While I never would advocate skimping on training, there are ways to make cyclocross a little smoother while you are building your fitness.
One of the larger challenges for cyclocross athletes is that, generally speaking, cyclists are not runners. Or, they don’t usually come from a running background. And, in cross races, the longest run you might do would only be in the neighborhood of 30sec. Towards this end, long sustained runs are not a huge necessity for a cyclist. However, short, high intensity efforts go a long way towards smoothing out the process.
When it comes to prescribing training for a cyclist to prepare for cross season, I will say that as soon as they are able to jog/run for 15 minutes continuously without being outrageously sore then they are ready to tackle 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.
Intervals ranging from 45 seconds to 1 minute on the treadmill, running at a speed that is just above your comfort level, are an effective way to build this tolerance. These intervals should be polarized so make sure your recovery period between intervals is equal to the effort. Additionally, as a nice secondary benefit, running will help with bone density, which is an area most cyclists are lacking in.
Another area that makes ‘cross uniquely hard is the mounts and dismounts; specifically, it is technique intensive. Spending some time working specifically on this cannot be over-emphasized. It’s my opinion that the less time you can spend on the ground the better. Being able to ride the bike right up to the dismount, get over the barrier or obstacle and then back on the bike will reduce your energy expenditure. In the course of a long race you’ll be thankful for this. There are a variety of clinics at many races that you can take advantage of to polish up your skills. Watching the big guns during their race too 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!