Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How To Race Smart This Season

Rest. It's easy to overtrain, particularly in 'cross. There are so many aspects to work on--running, power, technique, starts--that you could go hard every day of the week. Tip: Don't. Take a day off, frequently. Cyclocross is so intense that most people will do fine with just a weekly race plus one other hard workout during the week. If you rest up for your next race you'll feel the improvement on race day.

Practice technique. All your fitness is wasted if you burn energy fruitlessly with bad technique. Following up on tip #1 above: instead of going for a hard ride Saturday before a race, go for an easy spin and then work on some dismounts, runups and remounts, focusing on smoothness and efficiency. Remember that feeling of smoothness when you are in the race the next day.

Pre-ride the course slowly. When you get to the venue, you may be in the habit of suiting up and going for a couple hard laps of the course for a warmup. Tip: Try a lap or two, slowly. Examine each section carefully and look for ways to go faster. Get off the bike and walk difficult spots forwards and backwards. Watch other racers (the leaders, hopefully) to see what they do. Get on the bike and practice each section a few times, trying different approaches, dismount points, etc. Then go and do your hard laps.

Check your tires. At every race, there is an optimal tire pressure for your body weight, your riding style, the course and the conditions. Chances are that's not the pressure that's in your tires when you arrive. Take a couple laps at different pressures to check the performance in cornering, on the bumps, pavement, etc.

Guzzle water before the race. Handups are awkward and a waste of time, and you may not have someone there to give you a bottle. Instead, drink a bottle's worth of water just before the race, and that should be enough to get you through. Remember to try this in practice to acclimate to drinking so much water, before trying it in a race.

Don't panic at the start, especially if you're not a sprinter type. It's far easier to come back from a too-slow start than to recover from a too-fast one. Know your body and don't try to over-reach in the early going. Instead, stay alert and watch out for the inevitable crashes and jam-ups--you can gain plenty of time just avoiding those. Later you can find your best speed and pick your way through the field.

Attack the difficulties. 'Cross is hard work. It's easy to hit your max on the course and just stay there. When obstacles come up, it's tempting to coast a little before the dismount--and that makes it easier to dismount too, right? Don't do it! The real hard work in a race is all the accelerations after you slow down for those obstacles. So, if you need to rest a little, do it in between obstacles where the penalty is less. When you come to the dismount it's time to go hard and carry your speed over the barrier. This is especially true of uphill dismounts or rideable hills.

Watch your opponents. If you're fortunate enough to be duking it out with someone for a place in the top 10, top 20 or whatever, watch them throughout the race. Look for their strengths and weaknesses that you can exploit. Are they hesitant at the obstacles? Plan to attack them on a difficult dismount. Are they strong on the runups? Make sure not to let any gaps open. Do they have poor technique? Relax--they'll probably burn out without you having to do anything. Meanwhile, know your own strengths and weaknesses, and don't be tripped up by them.

Make a plan for the end. This is a follow-up of #8. Once you know yourself and your opponents, do something about it. Don't wait for them to make the move if you are capable of attacking. The race isn't won by the one who rides the fastest all the time; it's won by the one who goes fast at the right times.

Engage your brain. If you didn't pick this up already, it bears repeating. Cyclocross is not a sport of just fitness, it's also one of skill and focus. Ride dumb and you will perform the same. Keep your wits about you all the time and you'll do well.

1 comment:

morgan said...

I'm getting very excited!