Tuesday, August 13, 2013

An Introduction to Cyclocross, Plus Three Workouts

By Hunter Allen, PCG Founder/CEO and Master Coach
originally published in Cycling Weekly

Peaks Coaching Group Cyclocross

Cyclocross is indeed a unique subset of cycling. With that uniqueness comes a very different set of training and racing demands. Of course there are similarities to mountain biking and road racing (more specifically criteriums), but with the aspect of run-ups and dismounts and the fact that it’s usually limited to one hour or less makes it a sport of its own.

Let’s take a look at some of the demands of cyclocross first. Any time you embark on a new athletic endeavor, one of the first things you must consider is the specific demands of that event. There’s no sense in continuing to train for hill climbing if you’re trying to prepare for cyclocross! Cyclocross races are characterized by short, very intense bursts of power followed by a relatively short period of very little leg muscular contractions (downhills, coasting), some running, and finally a flat-out period of high power for less than a minute or two. All the while, the event itself lasts from 45-60 minutes, which makes it relatively short in comparison to most cycling events.

Once you understand what is involved in the sport, you can start to tailor your training for it. Dr. Andrew Coggan, the co-author of my book Training and Racing with a Power Meter, has preached at every seminar we’ve had that one of the most important things to consider when training for an event is event specificity. Learn and understand the demands of the event itself; that’s the first step toward planning a training regime.

When we examine a power file from a cyclocross race, we see just how incredibly stochastic (highly variable) the power in this file is. The race is nothing but a set of micro bursts all strung together. Tiny effort after tiny effort, along with equally short rest periods for an entire hour, make this race incredibly unique.  

Cyclocross racing has some very specific demands to the sport. Not only do you have to love the cold, rain, mud, and suffering, you also have to be able to put out the effort needed for the event. By understanding the demands of the event, training specifically for them, and then racing your hardest, you’ll be assured of a greater chance of success in this popular sport in cycling.

Three Workouts

Now that we’ve determined some of the key components for cyclocross success, let’s design some workouts to prepare you for the next event. The first workout, one you need to be able to do with your eyes closed, is the micro burst workout. This workout is done in a series of 15-second “on” periods with watts at 150% of your functional threshold power (FTP), each followed by a 15-second “off” period at 50% of FTP. If you don’t have a power meter, do a 15-second sprint at about 80% effort followed by 15 seconds of easy pedaling. Repeat this on-off cycle for 10 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes or so, and then go again.

The second workout you should consider is a variation of this workout that I call the “30 cubed” workout. It’s also a microburst workout, but the “on” period is 30 seconds long at 150% of FTP wattage, followed by 30 seconds at 50% FTP, followed by a 30-second period of running. This makes you get off the bike every minute, thereby practicing your mounts and dismounts, along with giving you a huge burst of power.

The third workout that will help the cyclocross rider is an hour of 2-minute efforts. Ride at 100-110% of your FTP or right at your threshold (or a touch above it); this way you can complete the workout and accomplish your goal of increasing your repeatability. If you start too hard on these workouts, you'll never be able to finish the workout. Since the ability to consistently repeat a strong effort over and over is paramount in cyclocross, you need to address this repeatability issue with the only thing that will help: hard work! When you do this workout, make sure you are warmed up well and regulate your effort, as you will tend to overshoot your goal wattage if you're not careful. On the rest periods, start out by making them double the length of the interval (so 4 minutes), and then as you get better and better, see if you can do this workout with only 2 minutes of rest, or at a 1:1 work-rest ratio.

Best of luck! Crush it out there!

Check out Hunter's updated cyclocross plans on TrainingPeaks.com!