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Thread: Pacing

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    Pacing

    There's always a lot of talk about how a cyclocross race involes a 45-60 minute maximum effort or sometimes it's described as a time trial with intervals mixed in or something like that. I understand why it's described that way, but let's talk details.

    You obviously can't maintain absolute max for 45 minutes. Everyone seems to go above maximum sustainable for the first lap or so. So where do you get that back?

    I'm slow, but I want to do my best. I try to find people at my level and keep up with them. This week, I thought about my pace, and I can't help but think maybe I'm doing it wrong. I went fast (for me) for the first lap, and stayed near the pack. At some point, oxygen debt took over and I started falling back. I spent the next 40 minutes or so huffing and puffing, trying to catch my breath on some technical descents and a few other places that seemed appropriate, but then right back to going as hard as I can.

    The thing is, as I watched some of the later races, most people didn't seem to be huffing and puffing quite as much as I had been. Sure they're in better shape, but they could have pushed themselves more and at least sounded like me.

    So what do you think? Am I slowing myself down by going as fast as I can?

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    The limiter isn't how much air you can get in your lungs, the limiter is how much oxygen you can get to your leg muscles. (More or less....)

    Anyway, the fitter you get, the more you will feel your limitation being the strength in your legs, and not the sensation of being "out of breath".

    You want to aim for consistent lap times. Your effort varies throughout the lap, because of the terrain. Some features (like, say, a steep runup) demand that you burn some matches or else slow to a crawl. If you find your lap times dramatically increasing over the course of the race, then you've started too fast.

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    Hey, thanks for the response. That's a very good start.

    So, if the oxygen getting to my legs is the limiter for me, what does that mean in terms of training? My aerobic base is too low?

    If I understand correctly, you're saying that pacing isn't necessarily the issue with regard to my being out of breath or not and you answered the pacing question independently in you second paragraph. Am I reading that correctly?

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    It's the limiter for everyone- everyone can take tons of air in but it's a matter of delivering it; a lot of athletes that have a higher iron level tend to be better athletes because they can get more fuel (oxygen) to their muscles. If you want to push your VO2 and lactate threshold, tabata intervals are a good start- 20 seconds on, 10 seconds completely stopped, 8 times. Do a quick (5 minutes or so) warmup and cooldown. It hurts, but it totally works.

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    It's takes some experience to know how hard you can go for 45 minutes. Typically in 'cross you want to go hard from the start and then settle in to a rhythm that you can maintain for the rest of the race. Based on the course you also need to decide which sections you can go hard and which sections you can try to recover. It's not a steady effort the whole time like a flat time trial would be.

    If you have a way to record your lap times and review them after the race it will be very valuable. As mentioned above you want consistent lap times, though the first lap will probably be the fastest. A garmin is ideal because it automatically counts laps. If the course passes close to the start then the garmin might count additional laps but you can figure out the lap times when you're done. If you have to hit a button every time you cross the finish line it won't work because you'll forget. Either that or you're not racing hard enough.

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    I got pretty good at remembering to hit lap at the start/finish last year. But yes I missed a couple laps. Toward the end of the season I didn't bother because I felt I had a pretty good grip on what kind of effort I could give.

    I think high-intensity intervals like Tabata early in the week is a good idea, but you can't do them on consecutive days. Racing is also good, but again takes a lot out of you.

    It also takes a few races to get the courage to stand up to the Central Governor.

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    as you mentioned each course is different, but from your description of how you are resting, you may be doing it wrong. I have heard people on these boards talk about the importance of going hard on fast sections, but this is the exact wrong time to be going hard. At high speeds wind is the main thing you are overcoming so maybe you try and push it on a 20mph section to 22mph, but you have to go above your aerobic capacity to do this, then you have essentially gained a 10% advantage in speed while burning a match. Now say you do the opposite and drop to 18mph, but you are now well within your aerobic zone and are getting a bit of a breather.

    Now lets say we go into a slow section where you might average 5mph, but instead you burn a match and go 7mph, again a 2mph difference, but instead you are now going over 28% faster than you would normally, so if the time you were on for both sections were the same, you would accrue much bigger gains by burning a match on the technical section rather than the fast section.

    Also, I really like to save myself for technical section for the reason stated above, and the mental sharpness difference you have coming in to a tech section slightly rested vs on the verge of being gassed. A simple to make mistake in these technical sections can cost huge amounts of time, so I think it is really important to be sharp for them.

    For your next few races really use the idea of relative speed gains to assess where you are going to attack a course, and you might find yourself moving up with out expending any more energy
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    Packfodding 3 caloso's Avatar
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    Interesting. According to jonestr's approach, I was doing it backwards. In yesterday's race there was a long, flat, fast section, a barrier section, and a really slow grass and "S" turn section. I was drilling it on the flat fast section to try to catch the group ahead of me, but they'd put distance on me in the barriers and grass.

    Obviously some of that is my technique, but according jonestr I should have been burning my matches in the thick grass.
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    ^^ Thanks jonestr

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    I agree with jonestr- and that's great advice by the way. I guess I was doing it subconsciously- on my race yesterday there was a downhill packed dirt section that everyone would pin it on and i'd usually get passed, but a couple hundred yards later there were a set of uphill barriers that I could push it harder on, and I passed everyone that passed me and lost them for good.

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    I typically go a lot harder in cross races than I do in crits or road races. Its partially mental trying to get over the pain.

    The first 1 or 2 laps are the most important for most people. Try to hang on at the front w/o blowing up. Then its finding a pace that you can hold till the end.

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    Quote Originally Posted by caloso View Post
    Interesting. According to jonestr's approach, I was doing it backwards. In yesterday's race there was a long, flat, fast section, a barrier section, and a really slow grass and "S" turn section. I was drilling it on the flat fast section to try to catch the group ahead of me, but they'd put distance on me in the barriers and grass.

    Obviously some of that is my technique, but according jonestr I should have been burning my matches in the thick grass.
    IMO I would say you should have tried to catch them in the grass if the grass section took an equal or greater amount of time to complete than the fast section (which may be greater in length, but not necessarily in time.)

    I am glad few people liked this, as it will be the only useful thing I write all year. If people are interested in this kind of stuff I would look at how pacing works in TTs, where you go above FTP, I called this aerobic capacity, for climbs and drop below it for descents and tailwinds etc

    The idea of time minimization is definitely not an original idea to me.
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    On the other hand if you are in a well-organized group of 3 or 4, a fast flat is a good place to press your comparative advantage, if people are willing to share the load.

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    flargle has a good point. maybe catch up while wind isn't a problem, and then let them pull you in the fast section?

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    it depends on your strengths in regards to where to go hard. Strong roadies can generally go real hard on flat sections and put a hurt on others without blowing themselves up. good bike handling mtb guys may choose to hold back on the flats knowing they can get through the tech sections to put time into people.

    its not much different than a rouler trying to drop climbers in the flats before a climb.

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    Interesting topic.

    Through mtn bike races this summer, and now one cross race, I've found I'm better off holding steady on the aerobic bits (flats, long/smooth climbs) and pushing it on the technical bits, as jonestr suggests.

    If I burn a match on the aerobic bits, I can close ground, only to lose it again in the technical bits as I gasp for breath. But, if I stay steady, I can usually reel in a rider or two in the tech bits and make the pass stick.

    It has been really surprising how bad some riders are in the technical sections in the lower categories. I'm a mtn biker first, and have ridden off-road in some capacity since I was a middle-schooler. But, I only started racing this year.

    Of course, I'm a chubby out of shape guy who drinks too much beer, so you're probably safe ignoring anything I say.

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    Oh The Huge Manatee Lithuania's Avatar
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    it makes sense that a mountain biker would be better in the technical sections than a road biker. dont be surprised.

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    Packfodding 3 caloso's Avatar
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    Actually, now that I think about it, I really screwed up by hanging back in the first lap, thinking I could use my roadie speed to catch people. I should have elbowed my way to the front, gunned it for the first lap (maybe hanging with the front group) and make all the slower but better bike handlers have to get past me in the technical sections.
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    the start can be the most important point of the whole race! you definitely should be going hard right away to try to get to the front as soon as possible. it will make the rest of the race much easier.

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    You have to be able to redline for the first lap or two. Then, after the first few laps, you should have an idea of what you can maintain for the rest of the race...it just comes from experience and knowing what your body can handle. Also, the course will determine where you can get some recovery, but for the most part, you will have to keep it pegged; otherwise, you will get caught or lapped.

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    good stuff...I knew nothing, now that has changed.
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    A cross race isn't really all out for 45 minutes. Typically my pacing will look like:

    - 100% maximum sprint for 15 seconds

    - Really hard for 6 minutes or about 1 lap. You basically go as hard as you need to to stay with the lead group. At the end of the first lap I am always about to black out and DNF. I never placed well in cross races until I realized just how hard you need to go in this first lap.

    - Settle into a sustainable pace for the next 30 minutes. This is usually a high tempo pace for me.

    - Last lap 100% - attack on the parts of the course you think you can get a gap.
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    Just find the slowest guy and use whatever force needed to stay ahead of him.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CatSkratch View Post
    Just find the slowest guy and use whatever force needed to stay ahead of him.
    But I AM the slowest guy.

    Seriously though, this thread was very helpful. Thanks to everyone who responded. I had my best finish to date this morning assuming the preliminary results stand up, 106 out of 141, and--even better--I managed to avoid being lapped.

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    Quote Originally Posted by orlick View Post
    - Really hard for 6 minutes or about 1 lap. You basically go as hard as you need to to stay with the lead group. At the end of the first lap I am always about to black out and DNF. I never placed well in cross races until I realized just how hard you need to go in this first lap.
    I realized this today. Had my best finishing and a pretty good, consistent pace throughout; able to burn it on a gravel run-up which let me gain ground most laps, if not for this cramping issue I could have banged it out a little harder... But anyway, I realized my pace was just about as fast as the lead group's pace. The main difference between me and them is I just couldn't go fast at the beginning. I wasn't warmed up enough or something, I don't know why but it's just really difficult for me to go fast the first few minutes/first lap. But if I could I think I'd be able to hang because my pace was pretty strong.
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