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  1. #1
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    Cyclocross newbie frustrations... Long winded

    Some background on me first;

    I'm in my early 30s, and was never the most endurance minded athlete. I Played soccer and baseball in high school, also I was in the Army for nine years, so running was my main source of endurance training. I got a mountain bike (Trek Cobia) march of 2013 to fight off some weight I had gained and one thing led to another and I started racing in my local series (DFW, Dorba) and was in the top 20, 30 as a CAT 3 racer at most of my races.

    I had an epiphany at one MTB race; I was trying to gain on this one guy in front of me in some technical wooded part of the course. I was hunting him for a good 15 mins and caught him and passed him, this race course used some asphalt infield to connect to the off-road sections (Erwin Park Summer Series) as soon as we turned out on the pavement and I tried to carry my momentum up a hills, the rider I had just passed motored passed me again!

    This led me to getting a CX bike to improve my cardio and train during the "off" season as my technical bike handling was obviously strong but my legs and lungs failed me.

    I bought a Felt F65x as it was perfect for my budget and was a great place to start.

    Basically if I distill my concerns from my first two cyclocross races it comes down to this:

    - I cannot keep any sort of momentum after an obstacle, on my MTB I just bang a handful of downshifts and I am back in my "power-band" and I get on with it. CX bike is geared so low I am constantly riding in my easiest gear and wishing for something lower to get my wheels rolling and not have to muscle through everything.

    -I don't have a power meter or a way to guess but going off my HR monitor. MTB I have peaked around 205 BPM and the settle down around 170 average. CX I average around 170 max 180 BPM and I am absolutely gassed. MTB race one hour, CX 35 mins, major head scratching follows.

    -I have legs for the first lap and the I fade FAST, going backwards while not fun I try to learn something each race but the field is much faster than me and I have finished last twice, ahead of the DNFs though. Is Men's 4/5 freaking competitive like this everywhere? Cat 3 MTB is joke compared.

    CX is the hardest two wheeled racing I have ever attempted, but I am not throwing in the towel.

    Thanks for listening to me vent, if anyone would like to give me some pointers I would be very appreciative.

    Matthew

  2. #2
    got the climbing bug jsigone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Cord View Post
    CX is the hardest two wheeled racing I have ever attempted, but I am not throwing in the towel.
    That is pretty much it, accept the suffering but fun as heck at the same time. Reason CX is harder then a XC race though 1/2 the time, CX has you sprinting from corner to corner the entire time, there is not many flowy sections as you would find on a MTB course. And those corner to corner distances are pretty short, so not much recovery time. I've done some courses with 100+ turns in ONE freaking lap. Keep riding and races and it might get easier

  3. #3
    Senior Member Kopsis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Cord View Post
    I have legs for the first lap and the I fade FAST, going backwards while not fun I try to learn something each race but the field is much faster than me and I have finished last twice, ahead of the DNFs though. Is Men's 4/5 freaking competitive like this everywhere? Cat 3 MTB is joke compared.
    In my region, Men's 4/5 is fiercely competitive. For us, CX is still enough on the fringe that the people who know about it are those crazy/motivated enough to seek it out.

    As for performance, the intensity of the "intervals" and lack of recovery time in CX is a major factor in adding to the suck. Unlike typical road racing, CX forces you to dig deep into your anaerobic energy system (glycolysis), producing lots of lactic acid and leading to rapid muscle fatigue until your body adapts to deal with it. Your aerobic system is still working hard (as shown by your HR monitor) but muscle fatigue is probably the limiting factor here. This has been my first full season of CX, and I've found that training short max effort intervals (1 min on, 1 min rest) in 10 or more interval sets has been a big help. This can be tough to do on the road, so a stationary trainer is helpful for this kind of work.

    I've also learned from observation that the fast guys have learned how to not waste any energy. They carry a huge amount of speed into and through the turns and they're amazingly fluid through barriers and run-ups. Pay close attention to the elite riders doing barriers and notice how through the dismount, run, and re-mount everything is smooth and flowing. That kind of stuff only comes with lots of practice. I try to ride over to the nearest local park at least once a week and spend 30 min to an hour doing CX skills drills. I suspect the good CX racers do a lot more than that.

    Keep at it and you will get faster (maybe a lot faster) -- but it will take some CX focused training more than a couple races.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Cord View Post
    I cannot keep any sort of momentum after an obstacle, on my MTB I just bang a handful of downshifts and I am back in my "power-band" and I get on with it. CX bike is geared so low I am constantly riding in my easiest gear and wishing for something lower to get my wheels rolling and not have to muscle through everything.
    This is the very essence of CX racing. As a general rule, everything on a CX course is designed to rob you of momentum. Being able to maintain momentum and being able to generate momentum quickly are the keys to success in CX racing. I'm not generally successful at CX racing, so I'm not sure I can offer many solutions. I definitely recognize the problem though. Like you I frequently find myself in my lowest gear and wishing I had something lower. I've tried to combat this by making my lowest gear a bit higher -- I replaced my 36T ring with a 38T ring. I'm still constantly gassed and wishing I had a lower gear, but it limits how slow I can go.

    As I understand it the solution is the same as the solution to all non-technical biking performance problems -- intervals.

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    Something to think about as well....Many men's 4/5 cx fields contain fast cat 3 road racers. I am a soild cat4 and can hold my own in crits. I am a sprinter and that is what I excel at. Cross is a different animal and I could only pray for a top 20 and that only comes once a season if I am lucky (and all the cat3 roadies have car trouble and miss the race).

    I look at cross differently. You have to set your goals accordingly. I set mini goals like: Get a top 20, or pass 3 guys once the race settles in, etc. You won't feel as bad afterwards and you can set a benchmark for your next race. Raise the goals a little for the next race and throughout the season.

  6. #6
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    I just started racing 'cross this year in the Seattle area having never done any competitive cycling before, although I had done a lot of mountain biking in the past and I ride a fair amount on the road a lot these days for commuting, for exercise and some group / charity rides. I summarized my "old newbie's" first season in the CX racing forum, you might find it of interest, but it's a bit long winded as well ;-) http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...s-first-season

    My first race was in a wide open beginner's category in Seattle and I finished in the top quarter, however when I entered a couple events in the more serious CX series around here as a Masters 35+ Cat 4/5, it was a different story. Much more competitive and some of those guys has lots of CX experience and were obviously former or current roadies as well. I managed to stay in the middle finishing, but it was a struggle. My worst finish was on a fast course with no run-up, only one barrier and a long straightaway and a long climb. I.e. pedal hard like a bastard the whole time. I did better on the next course which had many more obstacles. So I think my corner technique etc is decent. Three things I'm working on improving? That's easy: fitness, fitness and fitness. Yeah my remount sucks too, but if I could keep 75% of my first lap pace on the last lap that would far overshadow any technique improvements I could make.

    I've been road riding more and I'm going to try to step up my game there and throw in some hill pounding intervals, figuring those will be equivalent to the constant sprinting required in 'cross. I'll have to consciously force myself into doing some max intervals rather than just the sustained effort to ride 20-30-40 whatever miles.

    You probably don't need to gear your bike any lower, after all that isn't going to improve your position, you just need to train / dig deep etc so you can pound through the gears you have. It is a definitely a head game too, I mean why are you putting yourself through this agony, right? But ok one more lap, push, push, go dammit, I can collapse at the finish, doesn't that mean I did it right?

    I go for it on the first lap too, and then fight like hell to keep my position. After all nobody likes to give up a status once obtained, and it is generally easier to be in front and pick the best line on the course to stay ahead of your attacker than to be behind trying to summon the burst of energy to overtake and find somewhere on the tight course to do it.

    Still and all it is pretty damn fun isn't it?

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    Thanks for all of your replies it helps a lot.

    Andy_K brings up a good point when I first got my MTB I would use my smallest chain ring (triple crankset) on this one section of trail. I worked and worked until I could ride it without dropping to my small chain ring... I think this mindset will help with the CX bike as well, train in a harder gear until it becomes the new normal then when I have the full compliment it will seem easier.

    Anyone have a good link for beginning intervals, I need to do some more reading into the subject as all roads are pointing that way.

    Matthew

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    I was in your race. The wind sucked and i couldn't feel my toes at the end. My average heart rate for the whole race was 3 beats over my threshold heart rate. Despite a couple of technical problems I managed to salvage 6th place. So to quote Greg Lemond "It never gets easier, you just go faster."

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    Take a look at past results and try to find someone who is a little faster than you. Memorize their number and chase them at the next race.

    My best finishes have been when I have friends racing. I seem to have no problem letting anonymous racers pass me, but when a friend threatens my bragging rights, I unleash the hurt.

    Intervals will help as everyone says, but it can also take years to build endurance. I have only been racing for a few years, but I seem to get faster each year, and I don't think that it is all technique.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Kopsis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Cord View Post
    Anyone have a good link for beginning intervals, I need to do some more reading into the subject as all roads are pointing that way.
    The Time Crunched Cyclist (http://www.amazon.com/The-Time-Crunc.../dp/193403083X) has a variety of very good structured interval training programs including one specific to CX. But as a beginner, pretty much any set of short duration (less than 3min effort) intervals with no less than a 1:1 effort to rest ratio a few times a week will produce near-term results.

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    When people say "interval training" they generally mean stuff in the V02max range, and that's basically what Time Crunched Cyclist is all about.

    Eff that ess. You can't build a year of riding around that stuff. It's like the frosting on the cake, but you haven't even starting grinding the flour yet.

    Get in with the roadies. Slap some road slicks on your cross bike and get out there with the roadies. If you have any good group rides in your area, it will teach you A LOT about riding your bike. Skills, etiquette, how to push yourself to the brink of destruction to STAY ON THAT WHEEL. Sadly, Strava seems to have replaced Tuesday Worlds as the way people ride bikes together, and it's a damn shame.

    In summary: (1) Get with the roadies, (2) Eff Chris Carmichael, (3) Eff Strava.

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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by flargle View Post
    Get in with the roadies. Slap some road slicks on your cross bike and get out there with the roadies. If you have any good group rides in your area, it will teach you A LOT about riding your bike. Skills, etiquette, how to push yourself to the brink of destruction to STAY ON THAT WHEEL. Sadly, Strava seems to have replaced Tuesday Worlds as the way people ride bikes together, and it's a damn shame.

    In summary: (1) Get with the roadies, (2) Eff Chris Carmichael, (3) Eff Strava.
    THIS ^.

    Flargle you crack me up, but I've found your advice to be sound so far. For example I'm glad I didn't waste my time converting my steed to single ring after my first race. I'll stick with the double and give myself options (I actually used the big ring on a fast course) and keep the damn chain on my bike.

    Good advice on the road riding. 'cross races last what, 30-40 minutes and you'll do half a dozen or so in a season, so where are you going to get all your fitness miles in? On the road, that's where. Sure I'll do some 'cross specific work like mounts and dismounts in my local park, but mainly all of us here need to improve our fitness and that means road riding. I'll use my road bike for that of course, but yeah if you don't have one, throw some slicks and fenders on your cross bike and use that.

    I've found some group rides and they're even organized by pace so you can pick your speed. I'll also ride on my own and use a ring road or hill to try some intervals. I don't know if I can incorporate a full on regimen (i.e. Carmichael) into my life so I'll do what I can. Riding with others is great for motivation and camaraderie, but I do use Strava, it's an easy way to at least track your overall mileage so you can see if you're keeping up with your goals. And hey the bragging rights help motivate, for example there's a climb on a route I take probably 2-3x a month to get downtown for meetings and I'd love to get the KOM. I think I've moved up to third place. I have to ride the route anyways so why not kill myself for 2-3 minutes on it trying to get that stupid KOM? ;-)

  14. #14
    Senior Member NatUp's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kopsis View Post
    The Time Crunched Cyclist (http://www.amazon.com/The-Time-Crunc.../dp/193403083X) has a variety of very good structured interval training programs including one specific to CX. But as a beginner, pretty much any set of short duration (less than 3min effort) intervals with no less than a 1:1 effort to rest ratio a few times a week will produce near-term results.
    This. Transformed my last season.

    Cross really is the race of truth (sorry, Time Trials...). You get out what you put in. Do intervals till you puke (not joking), practice barriers till your bibs wear out. Expect to spend a few seasons learning the ropes and developing fitness. And finally, realize everyone else out there either is suffering or has suffered as much as or far more than you. Then it's pure gravy.

  15. #15
    Senior Member NatUp's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flargle View Post
    When people say "interval training" they generally mean stuff in the V02max range, and that's basically what Time Crunched Cyclist is all about.

    Eff that ess. You can't build a year of riding around that stuff. It's like the frosting on the cake, but you haven't even starting grinding the flour yet.

    Get in with the roadies. Slap some road slicks on your cross bike and get out there with the roadies. If you have any good group rides in your area, it will teach you A LOT about riding your bike. Skills, etiquette, how to push yourself to the brink of destruction to STAY ON THAT WHEEL. Sadly, Strava seems to have replaced Tuesday Worlds as the way people ride bikes together, and it's a damn shame.

    In summary: (1) Get with the roadies, (2) Eff Chris Carmichael, (3) Eff Strava.
    EDIT: (1) Get with the roadies, (2) Then add Chris Carmichael, (3) Eff Strava.

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    OK I guess mine is actually:

    1) get with the roadies on group rides 2) Investigate interval training and try to incorporate it into some of my rides when possible, 3) come the next season do a couple 'cross clinic/workouts - there's a Wed night series near me 4) When riding solo use Strava to whip myself when there's no one else to whip me ;-)

  17. #17
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Niloc View Post
    'cross races last what, 30-40 minutes and you'll do half a dozen or so in a season
    I did 30 races this season. It actually helped my fitness quite a bit -- not enough to launch me to the middle of the pack but enough that by late November I was doing 2-3 races in a day and beating a few guys that were beating me earlier in the year. Now I've got nine months to lose that fitness.

    I would note that not all road mile are equal. I did Seattle-to-Portland this year and so had logged a ton of road miles, but they weren't fast road miles and ultimately I probably got slower over that time. Thus the detail in flargle's post about trying to keep up with fast group rides is important.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Kopsis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flargle View Post
    Eff that ess. You can't build a year of riding around that stuff. It's like the frosting on the cake, but you haven't even starting grinding the flour yet.
    We're not talking about a year of riding, we're talking about a four month CX season. Nothing wrong with a traditional "bottom-up" approach to building a strong aerobic base through road riding the rest of the year. But if you don't have a lot of hours a week to train, you're limited in what you can achieve through low intensity endurance rides.

    Interval training at VO2max is an effective shortcut. Structured interval training from a program or unstructured intervals from a hammerfest group ride are going to have similar benefits (and limitations). But for many, logistics and schedules make weekday group rides impossible (and weekends are for CX racing).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    I did 30 races this season. It actually helped my fitness quite a bit -- not enough to launch me to the middle of the pack but enough that by late November I was doing 2-3 races in a day and beating a few guys that were beating me earlier in the year. Now I've got nine months to lose that fitness.

    I would note that not all road mile are equal. I did Seattle-to-Portland this year and so had logged a ton of road miles, but they weren't fast road miles and ultimately I probably got slower over that time. Thus the detail in flargle's post about trying to keep up with fast group rides is important.
    Wow Andy K that is a lot. I started late my first season, but I'm guessing next season I'll try to get to 6 or 7 races in the area. Family and other commitments will limit me to that. I think you're right about the road miles, long rides can't hurt, but yep I think you need to work in some sprinting in the V02 max range to simulate the exertion required for 'cross. I found a Cascade Bike Club group ride I can bike to from my house, that is billed as "brisk" i.e ~18mph pace and is about 34 miles. I've done it twice now and plan to keep doing it once a week. We more or less stick together but there's an 8 mile or so stretch around Mercer Island that is "open pace". I've been pouring the coals on there and having a guy or two chase me down and then we swap etc. It's got rolly hills but I'm running 24mph or so on the flats. I'm just whupped by the end of that stretch. I'm hoping that will help my course time in 'cross!

  20. #20
    Ghost Ryding 24/7 Ghost Ryder's Avatar
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    "It never gets easier, you just get faster..."
    I try to stay active on my bikes all year to avoid any decline in my fitness.
    Interval/ H.I.T.T training helps keep my cardio in check in the colder months.
    Giant Defy Dura Ace : Rip/Hammer-Specialized Allez Ultegra/105 : Recovery/Spinner-Specialized Allez Red : Trainer-Kona Major(Rad) Jake : Down & Dirty

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    or tarckeemoon, depending marqueemoon's Avatar
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    It's not an "endurance" sport. It's all out intensity for a short period. That was the biggest adjustment for me coming from spending hours at a stretch on a road bike.

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    That old trope about CX being "all out". If you truly race all-out, your first half-lap will be great and the rest, not so great. The fact that CX is an endurance sport is borne out by the number of elite CX racers with awful sprints.

  23. #23
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    I wouldn't classify CX as an endurance sport, but if you don't have any endurance, you're not finishing the race in a respectable place.

    Same goes for Crits.
    "Know when to hold em, know when to fold em..."
    Last edited by Ghost Ryder; 01-02-14 at 09:03 AM.
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