To maximize your strength, you must minimize your weakness – this is one of the most important tips I give athletes. Even better, in order to excel against your competition, you must first understand and master all the fundamentals – a good boxer beats a great brawler, easily.
In cyclocross, you’ve seen many strong cyclists bolt off the front… only to cause bottlenecks in the turns or instantly go backwards through the run-ups and the sandpits, never to be seen again. You must prepare for all aspects of the cyclocross equation: the pedaling performance on the bike, the skills training on the bike, and the specific preparation carrying the bike – RUNNING.
Running is arguably the #1 weakness I immediately see in ‘cross athletes I coach, and I’ve coached national champions, state champions, series champions. With training, the simple goal is to breed the Complete Cyclocross Racer. As with any aspect of training, raw specificity is everything, and many athletes fail to comprehend this unbelievably basic idea.
Natural runners take longer strides, and this is something cyclists must re-learn because they are accustomed to pedaling in small circles, the legs move quickly in a short, controlled motion. Cyclists are not used to carrying their body weight, nor are they comfortable with slower, lumbering leg movements. From January-July, build a true running foundation and include one Form Run in your weekly program –make one recovery workout a short 30+minute recovery jog, or after a light recovery ride tie on the running shoes and complete a short jog.
Running form is critical because you want free speed. In ‘cross, when you fatigue, your mechanics immediately slip and you’re going slower with more effort. You must program your body to always biomechanically run in an effective manner, conditioning yourself to maintain this advantage deep into the trenches of a ‘cross race. When you have poor form and lean forward when running and fatigued, you run “heavy,” pushing into the ground, pressure down, landing hard, creating drag as your stride goes into the ground.
Train for perfect form: run TALL, head up, shoulders back, hips forward. Take longer strides, don’t worry about speed. Light steps, light feet, arms relaxed and fists moving front-to-back, feel the momentum propelling you forward, zero wasted motion. Form Runs are always performed at aerobic pace and as cyclists begin to run more frequently, stride-length increases and leg-speed naturally improves with each session. The body begins to master the form, the ankles and knees and hips acclimating to the motion, the phase of post-run soreness forever gone. And, in truth, running provides the athlete with more balance to the year and can become a fun outlet.
Even with champion ‘cross racers I coach, this basic running routine remains the same ‘til summer. By mid-July, cease the recovery jogs and inject the ‘cross bike into the equation – start to complete skills-based ‘cross workouts, which include running movements in short 5-15-second increments in the form of dismount-remount repetition and aerobic run-up repeats. With shouldering the bike, whether you grab downtube or toptube, you want to feel in control as you dismount. Lightly hoist the bike onto your
shoulder and reach under the downtube, grabbing the right handlebar drop. Pull the bike tight to you; your helmet won’t smack your saddle and now you can stay balanced, enabling free speed.
All running is not created equal, and you must prepare for what you will experience in various ‘cross courses. From mid-July to September, include 1-2 ‘cross rides in your week, either skills or performance-based – or both. Never violate the laws of progression. Start with a workout of basic barrier repeats on a loop, doing 4 sets of 10 dismount/remounts, full easy riding in between each set. The next workout, find a staircase and do the same thing – 4 sets of 10 staircase jogs with full recovery in between each set. On the staircase, acclimate to both shorter and longer strides. For 1 set, take short, rapid steps. For the next set, focus on deliberately longer strides. The pace is aerobic on these movements, nothing arduous. The third time out, splice the two efforts together, doing 2 sets of barriers, 2 sets of stairs, acclimating the body to doing both in the same hour.
Once you are feeling smooth and strong, next inject speed: Rush Dismounts are a very effective start. Approach a barrier at high-speed and dismount, SPRINTING full-gas, then swift remount. Aim to do 4 sets of 8 barrier dismounts with 30-second recovery in between each effort. You don’t want to feel fully recovered on these, mimicking the fatigue you’ll be fighting as you’re dueling late in any race.
As you gain new confidence, increase the running difficulty: Uphill Form Sprints. Find a basic grassy slope, not steep. Set up a barrier at some point on the slope. Ride to the barrier at high speed and dismount, focusing on shouldering the bike in swift, fluid fashion. SPRINT up the slope for 20 seconds at near-max pace, then remount flawlessly and continue to pedal briskly for 10 seconds. Then loop back around, hit it again – your sole focus is to shoulder the bike with intrinsic precision, run up the climb with controlled speed, and remount smoothly, zero hiccups.
What you do in training you will do in racing, so master these drills and end each workout with true confidence. As cyclocross season approaches, you are getting stronger and the workouts intensify. Many times in racing, max sprints at opportune times can lead to big passes. Like, after a hard run-up, riders typically will remount instantly – if the guy in front of you goes to do this, SPRINT past him and then smoothly remount.
Oishi Bobsleds are a favorite at our Wednesday Worlds, they can be performed on flat or uphill terrain. We do them around a tennis court on a slight uphill grassy pitch. Dismount at speed, sprint at max pace, then remount around the fence corner, then push the bike like a bobsled and SPRINT at max effort for 3 seconds, then swift remount. This workout can be done solo, doing sets of 3 sets of 4 Bobsleds with full recovery between sets. You can also do this with a group: in pairs, the rider in front does NOT run post-turn, the athlete behind must try to pass with the bobsled run – this makes for an excellent high-stress simulation.
Here are three proven cyclocross running workouts that will improve your overall cyclocross performance:
Red-Zone Remounts – on your non-techy cyclocross loop, start from a standstill and clip in, on the gas max effort for 30 seconds. Then high-speed dismount, sprinting for 5 seconds, then remount and back
on the gas for 20 seconds. Dismount sprint remount, then 10s max efforts on the bike dismount sprint remount. Aim to do 3-4 sets; for all bike-carrying, use the suitcase method.
Cubeds – ride 20 seconds at near-max pace, then dismount at your hill slope and shoulder your bike, 20-second max sprint, then instant remount, 20-second max effort on the bike, sprinting for a finish line. This is 1 rep and 4 reps equals 1 set. Complete 3-4 sets with full recovery in between sets.
Double-Ups – ride brisk tempo pace to a gradual hill. Dismount and sprint full-gas for 10-seconds, remount and sprint for 5 seconds out of the saddle, then dismount and run again for a full 10 seconds, sprint to top of the hill fully spent. For this drill, experiment between shouldering and suitcasing the bike, seeing which is fastest. Also, drill your weakness here – for example, if you are not smooth at shouldering, shoulder the bike 75% of the time. Be honest with yourself and dedicate your training to eliminating your weakness.
Endurance athletes need to lift weight like endurance athletes and not weightlifters, and running in cyclocross means training like a cyclocross athlete, not a runner. Master these movements, master this repetition, become a champion of your cyclocross workouts… and you will become a champion in your cyclocross races.