Twenty five years of endurance sports has taught me how to pace myself, to avoid blowing up, to met out the effort, to get to the finish line intact. None of these skills has anything to do with criterium-style bicycle racing.The only activity that I can think of that compares to the steady thrill and mental focus of crit racing is possibly automobile racing. Even auto racing is one step removed as it’s the driver and his machine, in bike racing the driver is the machine. Well the bike may be the cyclist’s machine, but the cyclist is the engine. In bike racing you don’t listen to the engine you feel the engine – it’s right there pounding in your chest, slightly to the left.
Anyway, the glories of bike racing isn’t really what I want to talk about in this post, but rather I’d like to focus on switching from slow and steady to hot and fast. This is my fourth year of bike racing, actually it’s my first year of bike racing; the previous three I was participant and not really a racer. The difference between a participant and a racer is significant.
The vast majority of adult-oriented athletics is participatory. “Hey I’m just happy to be here.” “Every finisher is a winner.” Very very few people who line up or a marathon, an Ironman a local triathlon, a standup paddleboard race step to the line intent on winning, instead they are out there to “do their best.” Because bike racing is divided into categories which match up folks of, at least theoretically, comparable abilities a much more competitive atmosphere develops. If you’re in it, you better be in it to win it.Well back to my original thought, which is making the transition from an all-day endurance athlete to a short all out I just might have a heart attack and die crit racer. It’s a big change; one that I feel like I’m finally starting to make.
In order to avoid injury I think that it’s important to log long steady base miles, but when the race season comes I’m finding that shorter harder training efforts give more bang for the buck. The short high intensity efforts also seem to have a side benefit of keeping me lean and as every bike racer will tell you weight is everything.
A lot of racers poo poo the idea of lifting weights thinking that the extra muscle mass will slow them down. This may be true when dealing with fifteen mile alpine climbs but when dealing with club racing lifting weights will only increase one’s strength-to-weight ratio. Also simply from a general health perspective, the average desk sitter needs to be doing some kind of weight training just to maintain a base level of physical fitness. Obviously dock workers and farmers are excluded as they basically lift weights for a living.
I try to get in two weight lifting sessions per week; I kind of have to shoehorn them in when possible as I don’t want to lift either the day before or the day after a race. Another thing I like to do when short on time is to follow a high intensity bike workout with the 7 Minute Workout on my Windows phone. I don’t know why they call a 20 minute session the 7 Minute Workout, but it takes 20 minutes, not 7.Cycling is not a weight bearing exercise and thus I think it’s important for cyclists, especially aging cyclist, to do some form of weight training.
High intensity bike sessions combined with weight training has seemed to produce super positive effects on my racing performance. I’m still not winning, but I am in the race.