Saturday, October 21, 2017

Pain of a different kind - "easing" into the off-season

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Wow, another two months since my last blog post. I think my silence probably sums up things pretty well. I haven’t been a happy bunny. There’s no escaping just how crap I feel after messing up not just one, but both of my ‘A’ races for 2015. I really wanted to do well in Alcatraz and at the 70.3 World Champs. And I ballsed them both up.

So I have to confess I’m still feeling pretty down about the whole thing.  At the moment I can’t see the wood for the trees and so plans for 2016 are very much on hold.

I did decide after Zell am See that what I did need was a break.  But the idea of sitting on my ass and letting the world go by just wasn’t going to happen.  So in my case the ‘break’ was more a change of scenery than rest.

And so over the last six weeks or so, I’ve turned my hand (or should that be feet?!) to cyclocross.  And I’ve very quickly learned that I’m not very good at it. Yet!

Cyclocross

As a triathlete, I’m fairly used to getting on a bike, getting comfortable and just pointing it down the road for 90km or so, occasionally coming out of the aero tuck to take a sharp corner or climb a hill.  The number one priority is power and heart rate, the number two is nutrition. Actually piloting the back doesn’t (in most circumstances) take a huge amount of skill.  I’ve also got the small matter of a half-marathon to run after the bike is done, so moderation is very much in mind.

Unsurprisingly, cyclocross couldn’t be more different. From the second the whistle goes, it’s an all-out effort for 40 minutes (give or take five minutes, depending on whether the leader has lapped you or not!).  Unlike triathlon, there’s barely any time to keep the handlebars still and I’m definitely not used to dismounting and running up stairs or vaulting over two foot-high boards!

But boy is it hard work.  And fun. Almost!

There’s very little measuring of effort or constant speeds; you’re constantly turning, accelerating, braking, dismounting (and even, shock horror, running!) and sliding this way and that.  It’s a world apart from a time trial.

CyclocrossAfter the highs and lows (more lows than highs this year, it feels like) of the triathlon season, I’m actually enjoying starting a race with little or no expectations (except, of course, that’s not true, I still want to win!) and in full knowledge that I’m at the bottom end of a steep learning curve. So far I’ve managed four finishes inside the top 50% of the field, but I’m literally nowhere near the podium.  It’s very humbling. But in a positive way, I think. I’m learning, and that’s kinda exciting.

It’s also hopefully beneficial for next season, in a roundabout way.  My first four outings have really exposed the cracks in my bike handling skills.  My acceleration out of corners is not what it needs to be, my speed through the faster corners is lacking (although surprisingly I’m pretty good in the slow technical sections – must be the mountain biking!) and my dismount-run-jump-mount is pretty terrible (these cyclocross boys can show us triathletes a clean pair of heels in this regard!).

Which is a good thing.  Or rather, I mean it’s good that I have some clear areas to work on that don’t consist of me spending a winter in the shed putting out 20-minute FTP efforts on the Wattbike.  No doubt there’s still going to be plenty of that as well, but I’m also ‘enjoying’ (if that’s the right word!) some more cyclocross-specific workouts like Russian Intervals and low cadence power work.  Now I need to get out to the local park and make a prat of myself by practising my dismounts and board-jumping.

CyclocrossI have to believe that this work won’t be entirely wasted come the New Year and the new season. Sharpening my handling skills, improving my accelerations and getting used to 40-minute full-on pain sessions will hopefully serve me well when I return to duathlon and triathlon.  Perhaps to complete the cross-training experience I should really be doing a 20-minute run after each cyclocross race (no thanks!)?

For me, it’s been the break that I needed, both in terms of a change in physical demands and also mentally.  As such, I’d encourage anyone else to take a break in their off-season.  But it doesn’t need to be a complete break from physical activity; sometimes there’s truth in the saying that ‘a change is as good as a rest’.  Next up, cross country running. Joy!

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Matt Fisher runs TriathletesDiary.com - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a 2014 qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs

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