The triathlon season can be a long one, especially if you include a few early-season duathlons and the fact that with a short plane ride you can add a month or two to either end of the British season. And so, like many amateur triathletes I admit I was in need of a break when my season came to end in September.
But, I suspect I’m also like a great many fellow athletes in that taking time off from physical activity altogether for any length of time just isn’t going to happen! After about a week after the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, I’d had enough of sitting on my backside and needed to get back out.
Rather than launch myself back into the world of swim, bike, run, I decided to have a play at cyclocross. Okay, it’s still cycling – but as I’ve found out – it’s also very different!
As a triathlete, I’m fairly used to getting on a bike, pointing the front wheel in a straight line and looking closely at my heart rate and power for anything up to 90 kilometres, conscious that I’ve got to do a run as soon as the bike section is over.
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!). There’s barely any time to keep the handlebars still and you definitely don’t have to dismount and run up stairs or jump over two foot-high boards in triathlon!
But boy is it hard work. And fun. Kinda!
And for me that’s one of the main reasons to do it. After a hard race season in triathlon – complete with highs and lows for me this year – it’s nice to start a race with little or no expectations and in full knowledge that you’re at the bottom end of a steep learning curve.
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.
But I think that could be a great thing. 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.
And I have to believe that this work won’t be 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 but also mentally. As such, I’d encourage anyone else to take a break in their off-season. 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!
Matt Fisher is an Elivar Featured Athlete. You can read more about Matt and the other members of our Featured Athlete team here
Reckon you could take up cyclocross? Take a look at this video by Burk Webb
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