Training with specificity is important, especially as an athlete gets closer to their event. Once the aerobic engine has been built from months or more of generalized training, it’s time to adapt the training to meet the specific needs of the event. Training with specificity is not limited to just the type of intervals that an athlete would perform, but also the terrain that they will encounter and necessary skills. For example, if an athlete planning on a gravel event with very rough terrain and plenty of short, punchy climbs, these would be two specific areas to target during training.
While training with specificity is very important, it’s also important to not spend unnecessary time training for discipline specific demands that will not be encountered during the event(s).
Simply said, don’t spend time training something that exists in the sport but that you won’t encounter.
Cyclocross is a very good subject of this statement.
‘Cross is a very unique sport in that there is terrain in some ‘cross races that you might not ever see in any of your other events. Examples of such terrain include sand, snow, or wood chips. Likewise, there is often at least one point on the course where racers will be forced to dismount, run with their bike, and then remount. While this may happen in a mountain bike race or even some gnarly gravel events, it’s not a “mandatory” part of mountain bike course construction and layout.
A specific example:
For many years I held a weekly Tuesday cyclocross training practice where we did all sorts of drills and had some short races at the end. As the years progressed, we started spending more time practicing shouldering and then running with our bikes. While this is a good skill to have in ‘cross, as I reflected on my races, not once did I need to shoulder my bike. It was a dry year and the nature of our courses did not involve any stairs or long and steep runups where shouldering would have been advantageous. The only dismount during the races was for the barriers, and most riders were “suitcasing” their bikes with a top tube grab and carry. This was actually the same for several years in a row. Was this a huge loss of time? No, but probably a skill that we didn’t need to continue to sharpen week after week.
Another example from ‘cross would be riding through sand. Again, a great skill to have and can really develop some amazing bike handling. There are also some similarities between riding in loose sand with mud and snow. BUT, if none of your races will include a sandpit, then perhaps spending time and energy seeking out sand to practice in is not the best use of these precious resources.
More obvious examples can also come from the duration of the events. If an athlete is targeting “shorter” races such as criteriums, time trials, cyclocross, UCI XC mountain biking, and even sprint triathlons, riding for 5+ hours during the height of the season can be downright counterproductive. This can be a hard pill to swallow for those out there who, like me, love to ride their bikes. And I’m not suggesting that there is not value in long, low intensity rides during the base period. However, as you get closer to your events, this type of riding will likely not benefit your performance.
If you're into podcasts, this is a super listen:
And here are some great articles to help us all think about the specific demands of our events:
I encourage you to train with specificity, and if you have questions or need help with this, I’m ready to lend a hand!
Drinking during a cyclocross race IS NOT BANNED.
I've found this to be a common misperception. I believe the source of the confusion comes from the ban of hand ups (taking a bottle from a helper on the side of the course) except for when "feeding" is permitted.
The picture above is Christopher Blevins' bike from the 2018 U23 National Championships. Didn't slow him down any!
When cyclocross was "normally" held in the colder months, this was rarely a discussion or an issue. But now that the mercury may hit 90+ degrees during an extremely intense type of bike rassin', there has certainly been many a conversation about this topic. While there's certainly different schools of thought if hydration is necessary during an event that is 60 minutes or less, some studies show it is beneficial. Additionally, it can be real mental boost to just get some cold water in your mouth even if you spit it out. And then there's the whole notion of the carbohydrate rinse but we'll let that lay for another time.
Many purists may scoff at the idea of having a bottle cage on your 'cross bike. However, if you don't need to shoulder your bike, or if your frame so small that you can't shoulder it, it is certainly permissible to leave a cage on and race with a bottle.
You can also get grab a bike out of the pit that has a cage and a bottle, and a helper may certainly put a new, cold bottle on your bike in the pit.
Remember that the bottle doesn't need to be full. If your race is one of the shorter ones, maybe you start with half of a bottle and even toss it to your helpers during the race.
With this all said, coming into the race properly hydrated is way more important that any sort of hydrating you could do during the event. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take a drink if you think it would be beneficial. Try it out during a hot practice session and see what you think.
I think the biggest take-aways are that drinking during a 'cross race is permitted, and it's OK to to have a bottle cage on your bike.
Check out this article from VeloNews:
Until next time, drink your water and rest as hard as you train!
This is often a tough one for those of us who have been in the sport, particularly road riding and racing, for a long time:
Lower pressure (to a point) is faster than rock solid.
I started road riding and racing on 21's and 23's. I can remember seeking out Vredstein tires because even with a tube, they could be pumped up to 140 psi, as opposed to many other's topping out at 125 pounds per square inch (psi). During a stage race a couple decades ago, a friend let me borrow his disc wheel with a tubular. He said, "just check the tire pressure. " I replied, "How much? Like 125, 130?" He simply laughed and said "Not quite. Pump that sucker up to 180." One hundred eighty psi on a disc wheel with my aluminum bike! To say it was a bit of a harsh ride is an understatement. I don't fault my friend. At that time, it was readily accepted that harder was faster.
While it's been accepted in the off-road world, particularly in 'cross, that lower and very specific tire pressure provides SIGNIFICANT advantages, the road world has been a little slower to adopt this mindset.
This Fasttalk podcast with the master himself, Lennard Zinn, does a great job of explaining the concept of psi and how tire size, road/trail surface, rider mass, rider style, and other important factors need to be considered.
I've posted this before, but this is a great tool to help you get a starting point:
There's not many people who have ridden a bike, from the youngest kid on their first bike to the most seasoned veteran, who hasn't dealt with a dirty, greasy, and possible noisy chain. Although some bike builders have experimented with a belt drive (quiet, clean, no lube required, lasts a long time but requires an internally geared hub to have gears), the chain drive bicycle is obviously far more common.
I've certainly gotten less fastidious with my chain care over the years compared to my bachelor days, but I will run it through my chain cleaner and scrub it the best I can before a race or "when it looks like it needs it." While deep down I have always known this, there's more research showing that this is not a great approach and that I probably should be paying a bit more attention to my drivetrain.
One of my wonderful clients, Eric, keyed me into this podcast by Dave Schell:
You may know Dave from his TrainingPeaks Podcasts as well.
And I also came across this one from Dylan Johnson:
That really drives the point home.
Eric is always willing to try new things and experiment, and went ahead and ordered a pre-waxed chain. Instead of me telling his story, he offered up to be the guest blogger for the week.
Here's his tale:
Wax It If You Got It
The thought of chain wax seemed like more work than it was worth. Would the potential for less friction during a ride and less wear on parts be worth the deep cleaning of the chains, bathing them in hot wax, and the ongoing maintenance? I was not sold as it sounded like margin gains for a lot of effort, but I kept hearing it is clean; really really clean.
I live in a condo and reducing the risk of smearing grease and grime had me intrigued because I seem to have this natural ability to get chain grease on stuff. My existing chain was near the end of its life so I ordered a pre waxed chain (see link below) to avoid the initial setup steps of cleaning a brand new chain.
I removed the old chain and before installing the new pre-waxed chain I cleaned off my cassette and chain rings with some Muk Off degreaser.
The waxed chain exceeded my expectations. A quick wipe with Xtri Bike Wipes post ride and it was like new. A few weeks of riding and the chain was still surprisingly clean. To extend the time between re-waxing I apply some Slica super secret (link below) which is wax based and a good for touch ups between full waxing.
After month of riding I took the chain off and did my first waxing in the small crock pot I bought from amazon. I would likely get the slightly larger one but this still works fine:
The longest part of the waxing process was stringing the chain on the swisher which I bought with my wax but an old spoke or hanger can be bent into one. Once the chain is on the swisher, you then just put the chain on top of the wax and turn the pot to low. An hour later the chain was ready. Just swish it around and take it out to dry.
I hung it dry overnight and put it back on the bike after loosening it little. I leave the wax in pot so it ready for the next chain as you can reuse it for a while before refreshing the wax, which is great for saving on wax and excellent for being lazy.
At this point I am a full wax convert, so for my new bike I took the next step and cleaned the new factory waxed chain using a few baths in mineral spirits and a final clean in denatured alcohol. https://moltenspeedwax.com/pages/clean-your-chain and/or Zero Friction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3CxiZqItGw
I found cleaning a new chain easier than I thought. Note: a used chain is much harder to fully clean due to build up (or so I hear).
I am not sure if it makes me any faster (BJL Coaching does that for me anyway), but the ride is smooth, the chain stays clean, and components will longer.
For those interested here are some links I found useful:
Zero Friction is the best site I found for all things wax and chain lube. https://zerofrictioncycling.com.au
They also have a YouTube channel and episode 4 cover waxing:
YBN pre waxed Chain and master links:
Molton Speed Wax
Swisher Tool and chain pliers
Micro Fiber Towels:
Super Silca waxed based chain lube for quick touch ups:
Back to B.L.
Eric and I pre-ride a mountain bike course in dry but dusty conditions just this past weekend. I was showing him the loop so he was behind me most of the time riding through my dust. We got done with the 6 mile loop and I looked at his chain...SHINY. And then he said, "watch this," and ran his fingers on the chain. No grease at all.
So this is all very intriguing to me. At the very least, I'll do a better job keeping my chain clean and using some high quality lube. But maybe I'll but out that old crock pot and go for the full wax!
Thanks again, Eric!
What can you get for a dollar these days? Not much, but it can save your ride if you tear your tire.
If you've been in the sport long enough, you've probably been on a ride where you or someone else gets a slice in their tire. Even if they're running tubeless with sealant, sometimes it's too large to get sealed. And while the tubeless tire plugs are awesome, sometimes it's not pluggable, too. Time to put in a new tube, but first we must bandage up that cut.
Commonly known as a "tire boot", the idea is to take something and line the inside of the tire where the gash is located so that the fresh tube isn't exposed to the road or trail, which would inevitably lead to another burst tube.
Many decades ago I had read in some cycling magazine about using a dollar (or any paper money) to act as a tire boot. While you can also use bar or gel wrappers, duct tape, or bits of trash you find on the side of the road (I actually did this with a buddy a long time ago), a bill works great. There are also official tire boots you can purchase, which are certainly not a bad idea to have in your pack. But if you don't, chances are you have a couple of dollars stashed in your tool kit or seat pack for those emergency stops at the gas station that doesn't take credit cards for purchases less than $10. And if you don't have some bills in there, make that happen.
After you have access to the inside of the tire and the old tube (if applicable) has been removed AND you've swept the inside of the tire to make sure there's not other sharp debris in there, it's time to put in the boot. I've read about wrapping the bill around the tube, but I've always just lined the tire where the gash is located. I will usually fold it so it's at least two-ply for more protection. Making sure the boot doesn't move while installing the new tube, I carefully then reinstall the tire completely. Look to see that you haven't pinched then tube by squeezing the bead together inside the rim (you shouldn't see any tube sticking out) and then CAREFULLY and SLOWLY re-inflate your tire to 20-30 psi. Take a look to insure the tube isn't poking out of the cut and then re-inflate to riding pressure, reinstall your wheel, check your brakes, and you're off!
I've had to use tire boots more than once, and it's always interesting to me what they look like when you pull them out. Yes, remove and discard the tire as riding with a cut in your tire, even booted, is not a great way to continue and can be dangerous.. I remember using a five dollar bill once and I had many miles to go. When I removed it after the ride, it was super compressed and really smooth from being jammed in there with the 120 psi we used to run back in the day. The five bucks went back in my pack and I was ready for the next adventure!
Have any tips or tricks? Shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment below.
Keep on riding!
Your shorts legs...a great place to store food and trash!
While personally I’ve tried to get away from gels, blocks, and bars as much as possible, those fast acting, easily accessible foods are sometimes the best solution for me. This is particularly true in a very hard training ride or a race. I’ve always been a fan of putting several of my gels just up my short leg. You can also leave just the tab of the gel poking out for an easy grab. I find this location faster to grab than reaching in my jersey pocket. It also frees up space in your pockets for other foods or supplies during the longer events.
Our short legs are also great places to store trash until you can dispose of it properly. Do take care to fold the wrapper kind of flat or it can poke you in the leg, which is less than enjoyable.
Have a tip of your own? I’d love to hear about it! Post a comment below or send me an e-mail.
It's almost impossible to be a part of the cycling multi-verse and not have heard the term "marginal gains." This term was made popular in 2015 by the commentators of many big bike races, most notably Le Tour de France, as they discussed Team Sky's approach of making sure every detail was taken care of. According to CNBC,
"Sir Dave Brailsford, former performance director of British Cycling, revolutionized the sport using the theory of marginal gains....
As this thinking became a culture and a philosophy shared by all members of Brailsford’s team, they kept searching for any and every area where they could make tiny improvements. Their goal was a marginal or 1% gain in every aspect of their training and environment.
Individually, each incremental change may have seemed unnecessary or random, but collectively, they helped create a powerhouse with a level of success that became the envy of the cycling world."
Well, this post is certainly about something relatively easy and "small" that we all can do, but its impact might not be so marginal.
I'm referring to making sure that, as we head out for 30 minute quick ride or an all day adventure, we put on that sunscreen and/or protective layers.
On a very surface (no pun intended) level, getting sun burnt just hurts. It's uncomfortable, can make sleeping tough, and generally make you feel more tired than you are.
From a performance standpoint, if your body is using significant resources to repair damaged skin, and then those resources are not available to repair your body from the effects of training. Sun burn is a form of inflammation, something we typically want to minimize.
Continuing along the lines of performance, if the burn is uncomfortable enough to disrupt sleep, you have now robbed your body of that most crucial time of repair and adaptations. The poor sleep can also negatively impact your next training session, and the snowball effect continues.
But the most important consideration is the long term damage that sun burn does to our skin, which can lead to much more serious implications down the road.
From the MD Anderson Cancer Center:
"How your skin changes during a sunburn
When ultraviolet radiation from the sun reaches the skin, it damages the skin cells and causes mutations in their DNA.
“Our bodies have a lot of amazing mechanisms to prevent and even correct these mutations,” George says. “But if the skin cells get more UV exposure than they can handle, the damage may be beyond repair, and the cells die off. Blood vessels dilate to increase blood flow and bring immune cells to the skin to help clean up the mess. All this causes the redness, swelling and inflammation we associate with a sunburn.”
The sunburn will eventually heal, but some of the surviving cells will have mutations that escape repair. These cells could eventually become cancerous.
Can you reverse sun damage?
Some beauty products claim they can reverse sun damage or even stimulate cell repair. But no research has shown that any topical skin care product or lotion can reverse sun damage.
“There’s no simple way to undo sun damage yet,” George says. “But there are lots of simple ways to prevent it by being sun-safe and avoiding sunburns.”"
So that's the key right there: prevention.
I am much more careful now than I was in the past, using both chemical and mechanical forms of sun protection. I got these arm skins (arm coolers) from Champion Systems pictured to the left a couple of summers ago and love them for their speed and effectiveness. Speed? Yes, much faster than applying sunscreen to my arms for a sunny jaunt on my bike.
Are they hot? No, I'm not going to say they're "cool", but up to mid 80's they don't bother me too much. There's lighter options and colors out there, too. They make them for your knees and full legs, too.
Do watch with your kit. Some jerseys these days are almost see-through and don't provide much of a Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF).
In addition to my clothing, I hit the sunscreen religiously now. Most on the time I use the goopy zinc based stuff, but I figure if I'm going for it, I probably should use something healthy and decent. For those super long days out in the sun, I'll even throw a small tube or stick in my pocket and re-apply.
I know, I know. It's just one more thing as you're trying to get out the door for your 60 minute lunch ride or squeezing in 75 minutes before that next client meeting. But the 5 minutes you take to protect your skin, can turn into hours and hours saved by not having to go to the dermatologist. And that of course can transition from an inconvenience to a serious problem very quickly.
Here are some good articles with sunscreen options, how and when to apply, as well as more information and tips:
And this podcast really only touches on the issue, but if you've been in the mountain bike world for a while like I have, it might really hit home with you, too. Travis Brown was one of the mountain bike superstars from the 90's into 2000's, and to hear him talk about his scare with cancer was very, very real:
Colby Pearce on Fasttalk
So let's all take care of our largest organ so we can keep riding our bikes and enjoying other out of door activities for the rest of our lives. As a coach, I want to foster life-long cyclists so let's all stay healthy.
There are so many options now with sprays, creams, sticks, etc. that we really don't have an excuse. Do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones, and, at the very least, do it for performance.
Here in the North East, it's starting to hot up quite a bit. If not prepared, training and riding in the heat and humidity can wreck your day and potentially days to follow. Good news is that our bodies do adapt, but you must get out there and ride in the heat to realize these adaptations.
Here are some tips that can help you as you begin riding in the heat, and even after your body has experienced some positive adaptations.
1. Drink enough fluids during the day.
It is widely agreed upon that everyBODY needs a different amount of fluids per day, and many outside factors can impact this quantity. For me in the summer, I know I'm right around 6 quarts a day to make sure I'm in a good place.
I use a gallon jug of water at work to be sure that I'm taking in enough water. Sometimes trying to count bottles or glasses can be misleading, and it's better for the environment to refill. As I wrote, everybody has different hydration requirements but it's widely agreed upon that athletes need more water during hotter temperatures.
2. Drink enough during training and racing.
It's hot...you're going to sweat more. It's impossible to "stay ahead of it" as we often say, but you can minimize your losses.
3. Eat enough during the day and during rides.
The hotter weather sometimes suppresses your appetite, so watch your intake. It's important to keep your energy levels high as you may be increasing your volume and/or intensity as the days are longer and the weather is nicer.
Side note--check out this article: Lose Weight by Eating More
4. Take advantage of the neutral support in races and rides.
Stop at the aid stations, top off your bottles and/or hydration pack, dose yourself with some cool water, and get some calories if the duration warrants. Just do watch your time at an aid station if you're in a competitive event. It's not a smorgasbord...go into it with a plan of what you're going to grab, grab it, and get out.
5. Stop on a training ride to refill.
You can often find delis and the like that will gladly refill your bottles with another purchase. I'll often bring a little pack of drink mix with me on long rides to help with the taste of tap water. If you live in super hot areas like Flagstaff, AZ, there will be coolers of ice cold water outside of each restaurant--it's the law apparently! No matter what, carry some cash (some small shops still have a minimum purchase for credit cards) and fill up. Again, you can be efficient and not lose too much time.
I've also been wearing my hydration pack more frequently on my longer rides so I can avoid stopping during these past couple of years.
6. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
This should be the case year round, of course, but the summer offers us some great treats. Watermelon is very high in potassium, one of our essential electrolytes. And the water content of most fruits and vegetables is very high and will serve your body well.
7. Keep tabs on your sodium intake.
Since I mentioned electrolytes, make sure you're taking in enough of the electrolyte that is lost in the greatest quantity in our sweat: sodium. Check out this great article:
Are you getting enough electrolytes?
8. Cool yourself during and after workouts.
The recovery process is sped up the faster you can cool your core. It's also great for the joints and muscles. A cold shower, or a sit in a cold stream can do wonders. The stream idea can be used mid-ride, too. If you have access to a cold plunge, that's the DEAL! I've found these techniques to be VERY effective.
9. Apply lotion and sun screen.
If your body's resources are being used to heal damaged skin, it's less energy that you can spend on repairing the damage done by racing and training.
10. Eat foods that agree with you.
Find those trigger foods and avoid them when in the height of training and racing. Again, if your body doesn't digest well, it can't use those resources and nutrients for your cycling goals.
11. Take time for yourself.
Training in general takes its toll on our bodies, and riding in challenging weather conditions can take us into even further deficit. Try to eliminate stress as much as possible and take a little time for yourself each day. Just sit and be calm, even if for just a few minutes. You can't add hours in the day, and stressing over not being able to train like you want won't change anything.
12. Keep smiling and have fun!
Remember why we ultimately all do our great sport!
Work hard and enjoy!
Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.