I was out for another Sunday ride with “cousin Ellen” (as she is known in my house) this morning as a continuation of the goal of trying something new for cyclocross season preparation this year. Each of the past few years I’ve been trying something new in an effort to try and improve, and find what works and what doesn’t.
This year, I think my “new thing” will be consistently using the embarrassingly plentiful outdoor options near our new home in Boulder, CO to cross train (hiking), and improve technically by riding trails with my CX bike as much as possible. I’ve explored Marshall Mesa trails, Walker Ranch, and Betasso Preserve. The latter option is what I’ve settled on as the sweet spot of the three, so far.
Marshall Mesa is certainly fun and close, but it’s wide open and not very technical, with the exception of a few spots. It’s actually very fun, but when it’s hot out, having some shade is nice. Walker Ranch is a blast but not really CX bike-friendly. You have a good ride to get to it (uphill for about an hour), but the terrain is way too gnarly in too many spots for this guy.
Betasso is the Goldilocks choice of the three for me right now. There’s a nice ride up Four Mile Canyon to get to it, and there are just enough rocks to keep me on my toes. Throw in the fact that there are bathrooms near the parking lots in a few spots and some shady flow sections, it’s checking off all of the boxes right now for a July/August CX bike ride.
In conversation with my awesome ride partner today, I shared some of the positive thoughts that were going through my head. It was the second time I’d ridden there, and I felt like I was really starting to ride a lot better – much faster and smoother, and definitely riding many spots that I didn’t ride the first time around. My confidence was booming!
**QUEUE THE ANNUAL PRE-SEASON AL DONAHUE INTERVIEW REFERENCE**
At the moment I was sharing my good vibes with my ride mate, one of my favorite bits of coaching advice came to mind from one of my favorite interviews relating to cycling. I love to talk about it and share it at every opportunity because so many nuggets continue to resonate with me. A few years back, Colt McElwaine interviewed Alec Donahue for Behind The Barriers TV, where coach gets grilled about all kinds of good stuff. One of the bits that stuck with me was the suggestion to ride technical stuff in the summer, either on MTB or CX bike. The idea is to ride a bit out of your comfort zone and get used to conquering gnarly stuff that makes you uncomfortable. The benefit for cyclocross is that, not only will your skills improve, but you’ll be accustomed to seeing, processing, and clearning harder stuff than you will ever see on the ‘cross course. Simply put, being able to shrug off and plow through things that your competitors may be slowing down for will allow you to take back more time and save energy for other things like picking good lines, etc.
I was stoked to already see the benefits of the “mental reps” that I felt were occurring in the approach and negotiation of the tougher spots on the trail. Beating back the bit of fear that crops up at each of those spots, over and over again, feels like it’s really starting to pay off. Whether this translates into faster laps on the race course remains to be seen.
As a funny and appropriate end to this story, the trail (or Mother Nature or however you want to think of it) really put me in my place. Just as I was thinking I was hot shit and really starting to crush everything the trail had to offer, BAM! Going up a short and steep uphill with some pretty dense and sizeable rocks, I got bogged down and just about came to a halt…and fell over with a classic slow-speed slam. I whacked my knee on a rock pretty good, but a few hours later, it’s not really swelling too bad and shouldn’t keep me off the bike. It served as a wonderful reminder to stay vigilant and respectful of the terrain, and to avoid the lure of over-confidence that can come with a wicked good dirt sesh like that.
Post post script – we ran into Greg of Mud and Cowbells and other CX awesomeness on the Betasso loop, which reminded me that I needed to awaken my own dormant bloggery.