When I was a kid, cross country racing ignited a fire inside of me. It really appealed to me to ride at the edge of my technical ability at certain points of a race, trying to hold my composure, get the most out of my body on every single climb and execute smooth laps. To ride the perfect cross country race is an art, and it is difficult to master, but when done right the payoff is indescribable. I last raced a World Cup four years ago, and I am no longer race pro, but when it was announced in early 2017 that there was going to be a World Cup in Stellenbosch, that fire flared again. When I started my training I had just four months to prepare, but this time as a 30-year-old, average working joe.
By the time I rolled onto that start line of the opening round of the 2018 World Cup season in Stellenbosch, it had been almost 4 years since my last World Cup in Pietermaritzburg. Lots had changed for me. For one, I was almost fully self supported in my racing, barring a few loyal supporters. The biggest thing that had changed was that I no longer had half the day to train and recover. I was now working a full 8 hour day, plus coaching after hours. The challenge was not the race itself, but finding the time to train for the World Cup as well as recover.
Switching to a full time job lead me to understand that it was impossible to train as much as I used to, recover properly, while still being productive in the office and just generally being nice to be around. It took some trial and error, but I believe I was able to come up with a strategy based off of my coaching experience and experience as a professional racer that worked pretty well for me to be able to achieve my goal of getting on a World Cup start line. While we are not all trying to get onto the start line of a World Cup event, these simple strategies will more likely than not help you get to where you need to be for your own “World Cup”:
Plan it: As a coach, I understood the importance of planning your build up to your goal event to ensure you have built through all the required training blocks and allowed for progression to take place. It is this steady build up with the emphasis on building on every session that builds form. I therefore planned my weeks leading up to the event so that I understood what type of riding I should be doing and when. If I fell behind for whatever reason, I just picked up with where I was supposed to be, which ensured I never got sucked into trying to make up for lost time and over training.
Be realistic: This took me a while to figure out, but I realised that I couldn’t get up early every day in a work week to train and still recover. I needed my sleep! I settled on about 3 days a week on average, which gave me 4 -5 day riding weeks normally. This may seem like far too little, especially if you are training for a big stage race, but that brings me to my next point:
Quality over quantity: Out of those 3 days in the week I was training, at least two of them would be very specific, focused interval sessions, with the other being a recovery or easy ride. Most of us have limited time in the morning, so doing intervals is essential to make the most of those 90 minutes of joy you get to spend on your bike. Intervals are a great way to increase cardiovascular capacity as well as build muscle endurance. One big thing that I focused on with intervals was progression, buy ensuring I was going harder and doing more reps throughout each training block I was going through. It might be hard to believe, but I was only doing between 6-8 hours a week on average, and managed to fit in my bigger weeks over the Christmas period when I had the time
Recovery: This was perhaps the most important factor. The biggest thing I learned, was that a recovery day during the week isn’t always a proper recovery day. The stress of doing your day job and fitting in your day to day life chores often interrupts your physical and mental recovery needed for the next session. Sometimes I found myself just as tired a day after resting. Its easy to fall into the trap of trying to fit the most riding you can over a weekend, but every now and then it really is a good thing to take a “sabbath” day over the weekend to do absolutely nothing, and spend it with family and friends. Mental recovery is as important as physical recovery, and for me personally, living a balanced life is very important.
Have fun: Yes, there is a big element of focus and dedication in achieving your goals, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time while doing it. I kept my weekend rides less structured to enable others to fall into my riding schedule more easily. Yes, there were some weekends where I really needed to get in a quality session, but I would always take the time to make sure I got in some great trails on the way home or hooked up with a friend on my warm down just to keep the stoke high!
So in case you are wondering how the World Cup went. Having being seeded stone last on the grid, I managed to climb my way up 13 places to finish in 87th. The home crowd was absolutely incredible. I still have goosebumps thinking about it, and yes, it was totally worth every early morning wake up!
P.S. -I love helping others achieve their goals. If you would like some insight into the training sessions I do, please use the contact form below to request a free, 4 week training program built around the above principles.