Tonkin on Cyclocross: Finding time to train and race

[Erik Tonkin]

Here I am at 4am Wednesday morning, finally sitting down to work on what I started a week ago, an article well overdue at this point. The clichés “better late than never” and “something is better than nothing” come to mind. Of course, those tired old sayings cut more than a slice of truth, or they wouldn’t be so dull. In fact, each serves nicely as a battle cry (or lament, perhaps) for training.

Now that the ‘cross season has started, the trick is to maintain a training regimen while still racing regularly. And that’s tough because, for most, the ‘cross season is more densely packed with racing than other seasons (for some, it’s probably the only bike racing of the year).

Most all of us have busy schedules, what with work, family, travel, other hobbies or whatever. It’s true, really, for racers in all categories. Few of us rate training and racing as our top priorities. In fact, making it to the race usually beats making time to train. No doubt, in our local ‘cross culture, people just show up and have at it! Still, anybody’s racing will be better with some solid training.

Part 1: Play the hand*

Since I got back from my last out of town trip three weeks ago, I’ve been at the shop seven days a week, trying to catch up with work. Managing the ‘cross clinics and hosting a morning practice session cut into personal training time, too. It’s not unusual for me to go a few days without riding and then total a mere two or three hours of training for the week. But it’s OK. The trick is to be patient but not passive.

Gladly accept the hand you’re dealt, but then play it close to your chest.

“To say you’re not gonna race because you ain’t been training leaves you on a slippery slope.”

For me, the solution is to overload on racing and training whenever possible, especially early in the season. The shop is closed to the public on Sundays and Mondays, so work is flexible those days. That’s perfect. Sunday is race day. I rarely skip a weekend race, as it’s also valuable training. To say you’re not gonna race because you ain’t been training leaves you on a slippery slope. To get more bang for the buck, I’ll often race twice in a day or ride to and from the race course—or I’ll do both, racing two events and commuting two directions.

On Monday, I try to ride until I feel good again, like an “active recovery ride”, as the coaches say. But if I feel fine right away, I go immediately into hard training, like some sort of nasty interval session or tempo ride. I’m ready to NOT ride by Tuesday, which is good because I don’t have the time anyway. The same is true the next day.

Most people have Saturday and Sunday off, so reverse the schedule. That’s probably better anyway because whatever training is done on Saturday will warm you up for Sunday’s race. But be careful. If, for example, you have a 3 hour bike riding window on Saturday, don’t use it all on bike riding! Instead, train on the bike for 2 hours and leave the rest for stretching, refueling, or whatever-ing. You gotta race tomorrow, ya know.

The point is to bulk up on training when you can. The trick is to do as much as you can handle without wrecking yourself. Make sure to—how should I say it—“season-to-taste” the meal you prepare. There is too much of a good thing, like all that cookie dough I ate for dinner and those chocolate chips I ate for desert last Saturday because Rhonda wasn’t home. All that racing and training will do you no good if you can’t recover from it in a couple of days. You want to slowly build yourself up rather than tear yourself down. But no training will also lead to collapse. Remember, something really is better than nothing.

*[Author’s note: The second part of this piece will rehash the “better late than never” cliché, its title being “Don’t stress out”. We’ll see if I can follow my own advice…]

Photo of author

Erik Tonkin

Erik is co-owner of Sellwood Cycle Repair, a veteran cyclocross racer for Team Kona and a local hero to his many adoring fans. Last year, he was named to the U.S. World Championships Team along with his wife and top cyclocross racer Rhonda Mazza. Erik will be sharing race reports and cyclocross training tips and insights all season long.

Notify of

newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dan Porter
17 years ago

Tonkin IS human:

‘There is too much of a good thing, like all that cookie dough I ate for dinner and those chocolate chips I ate for desert last Saturday because Rhonda wasn’t home.’

My vote for comment of the week… Classic.

17 years ago

I laughed at the cookie dough part,too. Don’t worry about writing the article late. As any of my teachers throughout time will vouch for, you can do something late and still do it well. Or pretty well…Anyhow I think the advice given about not racing due to lack of training time is reassuring. Of course training will help but it is nice to know one needn’t get all hung up on just how much time is spent.

17 years ago

I like to think that racing IS training. 😉 So if I don’t win at least I had a good work out.

kid presentable
kid presentable
17 years ago

thanks for revealing the cookie dough/chocolate chips training secret-my digestive system will surely apprieciate deviating from copying your previous regiment of tortillas with butter.