Off-season.... What's that?

A smarter man (than myself) would have packed it in after the Squamish 50.

With only a few short breaks thrown in the mix, I've had my foot on the gas pedal since the very beginning of January. The few down times, in all honesty, were not by choice. They were all due to either illness or injury (acute). My 2015 has not resembled a usual periodized macrocycle (or two)...more like a steady saw-tooth ridge.  I've definitely had my ups and downs (both psychologically and physically); I've nailed some races, and struggled in some races. This year has essentially been an experiment in building a large aerobic base and then seeing how far I can go without much traditional intensity. That's not to say that I haven't been training. Sort of the opposite actually; higher mileage than than I have ever before attempted, but not much for high intensity interval training. If you looked at my race calendar, most people would say that it was time for me to shut it down...take a month or two off...reset...recharge. And I agree, I do need a break from the long days that I have put into Ultra running. 

But I HATE taking time off...it drives me crazy (just ask my family).

So what does a guy like me do, just two weeks off a hard 50 mile Ultra? Well, he (I) jumps right into a shockingly full season of both XC running and Cyclocross (CX) racing. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's possible to race both Saturday and Sunday each and every weekend, right through to December. Both XC and CX are short and intense races, very reliant on ones anaerobic energy system...the energy system that I have purposefully put into a maintenance/holding pattern all year. Some might see this almost as punishment, but to me it's the icing on the cake. I LOVE hard anaerobic efforts.  I didn't allow myself to really work on (or rely on) my anaerobic system much this year. I knew that I wanted to save it for now, for the Fall XC and CX races. 

My performance last month at the Squamish50 (race report here) left me sore, but not in the usual 50 mile, hard effort way. I wasn't beaten up from the race effort, I was beaten up from falling. I wasn't able to really empty my tank in Squamish, and once my scrapes and bruises and whiplash healed up, I realized that my legs felt great. Feeling surprisingly motivated, a couple weekends ago (Sept 5) I jumped right in to the Cyclocross season opener. My technical skills were still sharp, but my power was pretty pathetic. Throw in a few small technical equipment issues, and I wasn't exactly on the podium. I hadn't ridden a CX bike since last year, and my position felt a really foreign, but the anaerobic suffering that day was like a drug: the second I crossed the finish line, I wanted more....

The following weekend (12/13) I signed up for two races. Saturday was the 5Peaks trail run up on Seymour mountain. The course was quite technical, and a ton of fun. I ran strong and won the race, and as a bonus, the win also gave me top spot on the 5Peaks BC Endure series for the year. I have to admit that knowing that I was going to race my bike the next day, I held back just a touch. I figured a 50 minute mountain race could really take the edge off tomorrows bike race if I wasn't careful. The next morning I was on the first ferry over to the island. Follow that with a 90 minute drive to Comox Lake, and you would think my legs would be a bit flat...but that wasn't the case

photo by Rob Shaer

photo by Rob Shaer

Ever have one of those days where you knew from the second you started riding (or running), that you were just going to kill it out there? Well, that's how I felt on my bike on Sunday. I don't know how or why, but I was able to just bury myself out there. I was loving being totally red-lined, and had a great time as I chased the eventual winner (Graham). By the end, I had closed a mid-race 1 minute lead, down to 9 seconds....good for second place. I was kinda shocked at how deep I was able to go. I didn't win, but I had one of my best-ever cyclocross efforts.

With such a successful double under my belt, I decided to try it again last weekend (19th/20th). Saturday was on of the BC cross country (XC) running series races, followed by the VCXC Foreshore cyclocross race on Sunday. I opted to skip the CMTS Sky Pilot race (Sunday) so that I could race my bike and still do the double...and because of the horrible weather forecast for the Sky Pilot venue).

Cross country running races are pretty short; usually 25-35 minute efforts, which is a fair bit shorter than my usual trail/Ultra race. They require going into the red, and then just holding it there as long as you can. Given that all my races this year have been much longer than that, I knew I was in for some real suffering. The race was out at Mundy Park, and was essentially a 4-loop'er, plus a short starting loop. A group of 4 of us went out pretty hard, and I was instantly in that red zone. The eventual winner peeled away at the half way point, leaving three of us scrapping it out for the last two laps. I tried my best to keep it honest...I threw in a few surges, but I'm pretty sure i did more damage to myself than anyone else. I was absolutely on my limit, and when the three of us hit the last hill (50m from the finish) I had nothing left to kick with. Even though I ended up fourth, the race went exactly as I had hoped; a full-tilt, tank emptying, steady-state anaerobic grind. I was Just barely hanging on at the end, making it as much mental as physical. I can guarantee you that when I race XC again (in a couple weeks), that my 'red-line' will be a notch or two faster.

Given that the Saturday XC race was in the pouring rain, I was prepared for some seriously nasty weather on Sunday...looking forward to it actually. I brought almost all the rain gear that I own out to the cyclocross venue. I was hoping for a crazy wet, sloppy, mud-fest...but it didn't happen. The rain pretty much skipped over Burnaby, leaving the race course a bit wet, but nowhere near what I was expecting. It definitely changed the dynamic of the race course: it was now going to be a bit more of a 'power' course, rather than a super technical course. 

Ok, let me back up a few hours...

While prepping my bike at home on Sunday morning, my rear tubular blew up. It was a few years old, and probably past its shelf life, so not totally unexpected. Without a spare tubular to glue on my race wheel (or enough time), I had to go with plan B... an older clincher wheel. No big deal. I had a good tire to throw on it, but I would need to run a higher tire pressure than usual, to avoid the typical clincher pitfall of a possible pinch-flat.

photo by Rob Shaer

photo by Rob Shaer

I got in a good warm up, and really felt like I was going to be 'ON' again. A front row call up and an inside line into the first corner, and I was in 4th place on the first lap. I lost a couple places in the long sand section, but I didn't panic as I always come on strong in the second half of the race. Unfortunately, I began to feel that my back wheel was losing traction a lot and it was even rubbing on my brakes under power. I'm not sure if it was due to a mis-fitting rear wheel, or maybe just the higher pressure I had to run in a clincher, but something wasn't right. Not even half way into the race, I slid out on an easy left-hander. The crash was soft, but the rider behind me hit my bike hard and his pedal got tangled in my frame. My rear wheel had popped out of the drop-outs, and It only took  a few seconds to see that my bike frame was bent. Unrideable. Race over.

I guess you always have to take the good with the bad. I have surprised myself with my anaerobic fitness...or more likely it's the capacity of my aerobic system to clear lactate and recover. Either way, I'm feeling strong. On the down side, mechanical issues suck in cyclocross racing. You can hardly ever come back in a race if you have a problem. Fingers crossed that I've gotten the mechanicals out of my system for the year now. Another slight problem that I'm about to encounter is prioritizing. With a fair bit of conflict between XC and CX in October, how do I pick??