Turn, Turn, Turn

Yep, today was all about turning. Tight turns. Big wide arching turns. Turns on loose terrain. Turns on long slow grass. Turning and looking ahead. Turning and not touching the brakes. Turning and pedaling. Turning and remembering to ease off on the pedals a bit before the turn. Turning the bike and keeping the body upright. Turns. Turns. Turns.

I realized on Friday when riding around in my favorite training grounds, that turning is one area I really need to enhance. I discovered that I simply don’t keep turning my front wheel. Not sure what this. Almost like I don’t commit to turning, so then I have to stop pedaling, brake, or blow the line – simply because I didn’t keep turning. This habit of course has a trickle-down effect in a race, because now that I’ve messed up the turn, I’ve had to slow down to recover and now – you guessed it – I have to blow some bullets by sprinting to get up to speed and to catch the group I just lost. So this half-turning thing just isn’t working long-term.

The other thing I finally realized on Friday is that when my brain is working – i.e. thinking about an upcoming obstacle, corner, barrier, etc. – guess what happens? I stop pedaling. Not cool. I need to keep pedaling. Need to keep the speed going, need to keep applying pedal pressure. Not sure where this thinking=not pedaling thing comes from. Maybe because I’m coming from a road background? Maybe because I can be a bit tentative in tricky situations? I used to brake way too much – I think I’ve conquered this, but now I seem to have compensated by not pedaling. Grrr. One step forward and one one step back.

But, hey at least I’ve finally clued into this. Marc has been telling me I do both of the above for a while – but my stubborn streak refused to acknowledge it. Luckily, I’m onside and I’ve realized that I need to fix these two things.

So today, as much as I would have preferred to hide from the heat in the woods, I took my trusty bike out to the park down the street and spent a solid 90 minutes turning and pedaling. The park was completely empty (pretty normal). So I had free-range to do whatever I wanted. I warmed up by riding the lines on the soccer field. Lucky for me, there was a kiddie tournament on the weekend so the field had been marked up to be four kid-size fields. Lots of lines – lots of corners – lots of turning. Then I hit up the ball diamond. I know, maybe I shouldn’t have done it. But I never ever see anyone playing ball at this park and the ball diamond is perfect for practicing turning in loose terrain. This particular ball diamond has soft and deepish sand/gravel and it is the perfect size to do drills in. I set up a little obstacle course and got to work.

Yikes, there were a few ugly moments there when I forgot that you really have to let the sand control you and just go with the flow. But eventually I got the hang of it and was getting through my course okay. I know I still have some work to do but, baby steps. One of the most challenging aspects of riding in loose terrain is keeping the body relaxed. I found I would hunch up my shoulders and my arms became super rigid. This doesn’t help when I’m trying to roll with the sand and let my bike do its thing. Takes time as well to get used to the feeling of the sand giving way underneath the tires and feeling the wheels slip around.

After playing in the sand for a while, I decided to set up a big grid in the grass and practice turning in the grass. I set up a massive grid, using 20 flags. The idea was to just do three things: commit to the turn, look ahead, and keep pedaling. Man, I had a blast. I was able to get a bit faster as the drills went on and my confidence began to grow as well. I did big wide turns. Tight turns. Wide turns followed immediately by tight turns. Figure eights. You name it, I did it.

All in all, a pretty solid session on the ‘cross bike. I have to admit though, it is darn hard to get out there and do these drills alone. But I know this time will pay off once the racing starts. The one bonus about being out there alone, is I’m forced to keep things moving and interesting since there isn’t anyone to talk with! I’m impressed with how much I can get done in 60 – 90 minutes.

What about you? How do you practice your ‘cross skills? I know a lot of you are fortunate to live places where there are organized ‘cross training sessions and ‘cross races mid-week. We do have some of that here, but not until September. I’m thinking it would be fun to start up a mid-week training race. Get a group of people together, set up a course and just race it. We can do stuff like follow-the-leader to warm-up and then get a little race in. Doesn’t have to be a long race – even 20 minutes is good. Everyone gets a chance to practice, get in a hard effort, and hang out with friends. Any takers on this?

Good news, sold both my ‘cross bikes. Super happy that they are both going to great homes. I’m looking forward to getting out on my new Stevens Super-Prestige bikes. Thanks so much to Vince at The Cyclery for helping me out again this year with some fast frames and smooth groupos! Hey – did you buy your Dugast tires yet? Better get on it before they’re all gone and you’re left riding around on some silly little copycat tires.

Alright, I’m out. See some of you I’m sure at the races on Sept. 19/20. Looking forward to catching up and having some fun racing bikes.

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