All this week I’ve really been thinking about recovery. Recovery while riding to work. Recovery while racing. Recovery while sitting on my backside watching my new obsession: Great British Bake Off.
Recovery is the key to effective training and racing. During training, recovery comes in many shapes – super easy rides when you put it in the small ring and simply roll along, taking days off the bike giving your mind and body a complete rest, active recovery when you do things such as yoga, stretching, walks or cyclocross skill sessions. During a cyclocross race, finding the spots on the course to recover are crucial to a successful race.
Most of us have tried to go “all-out” for the entire lap – this works for only so long. Eventually after a couple of laps it is harder to sprint out of corners, to run quickly, to have smooth barrier technique and to attack with vigour. You can only go all-out for so long during a cyclo-cross race – because the nature of the race requires punchy efforts and you do need to recover from these. Watch a rider who tries to race a cyclocross race like a time trial – it doesn’t really work over the duration of the race.
So when and where do you recover? Well, I subscribe to the Belgian philosophy – go really hard when the course is hard, sprint out of every corner and obstacle, and recover on the easy sections. This typically means that if there is a heavy section (mud, sand, false flat, climb, run-up) you need to give it your all – these are the sections when your competitors will be suffering and will have the tendency to ease off a bit. The recovery comes in on the pavement sections, long straight sections, descents, and coming into the barriers/dismount sections.
Finding these little spots of recovery allows you to dig deep when you need to and to continue to have that punchy power you need during a cyclocross race. When it comes to training the same philosophy holds true – recovery allows you to have more effective and purposeful training sessions which likely during this time of the year involve lots of different types of intervals.
Of course, I haven’t touched on mental recovery. This is highly individual – some of us recovery mentally during recovery rides, others might recovery mentally by not spending any time reading cycling blogs/news articles/etc, and some others might not worry about mental recovery until the end of the season. This type of recovery is a very different domain than physical recovery but in my opinion is as equally (if not more) important than physical recovery. The cyclocross season is a long one and it is important to give yourself a mental and physical break.
Recovery is essential if you want to avoid the “crack”. I’ve experienced the “crack” in almost every season I’ve raced. Typically for me it would come around December – I’d have been racing since September and the weather was likely unpleasant at this time while living in Belgium. The “Belgian crack” is not a lot of fun but after a couple of seasons of experiencing this, I learned what to do to prevent it – sometimes this involved a little bit of chocolate therapy – but in all seriousness this meant taking days completely off from the bike and doing something like a day trip to Leuven or Antwerp or hanging out at Cafe Libro with a good book and tasty latte.
Whatever you do, don’t neglect recovery. While hard training gives you a big feeling of satisfaction, recovery lets your legs and heart have a break and truly benefit from the hard efforts on the bike.