Racing is underway for Strava employee and American cyclocross pro Elle Anderson. In this installment, Elle shares stories and insights from her pre-season training in San Francisco, California: How she stays motivated through the toughest workouts, how she celebrates the easy days, and how each ride fits into the big picture. More of Elle’s cyclocross training and racing tips to come as the cyclocross season heats up.
I have a habit of mysteriously waking up just before my alarm goes off at 6am, when the city is all lights but the sky is pitch black. Wishing the clocks would give me another hour of sleep, my tired legs take some convincing to get out of bed and head off to yet another tough workout before going to work.
You know that achy feeling in your legs right now? That’s the feeling of fitness coming.
a voice taunts in my head giving me just enough motivation to get out the door and onto the bike. Heading into the cyclocross season, I battle through tough training blocks, fighting my tired legs, knowing that fitness and speed in the races is gained by digging deep in training.
I have to tap into a special kind of motivation when I prepare for the ‘cross season. Usually this means very specific intervals and terrain which almost always results in training alone. Without friends along for the ride and without crowds of cheering spectators, the motivation to push my body through the intense workouts has to come from within, from the heart, from the source of what makes me competitive by nature.
Here’s a look at my favorite (or least favorite) workouts this fall, how they will prepare me for the demands of cyclocross, and how I leverage the urban jungle out my front door in San Francisco to train.
The Polo Fields
Strava Activity: California sunset and sprints
This old cycling track called the Polo Fields is buried in the tall eucalyptus trees of the Golden Gate Park. It’s nearly empty early on a weekday morning, perfect for sprints and fast pedaling around the flat oval. I find going around the track just about as boring as sitting on a trainer with no TV, but never-the-less I bite the bullet and settle into my sprint intervals. Sometimes I even have to bribe myself with the promise of a pastry after the workout.
After countless sprints separated by recovery, the workout begins to weaken the legs and the mind and the monotony of riding in circles begins to wear. In these moments, I think of breaking down a cyclocross race into a series of sprints: A sprint at the start, sprinting out of every corner, attacking on the straightaways to pass, sprinting for the finish line. Tapping into this visualization, I keep the power and cadence high until the last one.
Strava Activity: 5x up that hill in the dark and the fog
With shorter days, the hours just after sunset become prime time for training with the right lights. I often leave right from the Strava office as soon as work winds down and head to the Marin Headlands, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
I find that training in the dark allows me to focus on my breath and pedal strokes while I follow the path of light ahead. It’s peaceful and free of distractions and traffic. Besides suffering through the grueling ten-minute climb intervals, I find that the muffled darkness and aloneness allows my mind to reflect and savor these moments on the bike.
Threshold intervals are my bread and butter for cyclocross preparation and they can leave me feeling just about as spent as if I had raced. It’s the best way to condition my legs for the all-out, 45-minute race effort, also ensuring I have the base fitness to stay as strong in the last lap of the race as the first lap.
Strava Activity: Park with Caitlin
Living just two blocks from the delightfully complex and diverse Golden Gate Park is a real treat for any ‘crosser. I like to think of this green space as more of an urban jungle, or a cyclocross playground. It’s where I find the inspiration to practice run-ups, ride-ups, stairs, sand, and cornering and to hone my technical skills for the cyclocross season. I’ve spent plenty of the four years living in San Francisco discovering my favorite hidden gems in the park. By now, I have my favorite circuits and obstacles nailed down.
Part of my training routine is simulating a cyclocross course, complete with my portable ‘cross barriers. Training on pavement only goes so far because the power transfer from the pedals to the ground changes when riding dirt. Plus, there’s nothing like training like you race.
Strava Activity: To the zoo and back plus a Strava meeting
And finally, it’s time for an easy day and to celebrate the hard efforts. There’s nothing like an easy spin through San Francisco and out to Ocean Beach, watching the waves roll in. I used to begrudge recovery rides, thinking they were boring and unimportant. But over time I’ve learned to appreciate them and now I do my best to value the easy days just as much as the others. It’s always nice to be reminded of the simple joy of human-powered transportation and the flow of turning the pedals. In the big picture, I know I’m able to push myself in training because I love the bike, not only because of the lure of a finish line.
Nearby, in the Sunset, I can find my favorite reward for a hard week of training: Cinnamon toast and a cappuccino from Trouble Coffee.
Up next, more on cyclocross technique, race day routine and mental tools for competition.