2013 NCCX Series, Week 3

The Boone-town Throw-down was race #4 of the North Carolina Cyclocross (NCCX) Series.  The venue was the same as the last two years: the High County Fairgrounds in Boone, North Carolina.  It’s an awesome venue that has it all, from run-ups, to gravel roads, to grassy fields, to slick off-camber turns, to steep climbs, and even some man-made obstacles.

High County Fairgrounds in Boone, North Carolina.

High County Fairgrounds in Boone, North Carolina.

In short is a fun and challenging course, slightly longer than the previous courses at 1.85 miles per lap.  Most racers had to dismount four times and even the best pros dismounted at least 2 or 3 times each lap.  Put on by Boone Bike and Touring, a local bike shop, this race always captures the true spirit of cyclocross.

One of many riders in costume for Sunday's race!

One of many riders in costume for Sunday’s race!

Every year it’s a party complete with loud music, free beer, free pizza, free tamales, and just lots of fun.  Because of its proximity to Halloween, many of the riders and spectators dress up in costumes and everyone has a great time.  If you ever want to see cyclocross at its finest, you must attend the Boone cyclocross race.

For me this year it was fun and it was not.  Fun for all the reasons I just told you.  Not fun because I got a serious wake-up call this week.  As most of you know, I’ve been racing nearly every single weekend for over two years — well over 100 races.

As it works out, cyclocross season lasts from September through January and cross country mountain bike season goes from March until August.  The few weeks between the seasons I have tried to fill in with some endurance races or pre-season warm up races each year.  This year I doubled up and raced two separate mountain bike series and went to nationals.

Add to that a fairly rigorous training schedule of 10-12 hours of riding and running every week and you have a recipe for burnout.  I’ve been monitoring my average heart rate numbers fairly closely so I would pick up on any signs of overtraining.

During the cyclocross pre-season I was running average heart rates for my 45-minute races over 95% of max HR.  The last two pre-season races I had declined to 93% which was a little off but I wasn’t overly concerned.  The NCCX season began and my first weekend had two races.

The fairgrounds venue was awesome!

The High County Fairgrounds venue was awesome!

In race#1 my average HR was back up to 95% — not the 96% of early preseason, but going in the right direction again.  Race #2 I was back to 93% and I was feeling very fatigued.  Last weekend (race #3) I was at 94%, again moving in the right direction but I felt awful and turned in my worst performance of the season.

I started getting the hint that maybe I was over trained a bit so I intentionally backed off this last week in my training.  Still I had a hard 1.5 hour cyclocross ride Tuesday, a six-mile run and a base 60 mile road ride Wednesday, a 1.5 hour tempo cyclocross session Thursday, an easy six-mile run on Friday, and a very easy 45 mile road ride on Saturday.

I tried to get as much rest as possible during the week and was particularly careful with my diet.  I was hoping race #4 in Boone would be back to normal.  After the nearly 4-hour drive to Boone Sunday morning, I pre-rode the course and immediately knew I was in trouble.  Even during my easy pre-ride, my legs felt like wood and my heart rate was spiking when it shouldn’t have been.

I spent the half hour before my race warming up and getting my heart over threshold several times.  As I did I found it unusually easy to redline my heart rate with just a few pedal strokes, but just dismissed it as no-big-deal.  Because I’m ranked sixth in the series I got a call up to the front but because I knew I was feeling flat opted to just sit in the back row and not slow other riders down.

The cross-mountain bike handled awesome but the motor definitely needed an overhaul!

My bike was awesome but the motor definitely needed an overhaul!

When the race began it was obvious right way that I was just out of it.  I actually remember very little of the race but I know that my performance was flat at best.  I simply had nothing.  My legs just refused to go.  I noticed my heart rate spike a number of times and after the race I noted that my average HR was only 90%, or well off my normal race HR.  I also noted an abnormal amount of spikes as high as 137% of max HR.

It was pretty obvious that I just ran out of gas.  Between fighting a cold for the last two weeks and the cumulative effect of racing continuously and training hard for over two years without a break, I just had nothing left in reserve.  And it was a wake-up call.  I finished in ninth place but had I been in peak form I would have been on the podium.

After talking to several mentors who’ve been racing much longer than me, I’ve decided to take at least two weeks and do almost no training.  No running.  No hard rides.  No tempo rides.  Lots of rest.  I plan to do a very short (like under 20 miles) and very slow (under 15 mph) road ride on Wednesday just to keep my legs from seizing up and see how I feel.  I also plan on doing a lot of stretching.

In spite of my poor finish, I moved up from 6th to 5th place in the Omnium.

In spite of my poor finish, I moved up from 6th to 5th place in the Omnium.

I am currently planning on doing next week’s race in Durham only because I am in contention for the series and it’s only a 45-minute effort.  If all goes well I’m planning on doing the same thing the following week as well and hopefully begin to turn the corner on this burnout.  As I feel a little better I’ll gradually add to my workouts and allow myself to fully recover.

For those interested in my numbers, here they are for this week:

  • Avg HR: 90 % of Max

  • Max HR: 137 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 253 W

  • Max Power: 1,216 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 251 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 352 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 1.359

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 113.7

  • FTP Setting: 259 W

  • Work: 569 kJ

Don’t be impressed by the power numbers.  I use a CycleOps PoweCal heart rate based power meter.  It derives its power number from the rate of change in heart rate, among other factors.  Because my heart rate was spiking often and very irregular, it reported higher than normal power numbers.  Trust me, had I had normalized power of 352 watts I would have won the race!

So I guess the lesson for this week is that I cannot cheat fatigue.  I cannot perform well by sheer force of will.  It will be hard not to train for the next few weeks but I think it is what I truly need to do.  I’ll see how things go and keep you posted.