As spring approaches, so does the beginning of most peoples' race season! Simultaneously, workouts tend to –or at least should– begin to become more specific and intense in nature. This is the perfect time to do some "spring cleaning". What I mean by that is dialing in the energy systems, effort, and requirements specific to your events. Here's what that might look like for the various facets with which we train:
TOP TIPS FOR A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SPORT
BALANCE: there is often pressure to hone in on a single objective without compromise. Be flexible and keep variety in your lives to develop a good foundation. Try different events, keep fun group rides going, and use cross-training to keep things balanced.
SKILLS: getting *physically* faster is pretty cut and dry and tends to be a relatively responsive experience. Skills, on the other hand, are what allow you to capitalize on that fitness and are all-too-often overlooked. Dedicate some time to them!
RECOVERY: “train hard, recover harder”. Don’t be afraid to take it easy, spin, or just not ride! Recovery is what enables you to gain from all those days of work you put in.
NUTRITION: fuel your workouts accordingly so that you can maximize the benefits from them. Don’t skimp on food/fuel when it you have a key workout, race, etc. When off the bike, focus on really quality, balanced meals and eating to your needs: ie. don’t fall for stereotypes around what an athlete “should look like”. STRONG IS FAST.
PROCESS: embrace the process of developing in the sport. It is easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing (or say you should be doing) and lose your own “north star”. Highlight your calendar with important “A Events” (MTB Nationals, NICA Season, Championship events, etc.) but don’t be afraid to venture out. Pick races and events that you truly enjoy, plan fun weekend MTB getaways with friends or family, and keep it fun.
As many transition into the well-known “base" season, it is easy to feel a bit lost. Fellow athletes, friends, and foes on STRAVA are rolling out the miles and boasting huge days in the saddle. Social media pours out pictures and videos of people "on the grind". Post-season anxiety can build when you feel like you're going back to the drawing board or losing fitness gains from the year. I'm even subject of this myself and find worry creeping in. However, this year –if any– is an indication of what diligence, balance, and having a curated approach to training can do for you...despite everything else.
Long, monotonous days on the bike certainly have their place, but there are a few key aspects of training and everything else off-the-bike that are crucial in preparing for the coming season. As you make the shift this early winter, don't neglect how a basic strength training routine can impact your experience. Now is the perfect time.
The benefits of strength training are growing more and more apparent. As World Cup style courses are evolving into more technical and demanding tracks, athletes are steering away from body-typing, and the science is reaching the public, we are seeing a push towards time in the gym. Aerobically, everyone can "get fit" fast. However, strength training can dramatically improve overall raw power, repeatability, injury prevention, and (wait for it) even aerobic fitness! Strength training is actually super variable in and of itself and is also super time efficient. Going into the gym and lifting heavy is great, but it is something that has to be built up to. It's actually amazing what all can be done in your home with simple, basic moves. Challenging your body with dynamic and varying exercises, building core strength, and touching up on your upper body are extremely helpful and enable your body to work properly. Supplementing some dynamic work in like this does loads for activating important muscles throughout your body AND improving imbalances.
Some key aspects of my strength routine are to include those that are targeting stabilization muscles and/or isolating a body part to prime my body –like including a balance pad/board and doing single leg activities (these are usually a variation of Split Squats, Pistols, Single Leg Dead Lift, or others). Then, I dial in those traditional workouts like front and/or regular squats, deadlift, etc. I usually make circuits that include an upper, lower, and core exercise to get solid rest between. Tossing in core exercises in between sets is super easy to do and helps add that little bit of attention to the full core. As far as upper body, it is often neglected by cyclists because they feel they “don’t need the weight”. Mountain bike racing demands a lot from your upper body…and if you can’t answer that demand then riding becomes sloppy. This can ruin your recovery throughout the race, leave you trailside picking yourself up, or just wasting energy making up time.
CONTACT ME PLEASE if you would like a bit more info or want to get an idea of a good routine to follow –I'd be happy to help!
*For a bit more on strength in the gym and the science behind it, I highly suggest this podcast by Mark Sisson and Jacques Devore.
With an unexpectedly quiet year for racing, there comes a chance to reset, recalculate, and regain focus for the season(s) to come. While it may be easy to become passive about training, exploiting opportunities to dial in specifics can be as beneficial now as ever. It is about the BALANCE. Unregulated days of barbag-filled adventure, leaving the Garmin at home, can be exactly what your soul craves. Meanwhile, those workouts that complement long term, big picture specifics can be amazingly helpful to your progression. This is the beauty of this time period. Don’t completely neglect the specifics and write it off – racing may not be in your cards for the season, but let the joy of the PROCESS stoke your fire. Ancillary strength? Anaerobic system power? Aerobic ceiling? Sourdough bread recipe?
Use this flexibility to find the balance, routine, and progression that you need.
I had been eyeing an early season experience for a long time, and after settling on a stage race in Greece I couldn’t have been more anxious. An early trip overseas for the 2019 season, questionable fitness (or I should say race speed), and my first stage race ever. I came into the new year with a few goals in mind: get early season points, so those first world cups aren’t so harsh, and try to expand my racing experience. So, a stage race in Greece provided the perfect opportunity to begin ticking off those bucket list items. With a little bit of last minute school prep/cramming/bargaining and some rusty bike packing skills, I was headed off on the first race adventure of the year.
Arriving in mainland Greece, (Athens) I met up with Jerry Dufour and we began the complicated journey to Salamina Island. We finally made it onto a ferry as night fell and was saved by USAC and Bear mechanic Julien Petit on the other side. We stayed with a few other fellow teammates and USAC athletes (who had already been there a week for the first stage race) and took time Monday to get acquainted with this weirdly small island.
All three races, Salamina Epic #1, 2 and the XCO, were held on the same beach front portion of the island, so we got pretty familiar with the warm up route. We woke Tuesday jet lagged and tired as our all-too-short turnaround ended with the approach of Stage 1: the time trial.
Stage racing requires you to be ON IT every day, as your time on each stage accumulates to a total General Classification (GC), where the final results are determined. The TT, being about 25 minutes in length, was an absolute shell-shock to the system. Not having done an effort like that in months made for a rude awakening to the week. Though I was back in the 25-30 ish range, I was fortunate to not have lost a crazy amount of time since the race was so short.
However, Stage Two’s Marathon race was a different story...
Day four and Stage Three came with a good dose of fatigue after the marathon, but I only had to survive 30+ minutes of short-track racing this day. We shoveled more oatmeal, suited up, and headed back to the venue. The racing was expectedly intense, and I certainly dug myself a hole. Not able to force myself towards the front of the group meant I missed that crucial first lap selection: the critical portion of the start of the race where bottlenecks happen and groups form. Thus, I spent most of the race digging forward trying to reclaim lost spots. A little frustrated and spent, I had to collect the lessons to be learned and put all the focus on the fourth and final stage of the race: point to point.
Unsure of what I’d be capable of after my first four days of racing, I tucked all the doubt away and got stoked for the opportunity ahead. Using the same neutral start to alley-way explosion, we rode from the city hall of Salaminas to the race venue. I was positioned a bit better this time around and was able to limit some loses when the hammer was dropped. As we made our way onto the venue and headed out for one backcountry loop, I felt things starting to really tick over, but tackling every climb blind just meant I had to test myself and hope that it was short enough that I wouldn’t pop. I found some rhythm and was able to settle into a strong mental state, finally feeling that race speed I had been looking for all week.
We had one day to rest up and relax a bit on Saturday after the conclusion of the stage race. So, naturally we went off to bakery hunt for the best baklava and sight see. When it came time for tackling one more single-day XC race on Sunday to polish off the trip, I must have been stuck in second gear. The legs just didn’t want to snap around and I was pedaling squares –that was that. Not the finishing result I had hoped for, but more racing experience to tuck in my pocket.
That night, our last night in Greece, was an amazing treat. We headed into mainland and drove through Athens where we saw a glimpse of iconic pieces of history –like Acropolis and the first ever modern Olympic stadium. Following that, we were treated to some of the best Greek food around. We were seated and brought endless pitas, homemade Greek salad, and meat skewer assortments. No better way to cap off one of the most unique racing and traveling experiences I’ve had yet.
The opportunity to travel to Europe with USA Cycling is something I never take for granted. To put on the stars and stripes and race bikes in a foreign country always is and always will be an honor. With this being my second U23 World Cup trip, I truly felt like I have been growing into my shoes recently and was ecstatic to head overseas with the rest of Team USA. This time, however, my trip was going to be an even more exciting experience. Two teammates of mine extended the invitation to head over a week early with them for our own little jog through Europe. With this, we had the opportunity to go over a good eight days early to get acquainted with the lifestyle, dabble in a test race in Austria, and even see a few sights. We shared a rental RV from the Frankfurt area and embarked to Austria for the week.
#RVliving presented some tasks along the way (6-speed trickiness, flat tire, water scavenging) but it was an experience that I wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way. “Camping” was wherever we were able to find a quiet enough dirt/farm road, rides were scouted through Trail Forks, and the road ahead was all of our own choosing. Sharing the drive, the groceries, and the laughs was a stellar start to our trip.
Obertraun Race Report
Heading into Austria as the first spot on our map for the tour was a sweet treat. The area surrounding our race was unreal; beautiful snow-topped mountain peaks, a glacier fed lake, and classic euro infrastructure. Our course was a specifically designed mountain bike race “arena”/course. It had plenty of spectator viewing, raw sections of course, and big man-made features. Being there a few days early gave us ample time to look it over and enjoy the area.
Race day brought back all the feels I hadn’t had since the spring races, but it was a little more relaxed than I expected. Our field of 40ish wasn’t huge, but it was stacked. I aimed to hang in the pack throughout the first bit of the race to get a feel as to where my travel legs might be, so I tried to be a bit conservative early on. This course...with wall-scaling steep climbs, punished as the race progressed but I was sitting in a good spot around 13th. However, a few chain-drops later and I was wasting time and energy. I rolled in 16th but came away satisfied with how the form was coming along.
After meeting the team at the airport and transferring to Albstadt, Germany, things were lining up for the week prior to World Cup round #2.
Albstadt Race Report
Preparation seemed to be a little more key this week as rain showers made conditions dicey coming into the race. Line choices and tire checks were made all week, the venue getting busy, and the nervous stoke building−it was race weekend.
As we headed out the door Saturday afternoon, a light sprinkle turned into a slow rain. This meant that conditions were about to be upgraded to an insanely wild state. Well over a hundred rollers buzzed as we took our start boxes and the pressure was building for my third ever European World Cup.
With the time stacking up on me early and unable to really turn it on, I definitely didn’t end up where I had hoped. Albstadt was certainly a shock to the system and was a pretty chaotic but exciting way to start the USAC WC trip, despite a disappointing position. With a little weight off my shoulders and some lessons learned, I was hungry to gather myself and get ready for a bigger and better chance the following weekend at World Cup round #3: Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.
NMNM Race Report
Czech Republic−a new spot on the map. I was even more eager coming into the third and final stop of my European tour because I knew this place was quite possibly the most iconic world cup venue of them all. The course was full of loam, southeast style rooty sections, and big rock features. A whole week here went by quick while we eagerly waited to ride the course. As the venue began to swarm and the clock ticked down, race day was live and things were about to get heated.
NMNM featured a much wider start loop and course in general, making traffic a bit less of an issue. The just shy of 150 riders made it through the start straight and first few corners unscathed, which is where I have naturally lost spots just from being too timid. In an effort to avoid losing too much time and consumed by the flow of the pack, I put everything I had into the first three or so laps of the race. Thankfully, my efforts paid off and I moved up quickly and consistently. However, there was a bill to be paid for the effort and I did so in the later laps of the race. Salvaging what matches I had left, I found a strong group and pushed with them towards the finish. Chris Blevins, having a less than ideal race, had slipped back to me and we were on the move together in the final stretch. In a bunch sprint I ended up losing a good four or five spots as the legs began to pull the plug. Despite having an unimpressive result on paper, I’m stoked on the mental aspect of my race more than anything. The overwhelming nature of these races has a tendency to want to shut you down when things get hard. NMNM is one of the tightest running races I’ve been in and every... second... counts. Thirty seconds can literally separate two dozen riders. Staying in the fight was the battle itself.
An adventurous Sunday was filled with a big endurance ride through the countryside and the opportunity to watch live, in person, pro races. A few of us joined the thousands of spectators and took to the forest to cheer on one of the most exciting World Cup races yet. A thunderous crowd lit up the woods and it was one heck of an atmosphere to be a part of.
Ample lessons were learned and plenty of memories made on this year’s spring European tour. Traveling across Europe in an RV and racing the fiercest competition on the planet in gorgeous places has a way of humbling me. It is a great thing I get to do, and keeping that in perspective is what continues to drive me.
As the infamous “base” season transitions into a demanding Spring, it is easy to be “chamois time is training time” oriented. Fellow athletes on STRAVA are rolling out the miles and boasting huge days in the saddle. Preseason anxiety builds and I find myself worrying about hours on the bike-or rather if I have got enough of those hours under my belt. Long, monotonous days on the bike certainly do their part, but there are a few key aspects of training and everything-else-off-the-bike that are crucial in preparing for the coming season. It goes without saying that sleep, nutrition, and hours on the bike are important to “gains”, but I want to point out some aspects of training that are as important as anything else. These focus points have been huge for me and I want to share them-
whether they serve as reminders, encouragement, or just a time-killing read.
What I like to do, and has been advised by my coach, is include some of those traditional workouts (regular squats, leg press, deadlift…) with others that are targeting stabilization muscles and/or isolating a body part-like including a balance pad or board. I usually make circuits that include an upper, lower, and core exercise. Tossing in a couple side planks or swiss ball core exercises in between leg sets is super easy to do and helps add that little bit of attention to the core and back. As far as upper body, it is often neglected by cyclists because they feel they “don’t need the weight”. XCO racing demands a lot from your upper body…and if you can’t answer that demand then riding becomes sloppy and it can ruin your recovery throughout the race, or leave you trailside picking yourself up. (not to mention overall injury prevention!)
*For a bit more on strength in the gym and the science behind it, I highly suggest this podcast by Mark Sisson and Jacques Devore.
Of course it is important to be flexible! Cyclists aren’t gymnasts, but being able to move with and around your bike is crucial in racing. When you are a bit more flexible, this allows your body to work more efficiently and effectively on the bike, especially in techy sections. I always try to get in a light stretch right after training rides, but I can vouch for the fact that it’s not always what I want to do as soon as I get off the bike. However, it is super easy to get in a good 10 min of basic stretches right before bed and this is usually my go-to.
One of the single-handedly most important parts of XC racing is being able to handle the bike. Rough, steep, technical terrain is prevalent in every single race. Whether it be a Southeastern NICA race or a World Cup, basics like cornering and technical skills are vital. The more comfortable you are, the faster you are, and the less energy you spend.
Adding a session of skills to the weekly regimen has been super important for me as the race season builds. On recovery days, I’ll often take the mtb out and session a section of trail just focusing on basic technical skills. It is easy for people to get glued to the road bike saddle while trying to put in more hours, but I like to incorporate workouts on the trail or on my mtb just to keep that feel and flow.
Train Hard, Rest Harder
Training makes you slow. Recovery makes you fast. What? Yeah that’s right, training does nothing but break your body down-so why do people neglect the recovery? As training accumulates, it becomes more and more important to pay attention to how you feel and how you are recovering. The adaptation of your work is where all the gains are made. When you have to go hard-go hard, but when you have to go easy-GO EASY.
Controlling the Controllable(s)
Last but not least, DO YOUR THING. This one is what I have to remind myself weekly. It is so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. I personally catch myself getting anxious as the season approaches and social media can be the root of that. I love to stay tuned in to what is going on around the world with different friends and athletes. It is a fun thing to get excited about, but when you see people racing in SoCal, training in South Africa, traveling because they aren’t in school…it is easy to get caught up. If you’re on the trainer most winter nights: sweet, get it. If you are snowed in a lot and cross training with skiing or something else: sweet, get it. I have learned (largely in part to clinical sports psychologist Kristin Keim) that no matter what, control the controllable(s). That being: focus only on what you can do and put your mental and physical energy into that. Above all, enjoy your process.
Saying that I both had a great time and learned a lot at the Bear Pro Team Camp is an understatement. I was so amped to kick off the year and officially get back together with the team. It was so exciting to be packing the bike again and getting things together for another travel day, something I’ve missed over the long winter months. Partnered up with the boys, Jason Jablonski, Shaums March, and Stephen Ettinger, our team camp commenced on Friday afternoon.
Sunday we rose to meet Shaums and work on skills involving drops, jumps, and steep terrain. A good dusting of snow and frigid temps didn’t keep us held back. We started with cornering in the street, then moved to the trails to work on our drops/jumps–progressively working up to bigger ones. We got a quick lunch after this session and then headed out with Stephen to rip some phenomenal Bellingham single track. Working on applying those steep skills, this day was a huge help to all of us involving comfort on the cross country bike. My “dinner partner” and I (Eli) made burritos for the crew and we finished off Sunday with some nutritional, training, and Q & A talk with both Jason and Stephen.
Our final morning came quicker than imaginable, and we packed everything up Monday morning to be ready to go after an AM trail ride. Shaums treated us to some pristine (and frozen) single track to close out the trip. After heading out of Bellingham, we had a good bit of time at the SeaTac airport to reflect on what was a phenomenal weekend. Along with an amazing group of resources, it had the full spectrum of skill work, mental work, and strength work. Not to mention the fact that it was a total stoke builder for everyone on the team. We are completely blown away by the support from sponsors, USA Cycling, and those involved in this coming season and this team camp just amplified our excitement. Time to get the 2018 season rolling!
PLEASE check out this slideshow below to see even more stellar photos!
PHOTOS: Ian Stowe // many thanks
Speechless. A dream and goal of being invited to compete in a World Cup had come true.
After receiving the invitation, I was ecstatic to begin prep for a new European tour. It had been awhile since my last trip over the pond so staying excited, even on two day-long travel, wasn't a task.
I met up with the team in Barcelona, a quick 8 hour flight and 7 hour time change later, and we began our drive to Andorra. It was a welcoming feeling to return to the last place I had left Europe, like I had left something to be picked up again. Our trip began, the routine became expresso, ride, massage, lay around, eat. Although it wasn't the most touristy of plans, I was more than fine with the experience and opportunity I was getting.
Race day came, quicker than my jet lag wanted it to. However, there's no rest for the weary and it was time to saddle up for my first World Cup ever. A deep field had me sitting around 80th in it for a call up. As we surged at gun shot, the field tore up the first grassy, open climb. Diving into the woods it was almost immediate that we began to walk/run through the first single track section...and then the one following. This was to be expected, so the name of the game was picking riders off consistently. It quickly dawned on me that the thin air and travel was taking more of a toll than I expected it to. I could feel a massive lack in power, like I couldn't get oxygen through my body to start turning things over. From here I tried to minimize my losses and hold on to every spot. I ended up losing some ground and finished two laps off the leaders—a discouraging start to the euro trip. It was no good to dwell on what was, so I had to gather myself and move onward and upwards for the rest of week and trip. One last salute to Andorra with a day off following the race and it was time to move on.
We departed Andorra Tuesday morning, with two days of trekking to do until reaching the venue of World Cup number two: Lenzerheide, Switzerland. We split the drive into two, six-ish hour drives, spending most of the time in the rolling hillside of France. However, the scenery drastically changed as we rolled deep into the Swiss Alps. There are the Smokies, there are the Rockies, and then there are the Alps—a breed of their own.
It didn't take too long to settle into Lenzerheide for the week. With stunning views, a course-side hotel, and comforting Swiss culture, the week was second to none. Being there on Tuesday evening gave our crew plenty of time to learn the course and dial in lines. As the little village became populated during the week, World Cup number two was on.
Downhill was first on the schedule for the weekend. There is something special about sitting next to the finishing drop of a World Cup downhill race that you're used to watching on red bull tv from the couch at home. It was an awesome experience, but the focus was back on us. Saturday we dialed in lines on course and put in some efforts to open up the engines—it was race day again.
Overnight rain didn't ruin the party, it just made things even more exciting. I snagged a quick breakfast and then before I knew it I was kitted up and mounting the rollers for warm up. I knew I would have some work to do, being called up 96th, so a good start was going to be crucial. The 140 deep field surged off at gunshot. A few pedal strokes later and there was a pile up to avoid, and then stragglers trying to fix their bikes. We pushed on up a paved road before dumping into single track, where things got hectic. Trying to fit 140 riders into one track works for the first 15 who stay on their bike, after that we were walking...and I mean literally barely walking. Things were a bit more zesty with a fresh coat of mud on course, and there were two or three other spots in the first lap where I had to dismount and run. By the time lap one had come around I was already about four to five minutes down on the leaders. The next few laps it was just picking off and holding on to riders. Small line changes here and there might save you two or three seconds, but over the course of a lap could mean two or three riders. I found some rhythm and a bit more strength than the previous weekend, pushing it at every little opportunity. I knew I was losing more and more time each lap, so I went all in trying to avoid the time cut. Unfortunately, I finished one lap down, moving up about 10 spots from where I started. Although it's not the "numbers" I was looking for, I'm satisfied in knowing I found some rhythm in my race amidst the chaos.
I'm beyond grateful and happy to have had the opportunity to return to the European scene. It's a whole new ballgame on their side of the pond, so every race and trip is a learning opportunity. The experience benefited me so very much. I'm grateful for all who donated to making this trip possible and to the coaches, mechanic, and people who made it so amazingly smooth. Pulling on the Stars and Stripes is an amazing experience every time.
Please visit and/or share my page! [https://usacycling.rallyme.com/rallies/7399]
I am beyond excited and grateful to have been selected for the next round of World Cup races in Europe! These races will be in Andorra and Lenzerheide, Switzerland. It has been a long work in progress and I am stoked to see the work and planning fall into place. I know I will benefit from the travel and experience of racing at the highest level and am eager to get this trip kickstarted.
With an amazingly supported Canada Cup fundraiser, I am looking to keep the ball rolling. Typically, USAC athletes have to raise funds for airfare in order to take part in international races, with funds not available to cover all the expenses of these trips. I am hoping to use this Rally Me fundraiser to cut the costs it will take to go and compete. The USA Cycling crew will cover all on-ground expenses, but it is my job to get over there-covering flight costs and other airfare fees. With flights costing me and my family nearly $2,000, it would be incredibly helpful to get any aid in this process, and I can not explain how grateful I would be to receive any.
If you would be so gracious to assist, your help would extend well beyond just this trip!
A special thank you to Julia Violich and Bear Development, coach Dario Fredrick, USA Cycling, and those who have supported me to this point. I am unbelievably thankful for the continued love and support as I pursue this awesome cycling career and I look foward to what is to come!
Carson Beckett, 22 // UCI MTB Racer // Coach // // Student // Outdoor Enthusiast