Training for Cyclocross III: Longer Intervals

On October 19, 2013 by Christian

In the first article on intervals I outlined some short, intense sprint-focused blocks aimed at preparing you for the highest-order output cyclocross has to offer.

In this one I lay out some less intense suggestions. These are geared toward training the body to go hard, but not 100%, for the full 30 to 60 minutes of race. One set in particular is aimed at simulating the efforts of different parts of a race; the other is simply aimed at pushing your threshold upward.

The race lap intervals:

Think about the first lap of a race-balls out for a minute or more, then another several minutes of easing back a notch but still being well above your 45-60 minute pace, then finally settling mercifully into that pace. Let me first give credit to Josh Thornton who suggested the structure of the first-lap effort to me earlier this year—he is a smart guy, a wicked fast racer and has some fantastic ideas about training. Anyway, each of these efforts looks much like a certain part of a common race rhythm. Note: take 10-15 minutes recovery interval between each of these.

1st lap: I call this the 1-4-4 and, again, thanks to Josh for the idea. Once you’re well warmed up, the interval begins with a minute at ~130-150% of your FTP if you train with power. If not, it is a nearly all-out effort much harder than a threshold effort. Then, you drop to 105-110% of FTP for 4 minutes—this is the VO2 level effort, or if you train by heart rate just above your normal race average. The final 4 minutes is at race pace or at your threshold. Let’s say your FTP was around 300 watts. You’d spend a minute at 390-410 watts, drop down to 315-330 for 4 minutes, then down to around 300 for the final 4 minutes. It hurts.

“Middle lap” effort or the “2-7-1”: Depending on your fitness level or the time of the season you might do one, perhaps 2 of these. First two minutes is back at your VO2 level; then 7 minutes at threshold, then a final minute back up at VO2. Note these aren’t maximal levels—again, during the middle chunk of a race this is less common. We often get into the selection group at the start, settle in there, and then things shake back up in the last 10-15 minutes.

“Last lap” or 5-5-30-30: five minutes at your threshold followed by 5 all-out 30 second efforts, each of which is followed by 30 seconds at endurance/tempo pace. At first you will likely need to drop to full recovery pace for each of those 30 second recovery periods, but ask yourself: do you have that luxury in a race? No—stay up at your tempo pace and tell your body to get with it.

More standard threshold efforts are 12-20 minutes at your functional threshold power or 60-minute/LT heart rate. The point of these steady-state efforts is simple: the threshold is the one number that is most amenable to movement by proper training, unlike your VO2 max, for example. That’s why we push and prod it so much—because with the right training you can push that number closer and closer toward your VO2 max, making it possible for you to handle a harder baseline pace during a race. And that’s the name of the game.

Sometimes I have cyclists start a hard workout with a sprint block, then do one or more of these lap efforts, and finish with a threshold effort. Others they’re just one kind in a day, depending on the kind of training block going on at the moment or what kinds of racing are coming up. The point here is that all of these efforts—and the maximal sprint ones too—have to be fit appropriately into a longer cycle, whether one week, 3-4 weeks, or even the entire CX season.

Often a cyclist with some experience is really intelligent about a training day and perhaps a training week too. Harder is to build those smaller cycles into the meso- and macro- cycles that make for a great season, and this is what I think coaches are well placed to do. I am one, but I now have first-hand experience with Drew Edsall (, Jeb Stewart (Endurofit) and Josh Thornton (email Josh) and would recommend any and all of them. All three of these gentlemen have tons of experience in CX and beyond and I’ll speak to their graciousness and generosity as coaches.

Last thing: if you try one or more of these workouts, let me know what you think—I am always eager to get feedback so please drop a line.