Im currently half way through my first season of cyclocross racing in Australia. I’ve had mixed results ranging from finishing 1st to 6th in a field of 12ish. (Cat 3).
My question is regarding pacing. I dont have a power meter so can only go on heart rate and feel. Im finishing a 35ish minute race absolutely gassed with nothing more to give. My max heart rate is around 190bpm and usually have an average heart rate of 180bpm for the duration of the 35mins. (95% of max).
Am I going too hard and is it likely my performance would be more consistent backing off a bit?
What you describe is absolute normal. This is the nature on CX
I ride my races with PM, but the are absolutely worthless during the race. Is only interesting for later analysis. Also HR ist like it is, but not rely purely on feel or how much “pain” i can tolerate.
In my opinion there is not real pacing, because you need to defend you position in the field, whatever it cost. To pass is often not easy and if you stuck behind a slower rider this cost a lot time.
Heart rate is also normal. For me I experienced the highest HR always in some CX races
Absolutely normal. The atribute that’s needed is being chilled under pressure to keep looking for the best lines and driving every metre of track. As the HR is red lining all the time the only peaks are the start and last lap, or even half lap depending on how hard you’ve tried. There is a dip in speed just after the first lap as riders get their second wind, and if you’ve had a steadier start, it is the chance to close back to your pack.
Agreed with above, power meter is useless for pacing in a cross race. An all out effort is what you’re aiming for.
Why would you think you’re going too hard? If you went easier then your results wouldn’t be as good…
Check out my last race. Probably my best so far. My HR goes up and stays there.
Yep, you’re doing it right. My max HR is about 182. I hit 180 just after crossing the finish line.
As said PM doesnt help, its just for interest sake really. You just hit the power you can hit when you can hit it
Personally i feel like if i can do more than an very occasional glance at HR or Power on the Garmin im not doing it right anyway
My max HR is around 195, i avg 187-190 for a 45m race
Im in QLD btw, keen to get down there for CX sometime (I work for a Melb company so im there regularly anyway)
I don’t have power, and I daren’t show heart rate! The only time I look at my bike computer is to see how long until the suffering is over!
If you’ve won one of your races, you can’t be doing that much wrong.
I would look at the courses of those races where you felt you could have done better. ‘Inconsistancy’ can just as easily be down too skills and not fitnesss. Were there any technical sections you lost time on? Were the conditions different? More or less muddy, more or less hills? Cross is at least 40% skills, if this is your first season, then there is likely something you can work on.
I use a powertap on my CX bike but it isn’t helpful for pacing, I have a post where I did took a look at some trends I saw in my power over a season of racing and it was interesting to look at after the fact, but I think CX folks are so focused on the course to look at power or anything, and generally most courses don’t have a lot of places where you can really pace yourself.
I’ve had the opposite problem, finishing too fresh, but hopefully I can pour a bit more effort into my races this year (plus my threshold is higher so my hope is that even if nothing changes in my approach that I’d have 20-30w more power in a variety of situations lol)
The hardest CX race I’ve ever done is the one I’m currently in.
I’m using a power meter in races and trying to get my NP down and my average power up, but that’s for after the race. I don’t use any data during the race, might want heart rate if I ever manage to get up to the front.
This has been covered in a podcast episode (not sure which one) but they looked at power from a lot of pro cx’ers and found they were not quite as punchy as most people assume cross to be. They held a pretty constant power. It sounds like you’re doing it right, holding a high level of effort for the duration of the race.
Without a power meter riding punchy, in my experience, doesn’t leave me as gassed as a constant hard effort. Keep racing and have fun!
On thing I learned from power analysis is to pedal whenever and as log an possible. Not in race but in training I focused on pedaling. Keeping avg power higher and NP lower. This reveal merciless technical deficits. In a lot of situations I stop pedaling due to lack of skills, like in slippy corners.
This maybe a explanation why pro rider are able to ride less punchy.
I think the whole ‘pro riders are less punchy’ also has a few other caveats.
If your absolute power is higher, your speed and momentum is larger and you don’t need to punch to get over some features, like small bumps and hills. (You can see that also when watching the pro women vs the pro women, the men can ride a lot more of the same course, part of that might be skills, but part of it is just momentum and a higher speed).
Also if your absolute power is higher, you use a smaller relative amount of it to just keep moving (rolling resistance is huge in cross) and can use more of it to stay smooth.
The third point I think is equipment - easier to keep the power down in slippy corners if you have top of the range tubs at under 20 psi and as many bike changes as you want.
…that is not to say that a lot of the smoothness does come from skills!
Are your lap times within reach of each other, or are the later laps significantly slower than the first couple?
So much of cyclocross really comes down to dirt time trialing at the end of the day, I basically only use lap times as a guide (as opposed to power/hr) to how my pacing was. If your heart rate is very high the whole race, you could be going too hard at the beginning and fading (power/speed wise) the rest of the race. Or you could be putting in consistent lap times.
Good point on lap times
If you are doing pacing well, you should have fairly consistent lap times (traffic excluded). Last race my lap times were pretty consistent, 1 technical error on lap 4 put it behind a little, then faded a bit the final couple of laps. I knew at the end of the race I had gone out too hard, and the lap times confirmed
My better races have more consistent lap times generally within 20 seconds over a 8ish minute lap. My worse races lap times normally blow out a bit at the end - maybe 40ish seconds difference between first and last lap, however my heart rate is normally consistent between all laps ( around 95% of max HR). Im wondering is my heart rate staying maxed out but over the duration of the race my power is dropping?
Without a power meter it’s hard to know. For me, I find lap times pretty consistent (up to 45 minutes; or 2 back to back 30 min); first lap is more effort (watts); later laps I’m just as fast overall (time), but more efficient (less watts). I imagine more pre-riding could make the earlier laps more efficient at the higher power and thus faster. Technical skills and line/run decisions can play a major role… more watts isn’t always the easiest answer.
That’s what my suspicion would be - that you go really hard early which brings up your heart rate, but over the course of the race your power still drops. But because you’re redlined your HR stays up.
The difference in pacing could also be making more technical mistakes because you’re HR is high and you’re tired. It’s hard to say without having power data to look at.
I don’t think comparing ave power and normalised power is valuable here. If there are lots of corners with short straights in between your ave power and normalised power will be very similar despite the variability of your power being extreme. Check out the link to my race I posted earlier. I spent 25% coasting, 25% anaerobic and the ratio of AP and NP is 1.08! I think it is something to do with the 30 second rolling average that goes into NP.
I’m no great CX expert, but my strategy after a bit of messing around with my first few races, has been to go as hard as possible from the gun as room allows during the initial sprint, through the first sweeping corners, if there are any, and then let off the gas when the first real corner comes. Even if you go past what would seem reasonable…it’s still less than a minutes worth of effort, and however much you hurt yourself is more than made up for by initial position into the first technical sections.
From there it’s just about hanging on as best you can. I’ve often had 5-10 people pass me during the first lap while I come down from deep into the red after the initial sprint, but again…I’ve pretty consistently passed 20 plus people from the get go. And, I’ve done pretty well about settling into a sustainable tempo and recovering from the first lap.
It probably helps that I’m in no danger of being in the front line of the race, and there is always an inevitable back up in one or two corners on the first lap that lets me catch my breath for a second or two. Hopefully this year, I’ll be at the pointy end of the race…and I might have to rethink my strategy so I don’t blow up from the get go