The ‘Newbies’ guide to surviving a ‘cross race

Friend of Fluent in Cross Julie Phelan is a former elite level mountainbiker, now returned to cycling after a big break and finding herself strangely drawn to the delights of (muddy) ‘cross. In this guest article for FiC she dispenses some very handy pearls of wisdom on how to survive your first proper mudder…

This article was originally published on Julie’s website Woman on a Mission

Julie also runs off-road coaching courses for women in and around the Midlands area.




Last weekend was my first really muddy cross race of the season. As I approached the car and began sorting myself out, I felt rather pleased with myself. It wasn’t about my result, because that was the performance I had expected, but rather that I was now, a well organised cross racer. You might think, what the hell is she on about? But I can tell you life is much improved from my initial mud fest in Baggeridge Park a couple of years ago.

I recall approaching the car with it’s light blue upholstery, my backside and gloves plastered in mud and everywhere else, an interesting shade of brown. It was freezing and I knew my priority had to be getting dressed and warm. But how? I didn’t know where to start! I was on my own, but somehow, had to galvanize myself into action. How could getting undressed under a towel be that hard? I opened the car door with filthy hands, covered everything, and sure enough the car door closed on my muddy bum, as I reached over to fetch my clothes. There went the nice light blue interior and you can only imagine what it was like trying to ram a muddy bike into the back of the car.A total freezing mucky hell!

This isn’t a guide to buying a big van, pressure washer or organising staff to help you. We all begin by going to small races on our own with minimal kit. So how can you make it a bearable experience? Well here is my personal guide to surviving and making the whole thing enjoyable.The key is organisation.

I have the luxury of two bikes which are carried on a tow bar mounted rack. This has been the best present I have every had. No more mucky bikes in the car! I always pray for rain on the journey home, hoping I will arrive back with two sparkly bikes.

All post race clothes, shoes etc are thrown into a special plastic tub which can be swilled later. I do carry water, but usually a fair bit of this has to be used to wash the bike down after the practice ride, so there is little left for washing.Yep that sounds dreadful but believe me if you attempt to clean up with limited resources, the mess seems worse and most of it’s left on your towel. It seems better to just let it dry and jump in the shower at home. The use of a wet wipe on your face may be useful if you need to buy fuel or heaven forbid, talk to the RAC on the way home!

Faced with muddy wet legs, nice stretchy trousers like joggers or lycra bottoms pull on easily over filthy legs. Go for ease and speed, this is no time for vanity. You’ll just look like one of the ‘in crowd’!

On the way home I usually stop at the jet wash. I am slowly redistributing parts of the country, to a garage forecourt in Leek. Speed is your friend because by now you are dreaming about sitting on the settee with a well earned cup of tea and it’s beginning to get dark.

Once at home, all the muddy clothes are left soaking over night in a preprepared bucket outside by the back door.The washing machine usually gets a reprieve until the next morning.

So there you have it! Phelan’s guide to making a muddy cross race as easy as possible. I have no doubt you may have some additional ideas yourself. All you need to fret about, is how to pedal fast.

An after thought – Do you think dried mud under lycra feels like varicose veins? Not that I have got any but it does feel weird, Let me know? lol

FiC Drills Session

Cyclocross is all about technique and skill, not just fitness. But technical ability and skill don’t usually come out of nowhere, so ‘cross riders wishing to improve their racing or even just general riding and confidence need to practice those skills. Continually.

To help you improve, we’ve put together a handy lunchtime or evening session of drills for you to structure your efforts, and take you through a progressive session that will hit all the key techniques and skills in one fun session. Do this anytime of the season to keep you sharp, but particularly before the season starts and in it’s early weeks. If you have less time or limited facilities, just pick out the bits you can do more conveniently – a session on a couple of skills will still pay huge dividends when your are close to you max heart rate, and struggling for grip round a race lap in the future.

So, find yourself a convenient venue and get drilling!

Click here for a downloadable pdf version Fluent in Cross – 60 min Cyclocross Drill

Or get the 2 page drill session below:

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Stately coaching Super Cross style

As venues go, it’s not too shabby really. Broughton Hall, near Skipton, Yorkshire dates back to 1597 and the 300 acre estate has been in the same family for all the intervening time. Extensive and well contoured grassland, good access and a beautiful location make for a very special cyclocross experience.

It’s become a firm favourite on the Northern leg of the ever popular 3 part Rapha Super Cross series, and along with the usual fab Super Cross atmosphere, cowbells, beer, foam machine and general shenanigans, we were very pleased to be doing some free skills coaching organised by Rapha, on Day 1 of the double header weekend of 18/19 October this year. A small but keen group worked on their dismounts, remounts, cornering and carrying technique, several in preparation for racing later in the day. With varying degrees of experience from minimal to extensive, it was good to work on bedding in and fine tuning those essential ‘cross skills.

Coaches Mark and Alan also had a quick turnaround to get onto the start line of the combined Senior, Junior, Vets and Women’s race on an excellent course that threw fast corners, slow corners, off cambers, hurdles and some quite sticky mud at competitors.

First pic: Mark Turner

All other pics: Jo Allen


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Free skills coaching from FiC at Rapha Super Cross, Broughton Hall

Fluent in Cross will be providing two free 1hr coaching sessions at the Rapha Super Cross round, Broughton Hall on Saturday 18th October.

Aimed at beginners hoping to race ‘cross for the very first time at the 2014 Rapha Super Cross series, or in the near future, these sessions will cover how to get off and back on the bike safely and smoothly as well as carrying and cornering techniques.

Max 20 per session so book now!

Session times:

11am or 12pm

Please book on the links below:

Session 1: 11am – 18th October

Session 2: 12pm – 18th October

Venue for both sessions:

Broughton Hall
Skipton, Yorkshire BD23 3AE

In praise of running…

Running. Another ‘marmite’ activity for two-wheel-centric enthusiasts. Hated, avoided, tolerated or occasionally embraced by riders throughout the country, we’ve been thinking about the role running can play in your cycling performance, and more specifically your cyclocross performance.

Pic: Jo Allen

You hear (a small number of) people moaning regularly about having to get off and run in cyclocross races. Usually mid season, and on a grass based circuit following weeks of heavy rain. Somehow, the possibility that a wet maritime climate combined with a winter, grass and woodland based sport could produce an extremely muddy surface, seems to have escaped them. Perhaps they haven’t seen the regular race coverage from Belgium – the climate is similarly damp there and their races often produce parcours that require more than the occasional dismount and carry, particularly if conditions have been properly ‘Flandrian’ in the run up to the race.

The mechanics of cycling don’t naturally lend themselves to peak running performance. Different muscle groups, and a lack of impact in the pedal stroke all conspire to produce serious stiffness and DOMS (look it up) in a cyclist branching out into running. But we urge you to give running a chance and by persevering gently, try your hand at it this spring, by way of build up to summer cross and the full winter season.

We’ve found that the benefits to your general cycling performance can be significant: increased strength on steep climbs, an extra boost to fitness as well as increased core stability when on the bike or on longer rides. All of that before you even examine the ‘cross-specific benefits: fluidity when mounting and dismounting, better speed across muddy stretches or climbs too hard to ride and better aerobic tolerance when transitioning back to riding from an off-the-bike section.

By introducing 10-15 mins of running, preferably off-road or on grass, a couple of times a week, we are sure you will notice the difference in your next ‘cross race where the course designer has conspired (with or without the weather) to have you off your bike and hot-footing to the next point where you can get back on. As the winter season approaches you can then introduce more specificity to your running with short, sharp hill efforts that mimic the running efforts in your races.