The cyclocross offseason is the time to reflect on the highs and the lows of the racing campaign. Now that you are rested and the bumps and bruises have healed, it is a good time to look at what you did right and what needs improvement. For many of us, however, it is not always easy to figure out how to tweak your training and technique to achieve next season’s goals. That is where a coach can be invaluable.
In the first installment of what I hope will be a three part interview series of coaches with successful cyclocross clients, I talked to Chris Mayhew of JBV Coaching. Chris is not only a great coach but an all around good guy. In fact, I first met Chris this past season at the BCA Cross in Hagerstown, Maryland. I was doing the safety-pin tango in my car window, straightening out an uncooperative race number, when this guy (Chris) with sweet muttonchop sideburns offered to help pin me up. I vowed at that moment that “If I ever start a cyclocross Web site, that man will be prominently featured!” To be honest, that last sentence I just made up. But the truth of the matter is that Chris Mayhew is super knowledgeable, knows how to get the best out of his clients, and is willing to help out dopes like me in a pinch.
I asked Chris a range of questions about coaching as well as some specific areas he concentrates on for clients that race cross. Here is what he had to say.
CXHairs: When did you start cycling?
MAYHEW: 1989 or so? I rode to school in junior high. My freshman year of high school I did a 62 mile charity ride. It’s been progressing like that ever since.
CXHairs: How did you get interested in the sport?
MAYHEW: I was sold my first racing bike by one of the local cat 2s who was working at the local shop.
I thought those guys were amazing, and I wanted to be like them. Plus, Greg LeMond was winning Tours de France at the time so I had that to look up to.
CXHairs: Did you come to cycling from another sport?
MAYHEW: If by that you mean “did the outfield sit down when I came up to bat (literally)” then yes, I did.
CXHairs: Anybody in your family race bikes?
MAYHEW: No one at all.
CXHairs: Did you grow up following professional cycling?
MAYHEW: I suppose, to some extent. What that meant in 1989 was me riding down to the library to Xerox TdF results from USA Today. I’ve always followed it at some level although never very closely.
CXHairs: What made you decide you wanted to coach?
MAYHEW: I was raised by two generations of teachers and I’ve always wanted to be one myself. And, being this slow, I’ve had to analyze every aspect of the sport (and continue to do so) and I feel like I should pass that on. A lot of people have really helped me along the way as well so I’d like to help someone out in the ways I was when I was coming up.
CXHairs: What training/education/experience did you draw on to prepare for coaching clients?
MAYHEW: I’ve been doing this for a long time and have had plenty of coaches and role models along the way. I also try and read 2-3 hours a day on line following various discussions and trends in cycling, especially related to powermeters since there really aren’t any good books out just yet on the subject. Lastly, John was my paid coach from 2002-2006. As it turns out that time was a pretty intensive apprenticeship. It’s a credit to John’s skill as a coach that he was able to create someone who could end up working for him.
CXHairs: Do you coach only cyclists? Any triathletes?
MAYHEW: Only cyclists at the moment. That’s based on experience. The money is going to be in coaching triathletes for the next few years, I think.
CXHairs: Are most of your clients serious racers or do some come to you just to get in better shape or maybe finish a century?
MAYHEW: I object to the term “serious” your honor. All of my clients race, but anyone who rides and wants to hire a coach is ok by me.
CXHairs: Do you have any Web-only clients?
MAYHEW: Most of my clients are Web-only. I do see them in person, especially during ‘cross season, but I typically only have 1 to 2 local clients at a time.
CXHairs: For clients that you see face-to-face, is most of the coaching relationship online? For me, it’s nice to be able to upload files and chat via e-mail with my coach, but it’s also nice to know that if I want to borrow a wheelset he’s not across the country.
MAYHEW: Most of the relationship is online, yes. They e-mail me files, I e-mail training schedules. I like to have a record of it to look back on. I do make a point to talk to them when I see them at local races and try and give them advice there. Of course by that standard most of my clients are “local” during the ‘cross season!
CXHairs: Do you have a coaching philosophy? What is it?
MAYHEW: I try not to be dogmatic. I think of myself as evidence-based coach who wants to use whatever tools are at hand to improve limiters and evaluate performance.
CXHairs: Do you focus just on workouts or do you also give your clients advice on race strategy, nutrition, technique, etc?
MAYHEW: I try to take it all in. For instance, you can’t tell a client to do 2×20 minute intervals on the trainer and then ignore the fact they don’t use a fan and the room temp is 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Another common problem is that clients don’t eat enough while riding. So then you get a powermeter file that is spot on for the first hour and then the rest of the file ends with their power being their heart rate divided by two. You didn’t achieve the goals we set, let’s figure out why.
I’ve always made it a point to try and talk about all aspects of ‘cross with any client. Good tire selection, brake set up and other technical issues. I was a bicycle mechanic most of my life so that comes naturally. If I’m going to be at a race where I have clients I always make a point to talk about the course before hand and do a few laps with them on the day of the race to inspect the course. What to ride, what to run, what sort of start to expect, etc.
CXHairs: What, if any, are the main differences between coaching road and cyclocross racers?
MAYHEW: Cross is a very compressed season, so you go through all the things a road racer does, but in 3 months. That means a lot more monitoring for burnout. Also, daylight gets yanked out from under us in the middle of the season, so a big part of coaching is just making the most of what a client has at that point and not asking them to do workouts that drain the system.
CXHairs: What is the biggest misconception people have about a coach’s role?
MAYHEW: Civilians think that I coach teams or wonder how I coach people I don’t race with, ala basketball. Most of the clients that come to me think I’m going to tell them they suck and they need to ride more. My philosophy is it’s my job to work with what you give me and not ask for more than that.
CXHairs: What do you believe is the biggest benefit a coach can provide?
MAYHEW: Off loading. It’s nice to have someone who can be objective about things. To pay someone to worry about all sorts of issues and just spit out a training program, and explain it at the level of detail required. I still consult with my boss John Verheul, for exactly those reasons.
CXHairs: The people reading this most likely race cross. What is one thing they can do next season that will make them faster?
MAYHEW: Attend a ‘cross clinic. I moved up 10 spots attending one. Everyone who attends my ‘cross practices comes back from a race and tells me our practices are harder than the race.
CXHairs: Is it just me, or do most clients say things like “geez I absolutely suck on the bike” hoping you will tell them how great they are?
MAYHEW: If they’re doing that I am too obtuse to pick up on it. I do try and encourage and cheerlead when possible but as my wife will tell you, if you’re fishing for compliments with me you’re barking up the wrong tree. Or something.
CXHairs: Do most of your clients train with power? What are the benefits and the pitfalls of the powermeter?
MAYHEW: Actually, no. Typically only 1-2 at a time. The benefits are an exponential increase in the quality of the relationship between you and your coach. I can see exactly what you are doing each day. Every ride or race is a test and gives me feedback on how you are progressing and what needs work. That seems a lot better deal than “It was hard, my HR was 178, I got dropped.”. With a powermeter I can tell you where and why you got dropped, and what, if anything, we need to do about it.
I think some people find it constraining to train with a powermeter, in that it quantifies things and makes them concrete. That said, I think once you work with them long enough you actually find they are freeing. I haven’t done a structured interval in a couple of years and I’m faster than I’ve ever been.
CXHairs: During the race season, how much feedback do you get from your clients and are you able to successfully modify or fine tune training to optimize results?
MAYHEW: For ‘cross, as much as possible. I typically talk to my clients Thursday or Friday before a race, at the race, after the race and hopefully on Monday as well. As I said, ‘cross is about burnout management to a large degree and the more I can hear from you, the better.
CXHairs: Along the same lines, how closely do you monitor training and tweak workouts throughout the year?
MAYHEW: It depends. Part of it is dependent on the level of coaching the client is paying for. The other is dependent on how much racing the client is doing. I always like to hear from someone on Monday, but if you’re not racing it may be a week or two between updates.
CXHairs: Weightlifting: good or bad?
MAYHEW: Show me one study that demonstrates an increase in aerobic performance via weightlifting.
CXHairs: Have you ever had a client willing to pay you but not do the work? How did you or would you handle that situation? At what point do you consider firing a client? Ever had to do it?
MAYHEW: I don’t know about “willing” but I have certainly had clients who simply ended up not having the amount of time they thought they might. Typically they end the coaching relationship at some point which is fine and hopefully we’ve both learned something during the process.
I have never fired a client. I know some coaches who have. I simply don’t think about it. It’s a job, it’s my job to do it.
CXHairs: Other than being interviewed on “In The Crosshairs,” what is your proudest coaching achievement?
MAYHEW: The clients who have come back from races and told me our ‘cross practice prepared them for a race. I must admit I pretty much live vicariously thru Marc Vettori, so any win he’s gotten I’m pretty stoked about.
CXHairs: POP QUIZ: I consistently finished between 15th and 20th of every race I entered this past CX season. My goal for next year is top 10s. What do you need to know about me to help me reach this goal?
MAYHEW: Your credit card number. [ed. note: nicely played, Mr. Mayhew] In all seriousness, a lot of things. We have a 30 question questionnaire that we send to all new clients. I’d want to inspect any and all power files you might have. I find talking on the phone, or in person, helps bring all that together into one package for me.
On the technical side I’d want an idea of what brakes and tires and tire pressure you’re using. And I’d probably watch a race or two of yours to see what, if anything, you need on the technique side of things.