Pro cyclist offers three tips for an injury-free Jingle Cross

Corey Coogan Cisek participates in cyclocross
Photo by Hans van der Maarel

University of Iowa Sports Medicine will once again serve as the official medical provider for the 2019 Jingle Cross Cyclocross Festival the weekend of Sept. 13 to 15 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in Iowa City.

Cyclocross is an off-road bicycle race that takes place on a short, winding course of grass and mud, with a few artificial features—like ramps, bridges, and even stairs—that add to the physical challenges that make the sport so entertaining.

Jingle Cross includes races for every skill level, from rank beginners to weekend warriors to the elite superstars of the sport who will come from around the globe to race in the World Cup event on Saturday.

The on-site medical professionals in the UI Sports Medicine tent have the experience to treat any of those athletes for the scrapes, bruises, and occasional broken bones that happen during the weekend.

“We work with that same range of patients every day—from recreational athletes to some of the best college performers in the nation,” says Britt Marcussen, MD, team physician for the Iowa Hawkeyes and Jingle Cross medical director. “That’s one of the strengths we bring to an event like this. We’re very good at tailoring our care to every rider we treat out there.”

Avoiding the medical tent: three strategies for cyclocross racers

In a sport as messy and intense as cyclocross, injuries seem unavoidable. But Corey Coogan Cisek, a professional cyclist who has been racing at Jingle Cross since 2008, says the right preparation can be the secret to a successful and injury-free weekend of cyclocross fun.

She offers three key strategies:

1. Minimize your chances of a crash.

“The biggest injury risk is crashing during the race,” Cisek says.

You can reduce that risk by participating in prerides that are scheduled throughout the weekend.

“It’s super-important to take advantage of those before you actually race,” she says. “The first one, you take really slow to get a general idea of the course. The second one, you look at sections that are difficult and decide how you’re going to handle them. Then, shortly before the race, try to do at least a few sections at race speed, so you know what it feels like.”

While most courses are generally flat, the Jingle Cross course is known throughout the cyclocross community for its daunting hill, dubbed “Mount Krumpit.” Cisek says the descent can be intimidating, even for experienced racers, so a preride down the hill is essential.

Another way to avoid a crash is knowing when to get off the bike and run. Running while carrying the bike is a common tactic in cyclocross, but Cisek says American racers are less likely to do it.

“In Europe, where I race most of the year, there’s a lot more respect for running as part of the race,” she says. “Kaitlin Keough, who won the women’s World Cup event at Jingle Cross last year, ran a ton of the course. When the traction is poor or you’re getting stuck in the mud, keep running in mind.”

Proper tire pressure can also help. Cisek says the Jingle Cross course tends to be wetter and softer than most courses. Softer tires with lower pressure can improve traction.

2. Stay hydrated.

Cyclocross is a cool-weather sport, but Jingle Cross happens early in the season, when the temperature is often still warm.

“Have a water bottle on the bike, filled with ice water, and be drinking out of it or pouring it over your head,” Cisek says, adding that spectators should also remember to drink plenty of water.

She also suggests prehydrating.

“I use a prehydration drink the night before or the morning of the race,” Cisek says. “That’s basically a highly salted drink, or you can do something like soup, to get a lot of sodium so that your body takes in more water.”

3. Don’t overdo your training.

Overuse injuries are not very common during races, Cisek says, but racers may injure themselves in the weeks before the race if they train too hard.

“For example, if you’ve heard that Mount Krumpit is a long run, you may try to get in some running leading up to the event,” she says. “I recommend progressing into that slowly.”

Cisek says 15 minutes of running per workout is more than enough.

“It’s hard to injure yourself in 15 minutes,” she says. “And you’ll never, ever run a full 15 minutes in a cyclo-cross race.”