Cyclocross

How the Cyclocross Pros Train: Featuring Scott Funston – Cyclocross Magazine

Today, coach Corey Coogan Cisek of TripleCCoach.com as part of our ongoing series, “How the Pros Train,” sits down with U23 cyclocrosser Scott Funston as he trains during this unique time in hopes of a fall cyclocross season.

This month’s cyclocross pro, Scott Funston, is a rising star on the American cyclocross circuit. He attends Colorado Mesa University, where he will be a junior next fall. When racing UCI cyclocross, he represents The Hold Fast Project, a privateer team. He hails from Maple Valley, Washington, a suburb Southeast of Seattle. Funston is no stranger to the pages of Cyclocross Magazine, medaling at Nationals back in 2010 in Bend Oregon and remaining a contender each year. He was third in both the U23 and Collegiate Varsity at his “hometown” U.S. Nationals in Tacoma in 2019.

How the Cyclocross Pros Train – Scott Funston

Although Scott Funston is just 20 years old, his cycling experience runs deep. Cycling has been a passion and a family sport for as long as he can remember. Funston was introduced to cycling by his father. “My dad’s the main person who got me into cycling. He is a cyclist, raced some cyclocross and mountain, so there were always bikes in the garage,” said Funston.

Funston got his racing start in BMX as a six-year-old. He added both mountain bike and cyclocross to his plate, joining Rad Racing and progressing under the tutelage of the team’s founder Jim Brown.

Funston attended his first nationals in Bend at age nine, racing in the 10–12 category. He has raced in Europe in both mountain bike and cyclocross via USA Cycling competition trips. As a junior rider, Funston finished 13th at 2018 Valkenburg Cyclocross World Championships and 35th at the 2018 Lenzerheide Mountain Bike World Championships.

COVID-19 Throws a Wrench in Funston’s Spring

Funston has been at home in Washington since mid-March, when Colorado Mesa shut down the campus and went online due to COVID-19. Naturally, having his day-to-day life suddenly upended was a bit shocking: “Coming home was kind of weird,” Funston said. “We were halfway through spring break when things started to get bad. First, they gave us another week of spring break. Then they decided to shut down and go all online. It does throw a wrench into your plans. I thought I was going to be going to college and then two days later, I am packing everything up and going home.”

While disappointed to miss the collegiate road season, Funston’s response to the sudden change demonstrates flexibility and resilience. Under the guidance of his coach, Chris McGovern, Funston’s been progressing his fitness without losing sight of having fun. He explained:

“The absence of racing has given me some freedom in my training. I’ve read some pros are really throwing themselves into training, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s in their preparation. For me, I’m still putting the work in. I’m putting in the hours I need and doing the workouts I need to do, but I’m on the mountain bike twice a week. If I want to go do a big trail ride, I can go do that. I don’t need to be busting out intervals every day on the road.”

Funston said COVID-19 has actually affected his family life in a positive way. With normal activities being limited, his family has taken to hiking together. “We’ve been hiking almost every weekend for the last month or six weeks,” he said. “I’d normally never have time to do this because I’d be away racing.”

McGovern’s coaching philosophy has supported Funston’s relaxed and diverse approach. With no races in the immediate future, they have been building Funston’s aerobic base. He has done many three hour rides, but no huge volume weeks, maxing out at around 16 hours a week.

Scott Funston, racing for Jim Brown’s Hold Fast Project, enjoys the local Pacific Northwest scenery during a training ride. photo: courtesy

For intervals, Funston’s been doing lots of threshold or sweet spot, targeting base-building. “We are not doing anything particularly hard now,” he explained. “When we figure out when racing will start, the base will be there. We will have something to go off,” said Funston.

Lessons Learned in Europe and at Montana Cross Camp

Funston’s mountain bike background and continued passion for the discipline has served him well on the cyclocross bike, particularly in Europe.

Funston did two cyclocross racing trips to Europe during the 2017–2018 season, the November block and the World Championships block. While many juniors initially find European cyclocross overwhelming, Funston has a different take:

To be honest, I don’t want to say that it did not live up to the hype. That would be the wrong phrasing. But, you know how some people say it’s like a different sport over there? To me, it wasn’t. I actually felt quite at home. It was different. It was aggressive. It was intense, but at the same time I loved it. I thought the hard courses were awesome. The neck-in-neck racing, I really enjoyed it. I feel like I kind of thrived over there. I would say I had some pretty good results. I’m looking forward to hopefully going back this year.

The good results Funston speaks of include the aforementioned 13th place at the Valkenburg World Championships. Think back to Valkenburg World Champs. Many athletes described it as one of the most technically demanding races ever. Put simply, the ruts were “bottom-bracket deep.” The fact that Funston was able to earn a top-15 on that course and feel at home suggests that his significant cycling background and BMX and mountain bike experience has served Funston well.

That said, Funston did not leave Europe without some significant takeaways. “The biggest thing is the running,” he recalled. “Everyone hears there is more running over there, but when you actually go over, you come home saying, ‘Yeah, I really need to hit the ground hard.’”

Funston gives chase and would finish second. Collegiate Varsity Men. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships, Louisville, KY. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

At the moment, Funston is running twice a week and he will likely add a third day as the season draws near. Currently, his runs are steady efforts of 20 to 30 minutes. Funston acknowledges that while these runs are good prep, he will need to add both vertical and speed later this summer. “I did a few a handful of hill repeats last fall and they helped. To be honest, I probably should hit those a little bit harder. I also should be doing more ladder drills, like those we practiced at Montana Cross Camp. I think that would be helpful with the quick feet.”

Scott Funston of Rad Racing focuses on short, quick steps as he sprints up the stadium stairs. 2017 Montana Cross Camp © Cyclocross Magazine

Funston has a long history of attending Montana Cross Camp, now called Euro Cross Academy, and credits Geoff Proctor and staff for showing him what it takes to succeed internationally. Funston attended camp three years in a row, and was slated to be a U23 mentor this year, but the in-person camp was unfortunately canceled. Proctor’s emphasis on running prepared Funston to thrive at Valkenburg, where the sheer amount of running cannot be understated.

While Valkenburg was muddy rather than sandy, Montana Cross Camp taught Funston that he needed to up his sand skills. “One skill that camp really helped me to focus on is sand riding,” said Funston. “That’s a weakness of mine. Geoff and coaches pointed that out in the early years and I have tried to focus on training for that. I’m still working on it. It’s not a strong suit of mine, but hopefully, I can minimize that weakness.”

Cyclocross Bunnyhops Mountain Biking

While Funston loves mountain biking, he has chosen to prioritize cyclocross over mountain biking. Through summer 2018, Funston raced a full UCI mountain bike schedule followed by a full cyclocross schedule. However, 2019 was different because nationals were scheduled for Tacoma, Washington. Being essentially a hometown Nationals for Funston, he felt it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and targeted the U23 win.

In spring 2019, Funston started up his UCI mountain bike season per normal. However, by May or early June, it was evident that his racing wasn’t going really well. Since cyclocross nationals were priority number one, he “shut down” mountain bike season and skipped nationals.

Despite Funston’s increased focus on cyclocross, he struggled to perform early in the cyclocross season. He was sick for the Waterloo World Cup, described his Cincy performance as “kind of a wash” and suffered a mechanical at the first corner at Pan Ams, forcing him to chase. Funston describes the Colorado State Championships as the season’s low point:

‘At State Champs, I started having back problems. The race was going well and I was leading. Then halfway through it, my back kind of seized up, and I had to pull out. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I kind of broke down. It was just the compounding of all these events. Here we were three weeks from Nationals, which was the huge target I was laser-focused on.”

If Funston learned anything from the 2019 season, it was that fortunes can change in an instant. After State, which Funston called “the lowest of the lows,” he went to Ruts and Guts the next weekend. Funston recalls that he “turned it all around” and was fifth on day one, finishing among his peers and even “beating a few big names.”

It was a boost of confidence for Funston. “The week before I was super down. My goal was to win Nationals and it seemed there was no way. Then the very next week I was back where I needed to be. That contrast between the high and the low is kind of what defined my season.”

At Nationals, Funston was third two times over: third in the collegiate varsity and third in the U23 Men.

Scott Funston rounds the first corner, taking the holeshot in the men’s varsity race. Collegiate Varsity Men. 2019 Cyclocross National Championships, Lakewood, WA. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

While Funston didn’t meet his goal of winning U23s, he was completely satisfied with his result: “It’s what I could do. Everything went well and I was happy with the performance. A podium at home was super meaningful. The last half of a lap when I could relax and enjoy it was probably the best five minutes I’ve ever had on a bike.”

Scott Funston eyes the off-camber drop on the UCI-only section of the course. U23 Men. 2019 Cyclocross National Championships, Lakewood, WA. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Funston’s third place in the collegiate race helped Colorado Mesa capture the cyclocross team victory and eventually the overall omnium. It was the first time that Colorado Mesa had won either a discipline or the omnium since the varsity category was established. “The coaches Pat and Bryan have been working towards this for a long time. It was a really cool experience to be part of,” said Funston.

Scott Funston played a major role in Colorado Mesa winning the 2019 Collegiate Varsity title at Cyclocross Nationals, and also competed for the team at Mountain Bike Nationals. photo: Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals, courtesy

Funston’s Training Emphasizes Variety

Certainly less common for a cyclocrosser, Funston does a fair amount of enduro mountain biking. “I like to do some big trails and hit some jumps. I do it mainly because I enjoy it and have a lot of fun mixing it up. The way I look at it, if I am out there pedaling that thing for three hours, I still got a good workout in,” said Funston.

Funston also has a background in orienteering. Orienteering is a route-finding endurance sport. “I also do the occasional orienteering course,” he revealed. “Basically, you’ve got a map and a compass, and you’ve got to go find checkpoints throughout a park. For people who went to nationals, they do it at Fort Steilacoom.”

Scott Funston is not only a champ in cyclocross but also orienteering. photo: courtesy

Funston started orienteering in middle school via a school club. He continued it competitively through high school, going to Nationals once and winning the state championships three times. Nowadays, Funston sometimes substitutes runs with orienteering sessions. “The footwork with off-trail running and running up a vertical hill is probably more applicable to cross than running down the sidewalk,” said Funston.

The Takeaways

Funston has a diverse and deep cycling background. Skills learned over a lifetime of practice allow Funston to manage the most difficult courses. Even though Funston has spent relatively little time on the courses/soils of Europe, he adapted quickly, as he has a large “toolbox” of skills to draw upon.

Funston’s success comes as a result of strong mentorship over a lifetime: his father, as well as Jim Brown, Geoff Proctor, his college coaches, and Chris McGovern each played a part.

Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Funston devoted more energy to cyclocross last summer, but still had a rough early season. That said, things can turn around in an instant. The mental boost from Ruts and Guts lifted Funston to strong performances at Nationals.

Scott Funston (RAD Racing NW getting the gold in the Junior Men’s 15-16 race. 2015 Cyclocross Nationals. © Brian Nelson

Funston’s fun training activities (enduro and orienteering) likely improve his cyclocross. Handling big jumps in enduro must make the plunges of European courses seem smaller. The navigational challenges of orienteering (making navigating decisions at a high heart rate) mimic the challenges of cyclocross: line choice, determining when to attack, etc.

A well-rounded approach makes for a well-rounded athlete!

Can’t get enough of How the Pros Train? Coogan Cisek previously interviewed cyclocross pro Curtis White  and British pro Anna Kay.

Corey Coogan Cisek is a Minneapolis-based cyclocross racer and coach who has spent much of her recent cyclocross seasons racing in Europe. Learn more about Corey at tripleccoach.com.