Kimberley, though one of our youngest, shares her vast knowledge of cycling experiences. She’s wise beyond her years! Read if you want to learn how to become a better racer!
After a somewhat strange spring, I am finally allowing myself to hope that the days of spending hours on the trainer might just be a thing of the past! (at least until next year…). During the month of April, nearly every week we had snowstorms that made it impossible to ride outside, first because of the actual storm in progress, and then, for the remainder of the week, the accumulation that refused to melt. Right when it did melt and showed promise of an outdoor training ride, the pattern would repeat itself. And this happened for 4 weeks straight!
Let me say that, living in Colorado, trainer time is both expected and accepted… during the months of November through March, I will likely put in more hours on my trainer than the road, but April?! It was a month where I had to dig up a little extra mental strength and focus to stay motivated, partly because at this point, I was going on five months of trainer time, and also because with my bigger, target races coming up, this was no time for shortened training sessions (my coach usually has my cut my time down by about 1/3 when I have to do them on the trainer… thus a 4 hour ride becomes 3… which still seems likely an impossibly long time to ride in one place).
Now that I’ve done a little retrospective ranting, I’m pleased to say that I’ve been riding outdoors since returning from my race at Gila. After a few days completely off the bike to give my body a boost in the healing process, I got right back on track with my new training plan. This month is all about maintaining my form through Nationals, doing some longer rides to keep the endurance and some shorter, harder workouts to keep the speed and the strength — but not so much that it puts me into a state of over-training.
A well-respected racer once told me that she did much better “off the couch” (under-trained) than she did over-trained. This is not to say that it’s best not to train, but rather illustrates the importance of finding balance as an athlete. The majority of athletes (myself included), especially endurance athletes, have a greater proclivity to doing more not less. For me, the value in having a coach is just as much to tell me when to rest as when and how to train. The planning my coach and I did to put me in my peak condition for Gila ended up being timed near perfectly, and so now the difficulty is in maintaining that. Typically, a true peak can last only about two weeks, which is why it’s important for racers to identify key target races. Very few people can win elite-level races all year long, but it is possible to do reasonably well all season, and very well at select, carefully placed races (unless, of course, you are a superhuman species, of which there are a few in the peleton).
Now that I’ve gotten slightly off topic discussing my current training, I will return to what I originally intended to write about: lessons learned from winter training. I know you may be thinking, “umm… this is a little late. It’s beautiful out, and I’ve relegated my trainer to only pre-race warm-up purposes.” I wholeheartedly share your excitement for trainer-less training, but if any of these five nuggets ring true for you, tuck them away for next winter 🙂
1. Mental state is huge. If you approach the trainer like an enemy to be reckoned with, every minute will be excruciating, and a three hour base ride nearly impossible. Instead, find a way to make peace with it and accept the hours you will spend on the trainer or rollers, and the experience will be much more pleasant (note: I say “much more pleasant”… not completely euphoric and joy-filled… I have to be realistic here!)
2. Trainer time is a perfect excuse to watch the kind of shows you can’t justify watching otherwise. I, with only minimal shame, will admit to you that this winter, I went through all 8 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (I somehow missed the craze as a teenage girl, but don’t worry, Meredith and McDreamy still managed to find their way into my adult life), 4 seasons of Gossip Girl (similar story here), and several other random shows I started but didn’t find catchy enough. This is a time to indulge in shows with minimal to no redeeming value… because, hey, the redeeming value is coming from the work you’re doing on the bike, yes? The more brain power I have to use absorbing a show, the less energy is available for my workout. I realize this logic may be fundamentally flawed, so, feel free to watch Ted Talks if you prefer.
3. This one parallels #1. The toughest months, in my opinion, are December through mid-March. For me, this is because I usually take the month of September or October (whenever my racing finishes) off the bike, and do other fun, active things as a kind of physical and mental “reset.” So, when I do start riding again, it’s because I’m really missing my bike and am excited to ride again. This unadulterated excitement typically lasts through December before some rides start to become tedious, and some mornings I feel tired and would rather read a book on the couch than slop through the snow to my “training shed” (Marcus insists it’s a training studio, to try to make me feel more hard-core… it’s a shed). It’s far enough from both the post-season rest month and the first race that it can be hard to stay motivated. But this is the time that it’s most important to refocus, recenter, and push through the fatigue or boredom. I once read a cheesy ad in a bicycling magazine that said “races are won in the off season,” and although I can’t remember what they were trying to get me to buy, the phrase stuck in my head.
By the middle of March, the excitement of upcoming races starts to build, and I see each training session as a chance to prepare for the season. I picture myself attacking, chasing, bridging… there is purpose that will be seen in a relatively short amount of time. My point here is this: if it is past March (which is now is) the hardest part is done. And, in the future, when you find yourself in that few-month period where focus and motivation can wane, you at least have the knowledge that it is not forever. Knowing that hard times are inevitable can actually help them to be more bearable (and this is true not just in cycling, but life…but that’s its own post). If December rolls around and I wake up not wanting to ride, and I had expected and accepted that kind of inevitable dip, I can move past it and do what I need to do despite not loving that one ride. In contrast, if this lack of passion for the sport I love hits me as a complete surprise, I am at risk of internalizing it as some fundamental character flaw: “I must not be a very good athlete”… “What if I NEVER want to ride? How can I do this 6 days a week for months and months?!”… “I’m going to have a horrible race season… I don’t want to train today, and it’s only December!” My point is, that this negativity is avoided when I accept occasional lack of motivation as a normal part of any athlete’s life, and can use it as an opportunity for developing mental strength.
4. For those rare winter rides that can be done outside (minimal to no snow on the ground, but most likely still bitter cold), don’t underestimate the power of winter gloves (or the misery that the lack of them can bring). I can say that during winter riding, I have never said, “man, I really wish I would have had thinner gloves!” but I have, on multiple occasions, ended up struggling to ride with painfully numb fingers that refuse to shift. In the same way, clothing choice can make or break a winter ride. I know it’s a hassle to have to carry more clothes than you might need for the entire ride, and especially in Colorado, the weather can be hard to predict. But, unless you have someone at your disposal to pick you up in a warm car at any point during your training ride, I’d suggest bringing more than less.
Being cold has a strange way of turning an independent, logical and intelligent person into an irrational, miserable, whimpering primal creature who’s actually wondering if she will die here on this mountain (I say “she” because that primal creature has been yours truly several times in my riding “career”). Even if you’re an experienced rider, it can be hard to predict what level of clothing will keep you comfortable during your ride. One thing that I started doing was keeping a “clothing log” as part of my training journal, where I’d write what I wore, what the temperature was throughout the ride (including any inclement weather I faced) and how comfortable I was. This way, on those days where I still go back and forth on whether to bring the heavy or light booties, I can look back and remind myself what has worked well (or not so well) in the past under similar conditions.
5. Although winter, for me, is not an “off season,” I still see it as a time where I strive to add balance to my life, both on and off the bike. This is another aspect that helps stave of the physical and mental “burnout” (both acute and chronic) that can inevitably come up during your life as a bike racer. Since graduating from college, I’ve realized how much I miss using my brain on a regular basis. I don’t have anything specific to study for, I’m not doing research and writing papers, and as silly as this may sound (especially if you are one who currently finds yourself in the trenches of college or grad school), I miss that. I am constantly exercising my physical body, pushing it to its limit, but my mind is so often fighting off boredom. So, during the winter, I consciously add “balance,” both physical and mental. This past winter, this came in the form of: yoga, knitting, nordic skiing, cooking and baking (I got really excited about homemade raw bars, juicing, etc), practicing my violin which I previously hadn’t picked up in months, reading books in Spanish, studying for my GRE, and tutoring a few hours a week for both extra money and to keep myself sharp. My point here is that if ALL your life consists of is bike racing, sooner or later you’ll hit a breaking point. I’ve learned that for me, whether I’m at a place in my life where I can train 20 hours a week or 8 hours a week, balance is crucial, and without it, everything falls apart.
So, with that semi-coherent rambling, I give you five tips for winter training success. But for now, it’s beautiful outside, so enjoy the sun!