Flowing with the Seasons
by Brian Maslach
I've been going through withdrawal since I recently returned from a few weeks in Arizona. You see, most days while there the biggest question when it came to getting outside was whether or not I would need arm and knee warmers. Not once was I concerned whether the conditions would be comfortable for being outside. Fast forward and it's 12 degrees and snowing in Colorado as I write this. I miss the consistently comfortable cycling weather.
Not having to think about whether the conditions were appropriate was great when it came to sneaking in rides whenever my schedule would allow. It was one less factor to worry about while planning rides. I loved it and quickly grew accustomed to the luxury.
My withdrawal wasn't helped by watching warm-weather friends on Strava and seeing the rides they were doing. It made me feel like a sloth. I'm passionate about cycling and not being able to ride outside on a regular basis makes me grumpy.
In the back of my mind, however, I knew I'd be better off by focussing on other areas of my fitness using different activities. I kept telling myself, "riding super strong in January is usually a sure sign one will not be riding strong by summer." I also recalled that some of my best cycling seasons followed off-seasons when I spent the most time training off the bike. I've had my strongest spring races when I've run, lifted, and backcountry skied through winter.
Stair and hill sprints can bring about greater VO2 increases than bike workouts.
This doesn't mean that I've ever put the bikes up completely while healthy. The Colorado Front Range can have Helter Skelter winter weather. Sure, we get snow storms, but we also see a lot of days with high temperatures in the mid 50s. Then again, with the shorter days it can be tough to take advantage of warm afternoon temperatures when you have to work. The trick is getting Mother Nature to coordinate the warm days with weekends. It is extremely frustrating when she refuses to do so for weeks at a time.
Crappy cycling conditions can make for a great adventure by foot with friends.
I sat down with Coach Daniel Matheny yesterday and this was one of the topics we discussed. He brought up how training only on the bike can bring about structural weaknesses. If we're lucky, these can be inadvertently addressed by activities we chose to do off the bike. If not, they require the eye of a good coach to diagnose and address. Either way, the offseason is the best time address them. Coach Matheny also mentioned that unless you're a pro athlete with virtually unlimited training time, you're usually better served by addressing weaknesses for at least a portion of your off-season, and how it's easy to get addicted to putting in big miles and end up not ever being recovered enough to do quality intensity workouts to really increase your performance. While these concepts weren't completely new to me, it sure helped having a reminder from someone with his knowledge and experience.
Most cyclists have developed structural weaknesses. What are you doing to address yours?
Having year round great riding conditions would present its own challenge as I'm not sure I'd have the discipline to not ride at every opportunity. Learning to flow with the season is undoubtedly easier when there are actual seasons. Endurance athletes tend to be creatures of habit, as well. We need long hours of training to perform optimally in our sports, yet it's easy to get carried away. Let the change in seasons be your guide to changing things up for continual improvement.
Can too much of this really be bad? It can if you want to keep improving and you're not rounding out your training.
It's not just about physical fitness, either. Most of us can use a mental break from our favorite activities from time to time to help keep things fresh. Finding the flow in snowboarding or surfing can improve your mountain biking by enriching your perspective. Let the change in seasons lead the way.
This doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to my next trip to Arizona, California, or possibly Texas, however. I'll be more than happy to take another break from winter weather when the opportunity presents itself. In the meantime, I'm getting ready for my next backcountry ski adventure in the Colorado Rockies.
I'd like to hear how you flow with the seasons to improve in your primary sport. Please let me know in the comments section.
Hiking the Manitou Incline in fresh snow is a special experience. This would have been missed if we stayed indoors due to the weather.