by Brian Maslach
After a week or two of cold, wintery weather I begin to go through withdrawal for warmer days. I long for days where the biggest question when it comes to getting outside is whether I will color coordinate my shirt and shorts. I grow jealous of my friends in warmer climates who rarely need be concerned whether the conditions require more layers than digits on the thermometer to be comfortable outside.
A December day well spent!
Not having to think about whether the conditions are appropriate is great when it comes to sneaking in outdoor rides whenever my schedule allows. It’s one less factor to worry about while planning rides. I love it and quickly begin to miss it.
My withdrawal isn’t helped by watching warm-weather friends post their outdoor adventures on social media. It makes 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 know I'll be better off by focussing on other areas of my fitness using different activities. I firmly believe and tell myself, "riding super strong in January is usually a sure sign one will not be riding strong by summer." I also recall 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 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 recently 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 significantly increase 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 don't otherwise have time to round 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 can improve your mountain biking by enriching your perspective. Let the change in seasons lead the way.
This doesn't mean that I don’t look forward to winter escapes to Arizona, California, or anywhere else I can wear flip-flops without the risk of frostbite, however. I’m always happy to take a break from winter weather when the opportunity presents itself. In the meantime, I'm getting psyched to start my backcountry ski season 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.
Great article & conversation. And even for the pros they work hard enough in the season they embrace the downtime and other cross training when it comes. There are seasons of life and the rise of Zwift and indoor smart trainers has created another excess of year round fitness without variations. Embrace changing it up farther from your key goals so the focus is there when you need it. Last year a month completely off the bike Dec into Jan resulted in a surprise national championship in May. I’ll take it!
Really enjoyed your post, as I can understand where you are coming from when dealing with the front range weather, and how it affects the MTB trails. The ice in Red Rocks park can be quite the challenge!
I also am learning to adjust my training to the conditions presented, such as this week, we are up in the mountains enjoying backcountry skiing. This is different muscle movement, while on some of the same trails ridden during warmer days.
I am lucky, in that my 7am to 4pm office job includes a decent fitness center! I would really appreciate it, if you would present some suggested gym workouts to developed improved sustained strength for long uphill rides, such as what will be encountered on the Aspen to Crested Butte, MTB Grand Traverse. This 41-mile ride starts off with 3,000 ft elevation gained in the first 5 miles, approx. 11.4%, total elevation gained is 7, 601 ft, and a max grade of 40% in the middle section, over Star Pass, at 12,321 ft.
Looking forward to seeing you out on the trails!!
I really appreciated this post. As a cyclist through and through, I used to hate winter… until I got a job at a ski resort last year. I have many cycling friends who I feel haven’t seen the enjoyment that expanding your sports can do for you. Last winter, I worked on skiing and this winter I’m learning to board.
Now, I approach my MTB riding with a renewed excitement, not to mention the excitement and expanding network of friends that my winter sports have brought. I’ve also gained a lot of comfort with winter, rather than stressing and dreading it (mostly because it meant I couldn’t ride my MTB.) I’ve gained appreciation for the changing seasons, rather than wallowing in frustration, and am really enjoying more of life, thanks to the outlook!
Cheers, and thanks for the reminder.
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