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Winter training is a major part of honing your abilities as a rider and the more time you spend perfecting your regime, the better the results will be. Once again, we present a guide to winter training, drawing on the opinions of some seasoned riders to help you stay sharp through the colder months.
1. Grey Matters
“The hands are an extension of your mind, I believe. Naturally, though, you need to know how to use your hands and that comes from the mind.”
– Dario Pegoretti
Using your brain to understand and control how and why you train is paramount. You may have the physical ability but without the correct attitude and insights, you may find yourself barking up the wrong tree. Read training guides, blogs and even philosophy books to decide what is going to work for you. It’s all in the mind.
Ultan Coyle, UK Continental rider and reigning British 24-hour time-trial champion, explains:
“You need to decide what it is you’re training for. The answer will most likely be a mixture of ambition and experience. Where do I want to be? Where have I been? Aiming at something specific will provide structure to achieve these goals.”
Setting such challenges is almost certainly the best way to motivate the mind and therefore the legs. You could do far worse than attempt Rapha’s Festive 500, a global challenge to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Keep checking the Rapha website for details.
2. In Good Company
Many enjoy the solitary struggle of training alone but sometimes a good way to get out there and battle through the inevitable bad weather is with other people. Riding with friends not only makes the regular training route more interesting, it can also aid you in pushing yourself that little bit more. Ben Lieberson, US Continental veteran, explains:
“The addition of good company can really be a big help getting those hard yards. Some comrades to brave the conditions and share a few chuckles with will help keep your mind off the temperatures and take you further.”
Gem Atkinson, who recently featured in Rapha’s Autumn Winter 2012 shoot in the Dolomites, concurs:
“Cycling with friends in the winter should be about fun, about riding at a social pace and about enjoying the journey. It’s infinitely harder to bail on a ride when you’re letting down others and not just yourself.”
Even if you can’t, or don’t, want to ride with others, keeping things interesting and challenging is a major psychological plus point. Ben adds:
“Mix it up. I try to get some variations in to my riding. Mountain biking is a great way to do this and helps keep things fun and avoid burnout on the same old routes.”
3. Fuel the Beast
Before we mention the obligatory subject of clothing, it’s worth taking a little time to think about fuel. Nutrition, as Gem also points out, is a topic that should be carefully digested:
“This time of year can traditionally mean falling into a black hole of gluttony. Instead, look to various nutrition and cooking techniques to fuel the mileage. Avoid Jan Ullrich-like habits, such as microwaving whole jars of Nutella. Instead, seek simple changes in diet by consuming the correct amount of carbs, fats and protein. It’s a guaranteed result for getting faster as spring approaches.”
Everyone is different when it comes to fuelling and recovery but during the colder months, a long ride can be helped by small comforts – such as a hip flask. The warming aroma from a slug of decent single malt is not only festive but good for the soul (careful, though).
4. Tinker Tailor
Certain parts of the cyclist’s anatomy need particular attention (and we don’t just mean chamois cream). Fingers, knees and toes should always be a priority and for some individuals the care of extremities can make or break a ride.
“Gloves, good ones. Consider some winter riding boots as well if you’re going to spend a lot of time in the elements. I would suggest heated insoles as well. My feet are susceptible to the frost – I have been known to put embrocation on my toes.” – Ben Lieberson
Even if you end up wearing oven gloves on top of your GoreTex mittens, good circulation is key for maintaining comfort in the cold. The same applies to feet. Don’t wrap yourself in too tight. Merino is a good starting point for mastering the art of layering.
Visibility is another issue for the winter cyclist who rolls out before daybreak, after dusk, or even into the country lanes on gloomy days. Everything from oversocks to the lights on your bike need to function properly. And of course, you need to be conscientious when it comes to the bicycle itself. The more reliable and efficient the bike is, the longer you and your company can ride for without hassle.
“Ensure your bike parts are well lubricated, brake pads are healthy and look to fit mudguards. High-spoke wheelsets become a trusted companion for those long and steady distances [LSDs], along with good winter tyres.” – Gem Atkinson
You may have noticed that everything – mind, body and bike – is related; all should work as harmoniously as possible. Preparation is the key for successful winter riding.
“Look at the negatives in a positive way. Where was I weak last year? All those bugs that can preoccupy your ride. Locate the source of the problem and tailor your kit to suit your physiology. If the bug is big enough, I reckon it’s worth the expense to go and see a physio or bike fitter. The aim is to start the new year with any remedial work in progress.” – Ultan Coyle
5. Last Resort
Of course, if the weather really is too bad to ride there’s always what Ben refers to as the “absolute last resort.”
“I’d prefer to do time on the rollers than a turbo trainer but some riders have no choice and set up a whole turbo command center. That’s too much for me, I would rather put on my Rapha Hardshell Jacket and brave the conditions outside.”
And he’s right. There is nothing like the real thing and practice makes perfect. Try some winter racing, perhaps a cyclocross race or even a mountain bike event. Forget the notion of ‘junk miles’. When it comes down to it, getting miles in the legs will be money in the bank come springtime.
Remember that everything is relative. Do what’s right for you. Trust your instinct and enjoy your winter riding. After all, those aspects of self-reliance that winter training affords are things to be cherished. Finally, here’s Mr. Phil Deeker (who as creator of the Cent Cols Challenge knows a thing or two about self-reliance) to distil things nicely:
“Winter is a season of introversion, a time to replenish for the next cycle of seasons. I find winter riding a bit like this, too. I am on the bike so that I can better enjoy the next season, so that I can keep some form. My strength from this past summer is something I want to nurture through the winter, just keeping it there under the surface. There is no pressure to perform, no reason to be hard on yourself and check your stats (if you do that sort of thing). Essentially, you are looking after your base fitness level. It gives you time to reflect back on the past season and look forward to the next. And the glow of body warmth when the ride is over is surely better than that from any winter fireplace.”