As cyclists, our biking season tends to have the same training focus - get on your bike and pedal. How often, how long, which bike, and at what effort may vary, but the medium seldom changes.
Winter training, however, can vary a lot. From changes in sport, focus, mental engagement, and life challenges, here’s a few thoughts on some approaches to winter training from our women.
Training While Traveling (Amanda Scott)
Winter training is great because it gives me the time and space to focus on my needs, assess future goals, and build up strength. However, it’s also my busiest time for work travel, so I’ve had to become creative so I can keep cycling when I’m spending more time away from home than usual.
I’ve had to learn how to find a bike, any bike. For warm destinations, I’ve flown my bike with me (fun but not enough time to ride it), found rentals that would drop off at my hotel (worth it!), and in Canada I’ve called around to hotels to find which ones have a legit spin bike in their gyms (moderate success) and located the hotels within a few blocks of a YMCA with free trials (definitely worth it!). These have also required some preparation: checking the bikes at the gym the night before to figure out which ones actually work, starting my early morning workout earlier than I need for the inevitable break when my coffee kicks in, and always bringing a bathing suit to the gym in case someone else beats me to being the jerk hogging the only spin bike for over an hour.
Traveling while training has also made me a better wardrobe minimalist (do I really need a second pair of dress pants in my carry-on, or would cycling shoes be a better choice?), and has lowered my shame of looking like a dork in public (yes, I will use my spirotiger in a corner of the airport terminal if pressed for time).
Base training while travelling has also taught me that I can exercise under lousy conditions and when outside of my trainer-in-front-of-a-fan-and-tv comfort zone: tired, hungover, stressed, on a bike that doesn’t quite fit right. It’s my personal time before a long day of being “on”. It’s also taught me to get satisfaction from the little things: wearing snazzy kit in case I run into coworkers, riding a nearby strava segment at least three times so that I can get a “PR” while out of town, or just knowing I’m a badass spinning at 6:30 in a sketchy gym when nobody is pushing me but myself.
Training for Strength - #buttwatts (Jess Lacoursiere)
Once Cyclocross season wrapped up and the #cxfever had settled I got back to my strength training/off season routine. I had already set my sights on some big goals for 2018 but knew there was a long road ahead. I lifted weights on my own for approximately 2 weeks. My past injury history made me hesitant to push myself and make serious gains.
I sought out the help of a trainer at my gym with one goal in mind: Get F*cking Strong. In an effort to make my chronic back and hip issues a distant memory we began to work on glutes, then we trained glutes, and then I did some reps where I engaged my glutes. Sidebar anatomy lesson: the glutes are 100% your most important muscle. If they’re weak, there’s a good chance you’ll have back, knee or hip pain...or all of them.
On the bike, glutes = power. With the help of a cycling friend, the term ‘butt watts’ was born and shall forever be known as the act of lifting weights to improve one’s cycling performance. It saddens me to think about dialing back the weights as race season approaches, because I’ve had so much fun lifting heavy things, but I love riding outside. Maybe there’s room for both.
Training With/After the Plague (Tiffany Baker)
The cold/flu this year is no joke. And those, like me, who don’t immediately give it the respect that it deserves will quickly find your life taken over by OTC medications, numerous kleenex boxes, and more days spent on the couch or in bed than you ever intended. This routine can last over a month - at least it did for me.
As an athlete, or even just an enthusiast, the temptation to continue your training plans unaltered when the plague hits is real. Pushing through will help get rid of the sickness quicker, right? Wrong. In fact, it can do quite the opposite. So while it may throw a kleenex box-shaped wrench in your training plans, you’re going to have to adjust your expectations. If you don’t, you’d better have a good sick-day bank, because you’re going to use more of them than you want to.
So adjust your expectations. Training may now look like a walk, possibly simply to the mailbox and back. Or 30 minutes of stretching rather than lifting to try and loosen the couch-ridden muscles. Whatever you do, stick to Zone 2 or lower while you are obviously sick.
If the stupid little bugs have taken up residence in your lungs, make sure that you stay away from a lot exposure to the cold, dry air. A zone 2 trainer ride would be preferable to a brisk walk.
Most of all, stay on top of your mental attitude. You’re going to need it when you can get back to ramping up your training. Depending on when the plague hits in your winter training plan, you may be looking at a quicker ramp-up in duration and intensity to meet your early season goals, so make sure you give yourself the mental permission to take a break while sick so that you can tackle your return to training, both mentally and physically, once the plague finally finishes laying siege to your body.
I was out for a month. Granted, I could have been a little more active, but what little energy I did have was taken up by other life priorities. I wallowed for a bit, got angry at my immune system which clearly was on a different page than I was, and went a little crazy. But I’m back. And rather than lamenting the lost training time, I’m enjoying getting back into a new training routine.
But god help you if you come near me while you’re sick - I’ve done my time this year, as have many of you. Here’s to a healthy(ier) winter season that sets us all up for a successful next season, whatever your goals!
Not Training (Cheryl Voordenhout)
In the winter, which I think I am supposed to call the “off season,” I do whatever I want. This is not terribly different from what I do the rest of the year, but I’m told I bring a “diverse perspective” to this discussion, so here we are.
I am fortunate to have access to an excellent weight room at my place of employment, so I do that. I like yoga, so I do that. Because I have no personal boundaries, I have become friends with some of my fellow yogis, and we sometimes go for beer and wings after class. I am also a reluctant registrant on a Death Race relay team this year, so I have been running a bit, because it takes me at least six months to get to the point where I can run that far without wanting to actually die in the Death Race.
I love to skate outside, I cross country ski a bit, and I take the bus to work, which requires at least 30 minutes of core-stabilizing penguin walking each day. When I’m exceptionally organized, I ride to work on a ridiculous purple children’s mountain bike that I’ve equipped with studded tires. I also took up salsa dancing this year, which I’m terrible at, but which has resulted in a lot of laughter and some new friends.
I have no advice for athletes, but I imagine the off season might be a good time to have some fun and give yourself a break from the rigorous training schedule you keep the rest of the year. Also, winter on this frozen tundra can be hard on our mental health, so it probably doesn’t hurt to do stuff that gives you joy, gets you outside, and lets you socialize.
~Tiffany Baker, Jessica Lacoursiere, Amanda Scott, and Cheryl Voordenhout