Winter training rides. Do you see winter training rides as something to be endured – long slow miles in cold, wet weather or an opportunity to enjoy the rigours of the British winter and display you’re the Flanderian hard man of your local area? Do you’re winter training rides involve 30 minutes on the rollers once a week or will you clock up 250 miles per week, whatever the weather?
Sean Kelly’s attitude to riding through winter, could be summed up by his quote
“I go out on my bike, I do my ride, and when I get back home I decide if it’s too wet or not!”
I don’t think Sean Kelly would approve of long fuzzy socks and full length gloves in races… My attitude to winter training rides varies enormously. Sometimes, I’m an amateur who will spend 30 minutes on the rollers rather glad to listen to the rain beating down on the conservatory. Other times, I’m motivated to ‘get the miles in.’ and religiously clock up the miles and write them down in the training log. I become the proverbial mile-eater churning up the lonely Cotswolds miles through eerily quiet countryside and grim weather. After last season’s hill climb championship, my winter break lasted one day, before I couldn’t contain my ambition for next season, and before I knew it I had 2,000 km for November alone. This year, winter training rides are a bit on the back burner. I’m winding up a bit more slowly to those epic 100 mile winter rides. The only problem is that if you leave it too long, winter will fly by before you can say ‘who ate all the pies?’
Secret of Winter training rides
1. Do you need a winter break? It depends on your season and how tired you are physically and mentally. I would take a break, if you really want one or if you have a niggling injury. Winter is a good time to take a break. But, generally I don’t like to take a winter break. The reasons are:
- After hill climb season of October, I’m actually quite keen to get on the bike and do some ‘normal’ cycling. The end of my season is very low mileage high intensity. If I’d done a 1,000 miles in October, I might feel like a break. But, in last few weeks, you’re not really on your bike that much anyway.
- Not taking a winter break gives me greater freedom to take days off. If I took three weeks off in November, I would be keener to be quite strict to go out in December and January. But, I tend to find you might get an awful week of weather In January, a cold in December, and another week where there’s so much going on that you give the bike a miss. The winter is one time, where I prioritise non-cycling over cycling. I have even been known to make a vague effort to be sociable. Not taking a winter break works quite well for me because it gives a flexibility for taking time off at odd intervals throughout the worst of the winter.
2. Pick your day for a long ride. Most of us are not Sean Kelly, more than two hours in the wet and cold is enough to dampen anyone’s spirits. If you have the combination of wet and cold, you’re more likely to pick up a cold than an improvement in fitness. Taking a day off in December is not the end of the world. But, if the weather is reasonable make the most of it.
3. Wrapping up warm. The hardest part of winter is keeping warm and dry. In winter, I’ve gone outside the house and tried to feel how cold it is before coming back in and trying to work out how many base layers to wear. A good thermal top is a must. I don’t tend to wear a waterproof thermal top, I prefer the breath-ability and manoeuvrability of normal jacket. I keep waterproof in a (big) saddle bag. One difficulty is having about ten layers and feeling like you are the Michelin man – it can get tight around the shoulders. The hardest part to keep warm is the hands and feet. I have a collection of gloves to prove the effort I’ve tried to take to keep my fingers warm (not easy when you have Reynolds disease – poor circulation)
I find a thin inner thermal base layer and then a pair of ski gloves to be the most effective. I’m also a big fan of the Seal Skins grippy gloves – they are relatively waterproof and warm.
For my feet, I use – Hot pads 40 pairs for £20, pop them in between your sock and shoe and it creates enough warmth for any condition. Also with feet make sure your foot isn’t packed so tight it restricts the blood supply.
Motivation for winter cycling. The hardest part of winter training rides, is getting the motivation to go out cycling. Fortunately, I usually enjoy the rides. Winter can be beautiful in its own way, especially the last of autumn in November. I tend to do most of my cycling on my own, but a good group or fellow cyclist of similar ability can be an excellent way to turn a two hour ride into a four hour ride. I’m not a big fan of big group rides, where you tend to spend a good % of the time on the side of the road, mending punctures and getting cold. But, it really depends on what motivates you to go out. I don’t like setting too many goals or rigid training plans in winter. But, I do find writing down the mileage in a training log a good inspiration. Once you start writing down the mileage, you become a bit keener to keep clocking up the mileage.
How hard to train? One issue I’ve never satisfactorily decided on is how hard to train. Typically, the 4 months of winter – Nov, Dec, Jan and Feb are the best time for base endurance training. Level 2, less than 80% of max heart rate. It is this base endurance that gives a good aerobic base to build on with more intense training when the season begins. As the years go on I’m less rigid about these levels. The Australian coach of Team Sky came from a swimming background where athletes keep near peak performance (95%) for most of the year. This approach keeps a higher intensity throughout the year. For the depths of winter, I tend to just keep a decent pace, and sometimes go hard up hills. I don’t ride with a heart rate monitor. I may be riding with a power meter this winter, but probably won’t do much with it – other than record output.
I think it’s important not to get carried away and beat yourself up over winter. The main aim is that base endurance training. After several months of interval training, it feels the right thing to give these kind of intervals a break. But, riding fast up hills (or fast down them) just helps give a bit of variety to those long winter miles. If you’r pressed for time, it’s even more advisable to maintain a higher intensity, and so some sweat spot training. You don’t want to be just doing level 1 all winter.
Core strength training Over the years I’ve become a bit of convert to core strength training (squats, sit ups, crunches, leg strengthening exercises, the Plank) I think this can help avoid injury and make the long miles more comfortable.
Cross training. Winter can be a good time to take part in cross training – swimming, running e.t.c. Except I never do because I don’t like either. The only type of cross training I like to do is running up and down steps. (there’s something about going uphill.) I remember once being in Malaysia for three weeks without a bike, my favourite cross training was running up and down 5 flights of hotel steps, around the back of the hotel.
The cafe. I have mixed feelings about cafe stops on winter training rides. Once you stop, it’s hard to get going again. I kind of do it as a treat – usually when I’m in Yorkshire because I know the cafes quite well and remember them from the Sunday club runs.
Winter training gear