Embracing the winter
The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are gradually dropping, and getting wet and cold can become a regular occurrence. The Spring can feel like a very long way away and summer already a distant memory. Motivation can fall flat as events and targets are either not decided or are months in the future. What will you do with the shapeless months ahead?
Sorry to say, but I’m one of those annoying people who actually embraces and enjoys the winter (don’t hate me!) and I want to share some of reasons why. I also want to give some tips on winter riding, training, and personal development, based on my own riding experience and as a coach, to help you get the most out of your winter. It really is the foundation for your year and presents the opportunity for big improvements.
I often speak to riders who feel lost in the Autumn. What should they do? The winter stretches out into the distance and seems so long. Key to both motivation and improvement is to break winter down.
Just to set some parameters; everyone is different, and coaching should be tailored to the individual. Chosen disciplines, lifestyle factors, age, the maturity the rider, and how they respond to training are just some of the factors that must be considered. Whilst there are other coaching strategies, I’m going to talk in the context of the classic pyramidal approach. This involves building strong foundations and then increasingly focusing on the appropriate intensities and specific skills for target events. This is an approach that works for a high percentage of riders.
For early winter at least, this approach and the laying of those strong foundations is achieved through the development of three core areas: aerobic base, strength, and skill.
Build the engine
Already I hope you can see the opportunities for progression. Aerobic abilities can be built by building either volume or intensity (it doesn’t have to all be steady endurance pace riding, though this should definitely comprise a good percentage of your training). However, I’m presuming that you are with us here at Hunt Beyond as you enjoy a long ride! (More on that later).
Once you break down the three upcoming months into three progressive cycles of gradual overload and adaptation, (hey it’s Christmas already) you are almost half way through winter. And you’ve made improvements! Motivating, eh?
Strength work can be incredibly beneficial as it can increase force production, and stability as well as mitigate against injury. Whether you use a gym or not, a couple of strength sessions a week can bring very significant gains with a relatively low time commitment. Remember though, you are a bike rider and not a weight lifter! Make sure the strength work is functional and the fatigue is not so great that it impacts negatively on your riding.
You can also work on strength on the bike; force production can be developed with both low cadence and high cadence work. Or the bikepackers and adventure riders amongst us can get great benefit from hill walking, running, technical trail riding, or just good old fashioned hike-a-bike!
Skill yourself up
This leads on to the third core component of winter training; skills development. Use winter to improve your technical riding, develop your pedal stroke, or your outdoor skills more generally. Come the season, that work on your front wheel lifts, a smoother pedal stroke and a dialled kit choice will pay dividends when the events come around again.
So, you’ve got a framework and specific aspects to develop. What about the weather?
What did the bikepackers do for us?
Well, they gave us bikepacking bags! The ability to strap kit to our bikes in an easily accessible way that has minimal impact on our bike’s handling is a revelation. It’s so easy now to carry a (proper) waterproof, waterproof pants, a spare top, spare gloves…. Clothing technology has advanced hugely in recent years and even on the worst days we can get out and stay out. If you are carrying extra kit, forget the impact on speed; save that for when it counts.
Bikepacking bags also allow us to carry food easily. Fuelling is so important for endurance riders anytime of the year. In winter, when we naturally burn more calories, simply to keep ourselves warm, staying on top of calorie consumption becomes even more important. Refuel thoroughly AFTER you ride too. Not only will you be ready to go again the next day, it will also help to keep that immune system firing.
Winter is not the time to skimp on quality food. You may have gathered, I’m really hot on fuelling! Under fuelling or dehydration are frequently the reasons behind a poor training session.
Getting out when the weather is sub-optimal is so much easier when you’ve put your name down. Arrange to meet up with friends. It’s a lot harder to hide under the duvet when you know your mate is waiting for you on a street corner. I guarantee that once you are out, you won’t regret it.
Winterise your bike
It’s always a good idea to have proper strip down of your bike before the days get really short and replace any worn parts. Make it a habit to clean your bike as soon as you get home (my number one tip for minimising repair bills). Once again, prioritise the ability to get out and stay out over weight savings. Is it worth fitting that lightweight cassette for winter muddy miles? Which will serve you better in the winter; a lightweight race tyre or a thicker casing? Consider fitting mudguards as the reality is more water usually comes up at us from below rather than the sky. Of course, also look for wheels with well sealed bearings and hubs. Hunt’s 4 Season range is a great place to start.
So there you have it; winter provides the opportunity not only to improve your physical abilities but also develop your bike riding skills. I personally love winter for this reason. Life can also be a bit calmer outside of the race and holiday season and this can really help with consistency; another key concept which fosters progression.
I’d like to finish with a story about a rider who I still work with. He had limited cycling experience when we first met. However, he is a very driven and focused individual and when he decides to do something, he does it extremely well. His first big endurance goal was Lands End to John O’Groats over 9 days. This involved nine one hundred mile days back to back. No small challenge for anyone. The event was in the summer. I convinced him that regularly smashing himself on the indoor trainer in the middle of winter was not building the capabilities he needed for this challenge. I also convinced him to get out in all weathers to develop his bike handling skills and kit choice. He was unsure about this approach….
Then, on day eight of the event, (after riding strongly all the way) the group was hit by strong winds and heavy cold rain on high exposed passes. (Because… Scotland!). Several riders pulled out on the penultimate day. A number crashed and injured themselves. Not our man! He fuelled consistently and paced well. He could handle his bike and the conditions because he had the experience banked. He finished strongly and far exceeded where he thought his personal limits lay. This was down to the solid foundations that were laid in the winter and on that rough Scottish summer day all the winter training paid off.
Get ready for winter:
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