…Or not to ride, inside
Okay, so now it’s cold—but trust me it looks a lot worse than it is.
From Maine to Florida, we’re stuck in a cold snap that has passed “snap” and hung around for two weeks now. For cyclists, it couldn’t be a worse two weeks—most of us are just getting started on our annual, winter training plan. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying… In eastern PA, I don’t think we’ve had more than one day above freezing these past two weeks.
Me? I have about three months until my first big race, so it’s time to start logging the hours. And when the temperature drops so do training partners, waffling about the cold, and resigning themselves to the trainer. The trouble is, I really don’t like riding inside. I didn’t do it once last year and I don’t plan on doing it this year. The only exception being for specific interval workouts.
When it comes to logging hours, outside/inside is not a one to one swap, although I constantly hear accounts of guys riding three or four hours on the trainer. A good coach once told me, take the hours you plan to ride outside and cut them in half if you’re stuck inside. The trouble is, on a trainer you don’t coast downhill, or up to an intersection. On a trainer you don’t soft pedal while the new guy catches up, or while discussing the best route that will get you back in time (to remain in your significant other’s good graces).
The mental stamina it takes is different too. The option of stopping is always right there, and sure there are strategies to keep you going. Read a book, watch a movie, watch the Tour, or the Giro, the Vuelta or the spring classics, or even (and this is admittedly pretty cool) taking a ride through Google’s Street View. But you’re still surrounded by reasons to stop, other things to do, other things you should be doing.
To me, that’s a lot harder than braving the cold. I think the trouble people have with the cold, is leaving room for doubt to creep in—”Well, let’s see how cold it is in the morning…” or “Let’s see how warm it is by eleven.” or “I don’t think I’m riding if [insert weather excuse here].” You’ve left yourself an out, basically saying “I’m probably not going to ride.” I prefer to be more decisive, along the lines of “Suck it up.”
So, on Friday evening I stopped by South Mountain Cycles for “happy hour” hoping to find others to suck it up with on Saturday. Cush mentioned there was a decent group gathering about 9:30 and heading out for around four hours—perfect, count me in. So, Saturday morning I head to the shop to find everyone has bailed, except Cush and Selene. It wasn’t even that cold, just around 24° F.
With pleasntries exchanged and insults traded, we decided to head out towards Hawk Mountain with no particular route in mind. Other than the cold it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the traffic seemed unusually light. We chatted about this and that, and quite a lot about those who bailed, but even more about how glad we were to get out on the road. We only stopped twice breifly, for a nature break and to decide which route to take back. When we got back to the shop we had just a shade over four hours under our belts—and it didn’t even feel like it.
On Sundays I almost always head out to the derby, so Selene already knew the answer when she asked what I was doing the next day. I knew she was fishing for something other than the derby, especially since two weeks ago there were half a dozen minor incidents on ice as well as a crash that saw three people off to the hospital. But I wasn’t going to try to talk her into it, if you’re on the derby you have to want to be there because, well anything can happen.
I was surprised when she decided to join me—not that I thought she couldn’t handle it, in fact far from it—but because I think she’s actually smarter than that! Selene knows enough to do what’s best for her, to follow her training plan. And the derby, quite honestly is something she doesn’t need to do. Regardless, I’m happy that she and Cush choose to join me on Sunday. It’s good to have company when the mercury is topping out at 17° F and you have to put a shot of vodka in your bottle so it won’t freeze.
It seems that just about everyone bailed on the derby. We got to the velodrome at the same time as Paul and Bobby, but the parking lot was empty. Paul called it time to go, we left and promptly ran into Kuklis and Ryan—who decided two days on the trainer was just too much. The derby loop is normally tempo out and hammer back, but it looked like a mellow derby today with our little band of brothers, and sister. Eventually we picked up two more guys wich brought our number to nine, small for the derby but a decent sized group for a cold ride.
Predictably, at the turnaround, Paul drove to the front ensuring a brisk pace back. So it wasn’t going to be too easy. We settled into a pace line with everyone taking their turn, although I sit out more than a few. My legs felt a little empty from the sudden increase in training volume. Once again the miles, and time roll by, and before we knew it another derby was in the books. I don’t know who “won” since I dropped off the pace on the last kick up.
Now we had roughly forty minutes back to the shop and after half of that I hit the wall and bonked hard. It was the kind of sudden exhaustion and emptiness in the legs that will make you wonder if you’ll make it back. But from experience, I knew that I just needed to dial it back a bit and keep pedaling. So I did as Cush and Selene disappeared over the next rise, and then slowed wondering where I was. We spun the last ten minutes easily, chatting our way back to the shop with three solid hours in. No big deal.
It’s experience. Experience you won’t get sitting on the traininer. It’s knowing you’ll survive the cold, knowing what to wear, knowing what to put in your bottle. Experience telling you you’ll make it back even though your legs are trying to tell you otherwise. I was riding three to four hours a week at the end of December. Last week it was twelve, this past weekend alone was seven. So here’s my point: Suck it up. Get out there, earn your experience—there is no substitute—you’ll be glad you did.