Naomi Freireich, an endurance mountain biker based in Edinburgh, Scotland is back with the sixth in her series of blog posts written exclusively for Chain Reaction Cycles.
In her latest blog, Naomi chats about winter woes and the fight against dark nights
Get a head start for spring
It’s definitely autumnal. You can feel it in the mornings when you step outside. That crispness in the air, not knowing whether it’s a short or long sleeve day, leaves visibly turning. And the sunshine (what sunshine we get in Scotland) slowly hiding for longer in the mornings and disappearing again too early to get a ride after work before the dark sets in. These are the months that cyclists dread.
The months where, if you don’t have a plan or a goal to focus on, your fitness can drop off, the sofa being more inviting than the saddle, craving comfort food to keep you warm as the temperatures drop.
Being someone who loves my sleep, I’m pretty jealous of hibernating animals over the winter months. The ability to pig out on tasty food, get nicely plump and then sleep it off until the spring holds huge appeal to me. Sadly, not an option for us humans, and so we plough on through the cold, dark months. But despite us not hibernating, winter is still a time where we instinctively want to do less. Plus your body needs more fuel to keep warm so we also need to eat more. It’s a double edged sword.
That’s why having options really helps. We find ways to manage. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone needs a down period; some time to recover the body from months of training or racing, but there are ways to keep yourself going through the winter which mean that you’re not starting off in the Spring at a disadvantage. And if you’re canny you can actually get a head start!
1. Strength work
You’ve spent the summer months working on your speed and stamina, and perhaps even neglected your strength work a little. Now is a great time to work on those muscles. I love sport climbing, and it’s fast becoming a growing sport, with climbing walls opening all over the UK. It’s easy to get started, with most places offering beginners courses (typically about 3 hours to ‘learn the ropes’, if you pardon the pun). And the vibe of climbing centres is chill.
Typically I find climbers to be friendly and welcoming, so if you don’t have a partner check out the notice boards… there’s often someone else in the same position, and the beauty of climbing is that you can do it with anyone, no matter how hard or easy you want to climb. Of course, if you’re a solitary type, there’s bouldering too; short problems on lower walls that require no ropes and no formal training. Just pitch up, hire some shoes and go. Fun, functional exercise to work on strength and agility that isn’t just a boring trip to the gym. Who knows, you might enjoy it so much that it stretches into your summer routine too, like me!
2. Short and sweet
Sometimes you just need to make a deal with yourself. Don’t force yourself out for a 3+ hour ride if the weather is so foul you’d rather pull out your fingernails. Instead, try doing just an hour but make it hilly and work on your speed on the climb, or do intervals or a tempo ride. A short and focussed session is easier to get your head round than a long session and definitely better than no session at all. If you commute by bike to work, try incorporating these sessions into your daily commute if possible, that way you’re getting 2 for 1!
3. Go indoors!
We all know that a turbo trainer is a cyclists’ best friend over the cold, wet, winter months, and sometimes it’s the only way forward, particularly when there’s ice or severe wind and rain. It doesn’t have to be a drudge tho, sitting for hours on end staring at a wall. Make it entertaining. My coach gives me this great ‘cyclocross set’ which incorporates fast sprints and slow grinding efforts with press ups, star jumps and squats, for a high intensity, low boredom-factor work out. Or try one of the (not so) new trends like Zwift, Trainer Road or similar. If you don’t have a turbo, or still find that a chore, why not give Spinning a go. Classes are typically from 45 minutes to an hour and a half and are a brilliant way to mix things up, meet other cyclists and get someone else to do the thinking for you.
4. If all else fails
Don’t beat yourself up. If you bail on a ride don’t stress about it, just accept it and move on. I used to be terrible at guilting myself into doing extra the next day if I missed a session, but the truth is that the stress you cause yourself and the extra workload in a shorter timeframe can be more damaging than good. My coach has taught me this well.
Ultimately, you’re doing this for yourself so don’t take the fun out of it by heaping on the pressure to be perfect all the time, every time. Listen to your body and do what you can. And remember… winter miles mean summer smiles!