Friday, January 10, 2014

Easing Into It or Full Speed Ahead?

There comes a stretch in the winter - usually lasting a couple of months - when I take a break from roadcycling. And while I still cycle almost every day for transportation, my milage becomes a fraction of what it is during the roadcycling-intensive months, and the amount of physical effort I put into riding an upright bike in my street clothes is not nearly the same. Not surprisingly, when I do get back in the saddle (the narrower road saddle, that is) I feel distinctly out of shape. Some work is required to get myself back to a fitness level where I feel like "myself" on the bike again.

Taking a break in the colder months is fairly common among cyclists, and I have found it interesting to learn that different regions have different traditions of when this is done. In New England, cyclists tend to keep riding through most of December, then take a break in January and February before re-emerging in March. Here in Northern Ireland, cyclists tend to take November and December off instead, then get back on the bike in January for "winter training" (base miles) before switching to a more intense and focused cycling regimen when spring arrives.

Purely by chance, it so happened that I followed the local schedule this year. November and December were hectic for me, and thanks to that in combination with the weather taking some getting used to, I more or less wrote them off. Then January arrived and somehow everything fell into place enabling me to ride nearly every day since the start of the year.

When it comes to getting back on the bike, what I tend to do is start easy and frequent. Short, flat rides, with effortless spinning through pleasant scenery, just to get accustomed to being on the bike again and to get back into the habit of doing it regularly. I know that I have to be careful not to overdo it with a ride that is too long, too hilly or too fast - as that can result in several days off the bike in the aftermath, which - when the weather is crappy and my pride is hurt from being out of shape - has a way of leading to more days off the bike. In this early, delicate stage, frequency and enjoyment are more important than hills and miles. It's about feeling comfortable, getting back into the habit of it, settling in. Once I feel like that is done and begin to crave more, I start riding with other, stronger cyclists again. And then out come the miles, the hills, the speed, the exhaustion - and the rapid growth in strength. It is only then that I truly feel "back." But I couldn't do that cold; I have to work up to it.

By contrast, a local cycling friend was telling me the other day that he needs a hard push - a jolt even - to get going after significant time off the bike. He needs those hard, painful rides straight away in order for the winter lethargy to loosen its grip. He needs competition with riding buddies. And he needs to feel just how out of shape he is in order to motivate himself to get back to his previous level of fitness. And though I can't relate, I understand this. We are attracted to cycling in different ways, and different aspects of it motivate us.

So, what is your approach when you try to get back into a regular roadcycling routine? Do you ease into it gradually, or jump in full speed ahead?

32 comments:

  1. Cycling in soggy, humid Irish winter weather is pretty off putting. Especially after I'd spent 3 weeks driving (And eating!) around Maryland and DC. Hopped on the bike last Monday and it was tough going. It's easy to find excuses.

    I'd stopped cycling-cycling about halfway through November, and stuck with just commute-cycling.

    I'm itching to get back out, work, weather and holidays haven't allowed me to get out, so training from scratch will be starting Sunday week, hoping to try my hand at Audax this year.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My approach is probably completely different from everyone else's here. It is to... give up road cycling (Something I did long time ago).

    I don't ride my "road" bike for miles. I don't like riding it on a road (paved one). I don't even like pure road bikes. Too boring.

    I ride for fun, for visiting new places, including deep in the forest, off the beaten path, places where I don't see cyclists. That's why my "road" bike is not a road bike at all despite having 700c wheels.

    This means that switching from my commuter bike to my recreational bike is not that different. Just ride.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Your way is pretty standard, surprised to see it here.

    The other guy's way sets him up for injury. Seen it happen in every sport.

    What I've done in Cali in the past is ride a bit in the summer, ride regularly starting early fall through to the next spring.

    Summer is the ugliest time of year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like Texas. If I could figure out how to move back there now I think I'd just park the bikes all summer and spend my weekends at the beach.

      Is it true that it's so crowded in California that nobody goes there anymore?

      Spindizzy

      Delete
    2. Well, the rural areas are becoming de-populated but the Bay Area is the land of opportunity for those in the tech industry.

      Delete
    3. Mindful how one perceives crowds is subjective, I will hazard my impression that SF and those East Bay communities where people ride bikes, walk and use mass transit frequently are quite livable.

      South bay communities where the car is still primary and Napa on weekend are insane.

      Delete
    4. How far is it from SF or Oakland to something that can be described as countryside or semi-country?

      Delete
    5. From SF the distance is the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, a couple of miles. Marin County, the famous Headlands, ancient redwoods.

      From Oakland, well...parts of Oakland abut pristine wilderness, despite what the media portrays. From my house 6 miles by bike, half that as the crow flies.

      Delete
    6. Speaking of which ... Prolly today posted photos of a ride just outside Oakland:

      http://prollyisnotprobably.com/2014/01/rad-reportage-going-awol-in-the-diablo-range/#90

      Delete
    7. That is nice. I hear such conflicting things about that area; I'd really like to go and see for myself some day.

      Saw that post on Prolly!

      Delete
    8. Stomping grounds, nice pix. Tour of Cali went up Diablo recently.

      Nice juxta of bike cultures: black-clad ess f types, grunge east bay tree climber, proto-roadies and proto-shredders, exemplified by burliness, a pickup and a Rossi 46 jersey.

      Sweet.

      Delete
    9. btw running out of water and food with all that carrying capacity. srs lol.

      Delete
  4. Hello!
    Here in Russia we don't have much of good weather in winter, so few of us can ride as much as he wants. So usually cyclists start to ride in late March. But this winter we had a nice December and first part of January (0 - +5° C). Till today I see some cyclists in the streets :-)
    Sorry for poor English!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Blackbird,
      I would love to find out more about bike culture in Russia, especially club level racing and Audax/Randoneuring. Do you do any of that sort of thing or know of any good English language sites that cover any of it?

      I remember so many great Russian racers from the 70s and 80s and there are tons of places I would love to ride over there but we don't get many glimpses into whats going on in your part of the world.

      Spindizzy

      Delete
    2. I think there is no sites in English about cycling in Russia.
      For audax — try caravan.hobby.ru (you can use Google translate ).

      Delete
    3. Love how a guitar-playing woman is prominently featured in the photo collage on the cycling info site. The guitar is a must of course, which should make for some interesting pannier and rear touring rack designs...

      Delete
  5. Did you see Jan Heine's post over on his blog about "The hardest ride of the year"?

    Between you and him you express some of the same thoughts but there's some subtle differences as well. The way he writes about how he doesn't try to maintain the same level of strength and fitness all year and tries to be prepared for some special rides sounds a little more the realistic middle aged guy and you might be carrying the flag for the (younger?) people wanting to keep the buzz going as much as possible and eager to get back on it.

    I feel some of all of those and you both are making me want to get out there and start looking for signs of longer days and eventually spring coming back. Nice thoughts for a day like this...

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, and I tried to link to it but couldn't find it because I did not remember the title. If I remember correctly he also mentioned taking November-December off before restarting in January.

      Delete
  6. I have a bunch of different bikes and I just ride what I feel like year round in N. FL for fun and exercise. Usually most cyclists here are off their bikes 2-4 days here and there in December/January because of alternating cold or rainy weather. I look forward to longer rides after January. February is windy.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I usually stop or dramatically reduce the road cycling from December through February but this year it's been so mild, I've hardly let up at all! Having said that, I have to tamp down a tendency to bite off more than I can chew - I am very prone to injuries, especially tendonitis. So if I've had some time off, I try to ease back into it. Too much too soon and I end up off the bike for weeks.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I never give up training in winter season: I practice indoor gym.
    After reading some books, so I changed my mind and sometimes I stress my body on purpose with sprints. A short (good) stress can provides better level of growth hormone.
    For instance, practicing endurance training after bad injury is not the best way to have resilience IMO ...
    I am going to take an eye on crossfit training.
    Here are some books I have read : "The Primal Blueprint" - Mark Sisson ""Why we get fat and what to do about it" Gary Taubes .
    More funny if you are not afraid by muscle : Charles Poliquin.
    L.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Even here in southern Arizona after seasonal riding before or at dawn, the (relatively) colder winter mornings seem quite chilly in part due probably to the acclimation the body makes to high temperatures. Also, it just seems too that winter with its shorter days wants us to retire a bit. Riding later in the day has scheduling challenges and there is competition from hikes and walks best suited to winter.

    Riding my new indoor trainer is a pretty welcome diversion where the controlled conditions are helping me to increase cadence instead of mashing, improve riding form and work on heart rate zone training. Hopefully, some of this will transition to enhancements on my road riding.

    Fun and helpful to see what others are doing and also enjoying your great pictures. Thank you for sharing! Jim Duncan

    ReplyDelete
  10. We ride every day in the winter since snow is a rarity in New Mexico--cold air is the only obstacle to deal with. For the feet: silk or wool sock liner, a plastic grocery bag over the liner (vapor barrier) and wool sox. For the lower body: some type of fleece pants for warmth and a nylon-type pants over that to stop the wind. On the upper body a silk or wool t-shirt as a base layer, then fleece and a nylon wind jacket. A stocking cap and a wool neck gator. Ski gloves for the hands. Ready to ride!
    Some of the roadies think we look funny but we ride every day in the winter ... no need to develop a plan to recover from a biking break. How many time have we heard that it isn't the weather, its the clothes?

    ReplyDelete
  11. In deep winter I hike when there is little snow (yet still much salt) snow shoe when there is snow, and regularly do the floor to top stair climb in the 37 story building in which I work. As the weather improves I find when I go back to longer distance riding my leg strength and endurance are more or less where I left off.

    One of these years I am going to have to take up pilates, yoga or some sort of disciplined stretching routine. First long rides of the season my back and right shoulder get very stiff and painful after around 20 miles or so.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Here in NW England we don't really get colder months as far as road cyclists are concerned.

    The only thing that stops me riding is ice, and that happens two or three times a year.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I don't tend to take winters off, instead I wind up with periods of enforced downtime as a result of an Orthopedic surgery (7x on the knees, one on the shoulder). That being said, it's usually full speed ahead once I'm cleared to resume riding. First ride back after a knee surgery one year was a weekend of riding in VT- one day at Kingdom Trails avoiding lightening storms and the second day Dh'ing in absolutely horrendous conditions at Mt Snow.

    When the winter finally hits in my part of the world I tend to shift to shorter rides on the road. I've found it hard to get enthusiastic for distance rides when its dark and all of 20° F after a long day of work. I also shift more into the woods with night riding being a favorite for the increased challenge and difficulty. Snow isn't usually an issue but when it is- the snowshoes come out and i go tramping on through the woods sometimes on a trail, sometimes bushwacking.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I woke up this morning to chilly weather and heavy fog so I abandoned my plans to do a outdoor ride. Instead, I put my ipod in my jersey pocket and went for an hour and a half indoor ride on rollers. I am new to roller riding, having just got them at the end of November on sale, but I enjoy being able to ride when the weather is not so good outside and I find that my balance is improving and my pedaling is getting more fluid. Listening to music helps the time go by otherwise it gets kind of boring staring at the wall in front of me. Might be a way to ease into riding again for those that live in cold climates.

    ReplyDelete
  15. life being about experience rather than achievement, i'd say pack the brommies and a good friend off on cheap flights to Nice and meander from one beach to another, screw fitness, see cycling as part of the bugger picture, not the bigger picture..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For me fitness is a means to an end, not the endgoal in itself, if that makes sense. The kind of riding I love best I can do more of, and have a better time doing, with a higher level of fitness.

      And while France is nice and all, but to be honest there's nowhere I'd rather be right now than here. It's a good feeling to have.

      Delete
  16. yerrrs..I half agree, as long as one - really - goes easy on oneself - I run on a treadmill in a gym at the moment to get fit, because(to me) there is an unrelenting lonely quality to my part of the great british outdoors in winter) and I don't want that much enforced introspection - equally I go for short hops on the bicycle (punctuated by stops at cafes), its not exactly a triathletes idea of getting fit, but i'm happy..

    ReplyDelete
  17. I picked up cycling last spring, comparatively later in life than many people, and started my first real training program in December, right before the holidays. Having to do most of the work indoors on my trainer is a motivational challenge sometimes and I hit my first setback recently, despite my best effort to try and train through the holiday season. I'm back on the plan this week,feeling good about it again, and the indoor riding makes the rare outdoor rides all the more enjoyable and provides me with extra motivation to make it through to the spring!

    ReplyDelete
  18. V...these were posted on a Fatbike thread I frequent. Maybe you can get a pair from the mfg. for a review. Looks like they might be an alternative for keeping feet dry and warm during winter.

    http://www.amazon.com/Neos-Overshoe-Villager-Size-Black/dp/B000MPLLU6/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1389376127&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=neos+villager+overshoes

    Ride Long and Prosper...and dry.

    ReplyDelete