A cold, winter morning, the apricity of the sun only occasionally being felt on the back of one’s neck, the night’s frost causing the fields to shine brightly in the morning light. It is very quiet, nothing to be heard save for the lark. Nobody about. That is until, if one listens very closely, the distant yet distinctive sound of a gear click, or a brief freewheel; unmistakably, the sound of the cyclist…
As winter draws in, the opening scene that I have described will become a backbone of training for many. Amongst road cyclists especially, winter is a time to build on endurance, the “base period” as it is often described, where long rides are the predominant training stimulus. This is often a lonely affair, slowly plugging away into a headwind, in the cold sea breeze, feeling absolutely frozen. Where such long rides exist, often 3 – 5 hours in duration, a long thought process often comes with it. From dreaming of monument wins, various business ideas, and “is it a left here?” exists the space to doubt, or to question first of all the significance of such a ride, and secondly one’s ability. As an athlete comes off their break, which is usually around 2 weeks to a month, the panicked feeling of a dip in fitness, or slight weight gain is enough to worry any athlete that takes themselves seriously. It is also around this time that the weather starts to turn, the low temperatures freezing morale at an annual low. It is the eagerness ahead of the much anticipated race season that seems to draw out the length of any ride, and controlling the temptation to push too hard on easy days that can make the winter block seem like forever. And with no validation apart from maybe a Strava KOM or two, it can feel like you are fumbling for a light switch in the dark.
I have spent a large part of this winter in a similar fashion to the above description, but in amongst those psychologically tough moments, there have been many great memories of this winter’s training. Throughout the last few months, I challenged myself to ride as many new roads as possible, and whilst part of that meant riding a long way from home in search of foreign lands (and a little bit of time getting lost!), much of this time has also been spent on roads quite close to my home. From riding across Leeds via muddy canal paths on an early Sunday morning to riding up the Algarve’s highest mountain 3 times in one day, and simply finding new roads in my home county of Bedfordshire, I have built up a wide range of experiences and memories that I will forever savour.
As well as stepping up my navigation skills, I have been working hard on developing myself as a bike racer, of course. In December, I spent 63 hours in the saddle, which is the most time I have ever spent cycling in a single month outside of the summer race season. I have also very recently taken the plunge into using a power meter, a tool I had previously been hesitant to use, and am already feeling the benefits of more consistency in my efforts during training. It has also relieved the stress that no racing brings, seeing my power numbers rated highly by TrainingPeaks, bringing some sort of validation, that I had previously lacked with the heart rate monitor.
As we come into 2022, I hope that the hard toil over the winter will put an extra arrow or two in my bow that I may not have previously had before, and enable me to bring home some great results.
Until next time,