Winter Training

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By Joe Hall

The road to a successful winter of riding is paved with good intentions, but inevitably so is the road to idleness. The manual I have says, “to see yourself as the cycling maestro that you have always dreamed of becoming […] do the training”.

Now even darts players (who don’t exactly require the same levels of training workload and planning that bike racers do) need to practice: i.e. sipping various intoxications from the lounge bar between legs of “Arrows” at the local hostelry. But even to enjoy the leisurely pursuit of road riding, it’s worth putting the training miles in.

Yet – as a casual road cyclist, a non-racer, a turista – I’ve never really been too interested in training plans. I just ride when I can (or feel like it) and seem to keep up with myself. I know the more I ride the more I enjoy it, but I’ve never been the person to religiously watch my weight and make sure I’m not riding the wrong gears on Wednesday hill repeats. I have considered racing once or twice (and this would presumably change my approach) but then I’ve wondered why I should race my bike if I just enjoy riding for riding’s sake… It’s nice to drop your mates or be first to arrive at the café, but breathing out of your derrière for an hour at full gas and then getting dropped just before the last lap is a different notion of pleasure. So I’ve just settled for going the distance, not racing the distance.

However, being in condition for the new season means more enjoyable mileage the further down the road you get. It may even mean I give that circuit race a wallop come the spring. So I need a regime, something to aim for. But what constitutes a good training plan?

In the latest issue of Rouleur, Tom Southam writes: “the winter signals the rebirth, the hope and aspiration that sees you ploughing through all weathers to be ready for the new year,” this to me sounds good, something I can aspire towards …The old cliché ‘races are won in the winter’ doesn’t exactly apply to an “unracer” like me, but I see it as a way to enjoy winter and embrace the season of frozen fingers and wet noses. To train in winter well is more than half the battle to, as the manual says, becoming a ‘cycling maestro’.

I think for the last five years I’ve said: “I shall train this winter, keep up the mileage and be a fine-tuned machine come the spring.” The closer I’ve got to the reality though, the worse my paunch of failure has looked. So what’s the trick to productive, disciplined, but enjoyable winter riding?

Here’s the author of said manual and the editor of Rouleur magazine, Guy Andrews:

Although I wouldn’t recommend it as a performance enhancing substance, the winter is all about LSD. Winter ‘training’ is about building a base, a foundation, an anchor point – call it what you will – because you can’t shoot a cannonball from a canoe. Long Steady Distance [LSD] is what the winter months are all about, laying down a base level of fitness that will keep you trim and ready for the harder part that starts in the spring. Strangely the long sportive rides of the summer are ideal for this (which is often why riders these days tend to be faster in the autumn). That underpinning fitness you get from many hours in the saddle only comes with some consistency of effort and volume – why it’s always been called ‘getting the miles-in.’ The pace is old school fashion too – not too slow and never too fast, not so you’re out of breath but just so you can still hold a conversation – it may sound a bit unscientific, but it works. So, for now, don’t worry about power meters and heart rates, just get out and ride.

Wintry Tips:

  • If it’s cold, wear more. Don’t be tempted to ride hard in order to warm up, you’ll just get cold again and [usually] sick as a result.
  • Spin. Learn to ride smaller gears, just use a 39 ring from November to January. Big gears are for sprinting and compact gears are for mountains.
  • Go mountain biking or cyclo-crossing, just do something different to what you do in the summer – it will keep you sharp and teach you how to handle a bike.
  • Chat with your mates, go to the cafe, find the local club run and join a group ride at lease twice a week.
  • Don’t make ambitious plans you can’t stick to, just ride nice and steady and long, whenever you can.
  • Oh yes, buy some mudguards.

Sage advice from G. Andrews there and somewhat reassuring for a slow-motion cyclist such as myself. This is very much a traditional approach, more about riding rather than giving it full gas training… But, as modern lives (not old school ones) make so many demands on the amateur rider beyond the bike, finding time to enjoy LSD on a regular basis isn’t easy… Family and work commitments mean more riders are adopting intensive training approaches.

So from the old roadie to the new, here’s James Mccoy, a Rapha employee and keen sportivist, with his winter regime:

The goal for me this year is to start racing and get my third category licence as quickly as possible and then see what happens from there. Typical week at the moment goes something like…

Monday
Turbo session. 20 min warm using cadence pyramids. Start at 95rpm for 1 min, then 1min easy pedalling. Building up 5rpm each minute until 120rpm before coming back down to 95rpm. Warm up is then followed by some on bike strength work, so, 7x 4 min intervals of increasing resistance with 3.5mins easy pedalling in between. No more than 150bpm so cadence slows accordingly.

Tuesday
Stretching and core strength session. 30 to 40 mins.

Wednesday
Turbo session. 20 min warm up using single legged pedalling drills followed by VO2 Max session. 5 × 4mins above threshold with 5 mins easy between each interval.

Thursday
Commute to and from work. 26 miles each way. Pretty easy with 5 to 10 15sec seated accelerations depending on traffic

Friday
Day off

Saturday
Longer endurance ride of around 3 hours. Fairly easy but 20 to 30mins of each hour at just below threshold.

Sunday
Usually something a bit different at this time of year like a game of squash.

The week never ends up being as structured at this as I have 2 kids so need to be pretty flexible. Overall probably around 140 miles and 8 to 9 hours of training.

That’s a pretty serious regime if you ask me. Looks like that 3rd cat licence is in the post. James has had his training plan developed with our friends and travel partners at La Fuga, who encourage bespoke, personal plans that suit your lifestyle:

“We encourage you to read between the lines, look for the underlying themes […] and tailor them to your own, specific lifestyle.”

James Fairbank, another Rapha colleague, is currently training in preparation for the Hog Hill Winter series (and plenty more besides). His plan has also been formulated by a coach who prescribes similar intensive rep work, core training and, as Guy Andrews emphasises, steady rides. James imparts:

By steady he means a lot slower than you’d expect, also go easy on the hills. Apparently I’ve been cycling everywhere moderately quickly which means I’m too tired to go hard on Tuesday and Thursday.

And then there’s Rapha’s resident product designer and tester, Graeme Raeburn, who (as you may recall) rode 1000km through a week in December in 2009. Graeme is all about:

Preparation: Make a commitment to the ride, check and embrace the weather, kit and bike drill to be 100% correct the night before. Thinking of bailing? Know the difference between a problem, and an excuse.

That’s a big part of it: making excuses rather than having actual barriers in the way of riding. It is possible to ride in the snow and the dark if you have the right kit, equipment and preparation.

For me, Guy’s appraisal of good winter training is the most appealing so far, but do I have the discipline to get LSD rides under my wheels every week? Perhaps it’s a case of mixing and matching to your lifestyle, diary and family/work commitments. But even you do plan it well, there’s that motivating element required when the nights are long and the mornings are frosty.

Michael Barry, in the pages of the wonderful Le Metier, distills the efforts modern bike racers have to go to in winter to maintain or build foundations for the form required once the racing season arrives.

During the off-season, we grow mentally and physically stronger, as we step out into the cold weather to ride for hours in the rain or snow […] in conditions that keep most people indoors. In extremes I learn about myself, and my limits.

For an amateur such as me, who has barely even raced a bus, talking in such a religious tone about riding my push-bike for fun would sound somewhat pretentious, but I can still benefit like Mr. Barry does: Test yourself, put yourself out of the comfort zone and escape from the ‘wooly-mice’ syndrome that Tim Krabbe refers to in the The Rider. Pushing yourself is what makes the difference between keeping fit and evolving into that ‘maestro’.

Here’s Max Leonard with a look at how one of the greats would approach winter training:

What would Fausto do?

The weather gods are still being benevolent to those of us at Rapha HQ. Autumn has shaded into winter, but as we approach the year’s hub, the winter solstice, it is light and not warmth that is lacking.

It’s the time of year when thoughts slide inexorably towards the turbo, but it doesn’t have to be like that. For some inspiration, think back to 1946, the year that Fausto Coppi announced his return to the world. Riding La Primavera, he broke away with almost 250 kilometres to go. Ditching his last companions on the Turchino, he soloed to victory, crossing the line 14 minutes ahead of second place.

In preparation for the season opener, he rode 7,000 kilometres, and his training regime included 250-kilometre rides in which he’d arrange for local club riders to attack him remorselessly in the last hundred. Little wonder he made it to San Remo first. For a man who had been a prisoner of war for three years in North Africa, in decent conditions but mostly without a bike, what a release it must have been to get back to riding the cold, slippery roads of northern Italy.

The debonair Italian was an artist when it came to dressing for winter, but even if your aims are more modest, you needn’t go out unprepared. The Winter Gloves are arriving imminently, but the full range of Rapha accessories will make sure you’re prepared for anything these first days of winter can throw at you. The motivation to get out on the road might be falling but remember: there’s more to life than two hours at a steady 125bpm on the turbo, watching Tour DVDs, like a hamster on a wheel. Gravel and snot, and a cold nose, maybe. But also fresh air in the lungs and, perhaps, a view glimpsed through bare branches, never seen riding that road in summer. Steam rising off your companions’ head as they take their hats off. Tea and cake, or a bacon sarnie, in a noisy, packed cafe.

Think back, to a man imprisoned in the heat, pining for cold solitary kilometres, and get out there on your bike.

So, after much sketching, sighing and sleeping, here is my own Winter Training Plan. It’s completely void of any dietary science, wattage output or turbo sessions. It’s based on three kinds of rides: hill repeats, fast short rides and some LSD. Onwards.

WEEK 1

  • Monday – Mean to get up for an hour and a half’s spin, but get up too late. Do nothing but ride to work, ride home, eat a curry and rewrite my training plan.
  • Tuesday – One and a half to two hour’s spin around north London and Regent’s Park.
  • Wednesday – 120km standard Essex loop, usually takes me just over four hours when going OK. But I’ll keep it steady. LSD.
  • Thursday – day off, DON’T “pop in” to the pub.
  • Friday – Hill repeats in north London: Swains Lane, Hillway, and the other one I don’t know the name of, x 4.
  • Saturday – Reasonably paced 80km with a coffee stop.
  • Sunday – Clean the bike, read the paper, cook dinner.

WEEK 2

  • Monday – Go for an hour’s run (about 12km) to work off the roast dinner and wine from Sunday afternoon
  • Tuesday – Just ride the long way to work and stretch the legs.
  • Wednesday – Short Essex loop at a good pace (60km).
  • Friday – Hill repeats (oh crap).
  • Saturday – Ride with a few hitters… Completely smash myself to pieces.
  • Sunday – eat some more, drink a bit more, ’tis the season!

WEEK 3RECOVERY

  • Short spin on Monday
  • Riding to work each day
  • Friday – Day off work, ride up to Birmingham – this is about 170km … I might have to take some train fare for this.
  • Saturday – eat loads of food at my parent’s house, drink too much lager at the Hare and Hounds.
  • Sunday – eat some more, drink a bit more, fall asleep in front of the TV. (Christmas Day if all goes to plan)

WEEK 4

  • Repeat WEEK 1 (but with a decent ride on the Monday rather than sleeping in) and so forth and so on…

That’s it for now, if I do half of that I’ll be improving (apart from the pub trips) on many previous winter efforts. I’m also aiming to give the Festive 500 a stab so I may have to increase the kilometer count somewhere in between.

Good luck to anyone else with goals of making this winter a successful platform for developing as a rider. Overall I’d say enjoy your riding, but make sure you still suffer…


The Road Cyclist’s Training Manual by Guy Andrews and Simon Doughty is available here »

Le Metier by Michael Barry and Rouleur No. 26, featuring Tom Southam’s article Training Diaries, are both available here »

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