Winter in Seattle is weird. It’s like Kansas weird, but not as extreme. The weather is all over the board, relatively warm in the low 50’s one day, then 37 degrees F the next, or dry as a bone one minute and dumping sheets the next and for eight hours straight, eating up all of the daylight training hours. Squeezing training rides in between surprise weather changes is a tricky proposition, especially when work deadlines are calling. Still, I know if I don’t get my winter cycling miles in, I’ll be drinking gritty rooster tails at the back of the pack, if I’m lucky, come Spring.
So how do I keep my motivation for training up? That’s a tough question to answer, but it gets a lot easier when I remember that bike time is my time. Regardless of the weather, riding is when I get to feel most alive. It’s time to forget about work or think about it more clearly, time for ideas to develop, or time to just take in some sweet bike meditation.
One great thing about riding in winter is the type of rides, which are simple in nature. Just getting out and ticking over the pedals at a good steady cadence is enough for the time to be valuable. It needn’t be any more complicated. I’m not concerned with going fast or winning sprints, and I don’t need to set any new climbing times. Just nice easy miles. Mostly, I focus on listening to my body and making sure I stay warm.
Keeping it conservative
When I’m feeling really good on a warm winter ride, I might mix in one or two short, informal, high-cadence intervals, usually as the road points downward slightly. I have an abnormally fast cadence anyway, so ticking it up a notch or two is not a big stretch. Still, I keep this to a minimum in winter to avoid injury. The point is to keep it interesting without going too far.
Since I’ve long had a tendency to push my body too hard too early in the year, often resulting in strained muscles or tendonitis, I try to keep in mind the advice of wiser riders to keep it slow and steady. On days when I feel like I could go another hour or two, I save the energy, which makes the next day’s ride far more likely to actually occur.
Keeping it fun
One of the most appealing things about cycling is the opportunity to open up your body’s throttle. If you sit at a desk all day, with trips to the break room vending machines your only active respite, getting on the bike is when life gets exciting again. Maybe that’s why keeping it slow and steady in the winter has always felt like a kind of punishment when it’s really still reward time.
The benefit to keeping it slow on winter rides is in spring and summer when I can really open it up and feel my winter training paying off. It feels pretty awesome. I’ve largely maintained the same type of riding in my post-racing years because it’s what I know, and there’s a nice benefit to that approach in that when I feel like racing, I always know I can put in about two months of steady miles mixed with mild hill intervals, then jump in a couple of races and do okay.
The knowledge that riding slow through the winter maintains fitness, makes me healthier, and keeps my good form at the ready should I decide to race, all keeps my motivation high for riding through the cold winters.