Winters in Scotland are hard, especially in the far north where I choose to live. There is a bitter irony to be found at this time of year when the days are at their shortest and most cold and we are required to lay down the foundations of our fitness in preparation for the coming year.
One day I should count up the hours I’ve spent churning out the long, cold, lonely miles with only horizontal sleet and darkness for company but I think if I did I’d be surprised at how few of them there have actually been. You see, as I’ve got older and wiser I’ve realised that there are very little training gains to be had by wringing your motivation out on unpleasant rides. There was a time I would have blindly struggled on through the snow for an extra hour while my legs grew slower and my heart rate dropped because I was so focused on the time I felt I had to spend on my bike. If only I had known.
There is more than one way to skin a cat. Especially a cold, tired one. Winter is a time to get creative about training. It’s also a time to invest in your family and friends, recharge your batteries, have some fun and eat lots. These things might not sound as though they will make you go faster come the following summer but ask yourself this – how fast will I go if I deprive myself of all joy, break my motivation piggy bank and alienate my support networks? Just saying.
So, instead of blindly sticking to an inflexible routine that dictates hours and hours to be spent on the road bike churning out the miles, consider quality over quantity.
Components of fitness to cover in the winter are typically strength and endurance so keep an eye on the weather and go out on the road for the long miles only when your best winter gloves are dry and the temperature is optimal. The rest of the time, ride out of the saddle in the trees on your mountain bike for core strength training, do planks in front of the iPlayer, chop wood, perform shorter, tempo blocks on the turbo or rollers to music (you can find some great sessions to follow online that can give as good endurance gains as double the miles spent on road might) but whatever you do don’t stress about it. Stress is not a performance enhancer. If you miss a session because it’s snowing, go for a run or swim instead. Yes you need to put in the miles but not at any cost. If you can, spend a block of 10 days somewhere a bit warmer in January where riding is the only thing you have to do. If you can’t, be patient and kind to yourself. That way, you’ll probably discover you have motivation (as well as calories) to burn when the weather allows.