The UK is currently experience of one of the coldest winters on record, which also happens to coincide with myself moving from life as a time-rich full time student in Australia, to full-time employment in the UK. Great timing too, now that the motivation for cycling is starting to return after 18 months of lounging about. So how to get around this one and get some decent miles in?
After several rides in the dark in classic UK soul destroying wet winter weather, I decided that although my newly purchased water and windproof kit was up to the task, that there had to be a better way of doing it. We cyclists know that there is a good reason we ride bikes rather than pursuing things on foot – it is quite simply unnatural – besides the injury risk is too high we tell ourselves. But what about the positives for running?
Running is a lot more intensive workout than cycling – running for less than an hour is easily as taxing as a few hours of easy miles on the bike, so certainly serves its purpose as a general purpose aerobic workout. But what about the rest of it? When it gets really cold on the bike, keeping warm becomes a major challenge, and so generally does finding daylight hours to train in. It comes as a nice bonus then that all that nice warm stuff for the bike can also be used as running kit, and that the repair bill is nothing like owning a separate winter bike, or sacrificing a summer bike as i have done in the past. As an added plus, running in ice is a great booster of core fitness, pretty simple really – ignore this and you are on the deck.
So is running really a good solution for marathon training? For marathon cycling, like any endurance sport, it is widely recognised the only solution for success is time on the bike. But what about those sneaky Europeans who always manage to tear the legs off everyone? How do they manage such form when they have a complete off season? I believe this is what separates the men from the boys in the summer months. In Australia there is no off season, a bit of marathon season over the winter, a state series here and there, National XC series over the summer, and enduro’s throughout to get you to the next major event. With such a calendar there is really no forced off-season, making it very difficult in the athlete’s mind to take time off for recovery – racing is the best training you tell yourself, and line up for another. But has anyone ever noted the reason for the absence of a fellow competitor? I’d personally put money on the fact that the guy is either injured or fatigued. Thing is the off season prevents this to a degree – there is no temptation there for riders to squeeze in ‘just one more’ race – the emphasis is on a more planned, and therefore more efficient season.
Not only is time off the bike refreshing, but it leaves time to try other outdoor pursuits; such as; skiing, climbing, and any other manner of winter sports. This recovery is not only mental however, with the focus off cycling it allows physical recovery of those muscles that have been tortured all summer on the bike. It also pulls those that haven’t had so much back into line – how many times have we all vowed as marathon cyclists that we will do more next season to rid ourselves of the ‘rope’ arms that plague road cyclists, or strengthen core muscles?
So what are the options I’ve gotten into apart from running? I’ve opted for running during the week, a bit of cyclocross on the weekends and a bit of rock climbing. On face value cyclocross appears to be one of the more demanding disciplines in cycling, but for a marathon cyclist, it is a true off season tune up. I have found that I have been able to get by in the top 10% with little to no training – merely winging it on technical ability from years of mountain bike riding, as opposed to the roadie masses, who despite their form are left confused when the tyres start to slide. What better to sharpen you up than essentially a road bike with knobbies and brakes less efficient than skiing on an icy slope? The thing about marathon racing is it is generally a solitary pursuit – by contrast CX enjoys close competition, whether you are in the top 10 or top 200, there is guaranteed to be tussling for position and a few close calls with others. Nor is it limited as in cross country, whereby its curtains on the race if you fumble the start. Best of all it is all done with by the time you are starting to feel the cold. For the perfect technical tune-up cyclocross is the answer.
As the winter gets colder, i cannot help but think its time to get a pair of cross country skis and hit the trails. After all it is an amazing workout, and certainly the best way to get around in a country that is incapable when it comes to the slightest of snowfalls.