Spring Training

It’s the first day of Spring, 2018.  A cold rain and sleet are falling. Later tonight, it will snow. It doesn’t feel like spring yet. Every chance I get, I get out on the roads and ride. I have an event in May that’s a goal, and at this point I’m desperate to get outdoors again. The weather has not made it easy.

Of course, every time the weather is good enough to ride, I ride. With the start of daylight savings time, my opportunities have expanded. I get an hour after work to ride before the dark and cold catch up to me, and now that I have that hour, I don’t want to waste it. I suffered through a ride last evening. I knew that the weather was going to turn wet and ugly. You take your chances when you get them.

Spring is not my favorite season, but it’s a hopeful time. When Spring comes there are very few excuses that will work for not getting out to exercise. There are simply too many problems that must be overcome. You’re out of shape.  You can drop some weight. You have a goal to meet and the clock is ticking. These factors play against a litany of painful conditions: it’s still cold out there. It’s windy too, as if the temperature wasn’t cold enough. There is no such thing as comfort in cool or cold weather cycling gear. It restricts you in many ways while it grants you the warmth you need. I know a few people who won’t leave the gym until mid-April at the earliest. They are not cyclists. Now, I admit that runners also share in this manic desire to get outdoors; but unlike road cyclists they move at a more sensible rate of speed for cold weather. At high speed, there is no easy way to keep the cold out. Modern cycling jackets and gear are excellent at doing that, but the subtle difference between warm enough and too warm is a very elusive thing to manage. This is why I want to see Spring progress as quickly as possible. I can’t wait to shed layers.

Last weekend I got a day worth putting miles in for. It was bright on Sunday, and the temperatures climbed up into the 50s, which feels warm at this time of year. Warm enough to trade tights for leg warmers? Yes. If I guess wrong, I’ll suffer – but I’ll suffer anyway. I might as well take a chance. I’m wearing layers to remove in case I overheat. I wanted to ride for 40 miles.  Not a lot, but right now it feels like a lot.  With a minimal training base, this is a reasonable goal. I’m shooting for a lot of smaller efforts to work myself into shape. Riding for an hour after work at least 3 or 4 times a week will do me more good than long rides on the weekend with little in between. As the weather improves, I’ll stretch the distance, and of course I’ll build rest into the schedule too. I don’t want to burn out or lose motivation. Rest days and sleep, particularly when you’re training in the Spring, are vital.  It’s better to keep your focus and avoid breaking down when you’re in the process of building a training base.

When I leave home, the best rides head west.  The trouble is that west is the direction in which you find the climbs. I’m not in climbing trim. I climb fairly well for a big guy, and I don’t avoid climbing because I can’t get better at it through avoidance. I have 22 gears, and many are good for climbing with, so I might as well use them. I try to be realistic about what I can do. I was ready to get my training started, so I headed west into the hills last Sunday.  Sadly, the wind was working against me.  I spent the first half of the ride climbing up hill after hill into a steady wind. It made me feel more out of shape than I thought I was. Worse than that, I’d chosen the warmest part of the day to ride in, so I encountered other riders on the road. They looked like a very happy bunch. There they were, passing in the opposite direction with a friendly wave. I gave a friendly wave back. I understood their desire to be there. I only wished I looked as happy as they did.  I didn’t feel happy. I was grinding along with the feeling that I’d been too comfortable this winter. Now I was paying for it. I was suffering, and I deserved it.

A little over halfway through my ride, I took a brief rest stop.  I had an empty water bottle, so I was drinking enough. My clothing was doing an admirable job of holding in my sweat, making temperature control a challenge, particularly now that I’d stopped. I was cold, a little sore, and my only real consolation had been the scenery. I was ready to hold on to any positives I could find. I was feeling defeated by the hills and the wind, and I was ready to cut the ride short. I took 10 minutes to recover a little.

Then I turned for home. Suddenly I understood why all those other riders looked happier than I was. The wind was with them. They were riding downhill for the most part. Now I was, too. My speed picked up. I started using different muscle groups. I still had climbs, but I had more downhill to work with, and the wind was helping me on the level stretches. This is why you ride a bike – sometimes you get to feel like you’re flying, even when you have a hard day.  I abandoned all thought of cutting my ride short. I met my goal.

Once I’d put the bike away, I felt a little sore. This wasn’t surprising. I had earned a little fatigue. I had two things that I needed to do. The first was get a good night’s rest. I hadn’t had a lot of chances to ride outdoors this year, and whenever you make that kind of change, your body needs to adjust. Sleep is how you do it. The second thing I needed to do was ride the following day. A recovery ride helps your muscles adapt to changing demands. It doesn’t have to be a hard effort, but it has to be long enough to get your muscles warmed up and your lungs working.  Bad weather stayed away long enough for me to get that done.

I’m bracing for more bad weather, but the effects don’t last too long in the spring. I will certainly suffer enough in the next six weeks to be ready for my first event of the year in May. Every spring I get at least a ride or two like the one I’ve described. They have hopeful beginnings, hard efforts, and self-doubt. They feel good when they’re done. I don’t think I can avoid the feeling. When the days start getting warm, these hard days will be forgotten. Just now, they are a yearly rite of passage. Outside my window the weather is miserable. Soon it will improve again. When it does, I’ll be back out on my bike. I’ll be suffering, until I build the fitness I want. There are no short cuts.

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