Monday, March 20, 2017

Lousy Smarch Part 2: Lessons Learned

In my first post on how I’m dealing with this “Lousy Smarch” after the false spring of February, I discussed my commitment relearning my fundamental mountain bike skills correctly. While I get my shred house in order, I might be a little less focused on training from a fitness perspective. However, I still have a three-day stage race to complete at the end of May, so it’s not like I can let myself get out of shape.

Sadly, it seems like that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. In January, I had fully accepted winter and was laying a great foundation for spring, CBAPs and C-words be damned. In January, it’s easy to get into “this is my life now” mode in regard to wintery weather. Then February came and started letting in the “I deserve a break” thoughts, which quickly bled into “Winter is almost over, so I’ll just start mountain biking soon” thoughts. I guess I got in few sets of trainer intervals in February, but looking back on the month, it sort of feels like I was either doing 3+ hour mountain bike rides or “resting”. Then Lousy Smarch hit with its preclusion of further mountain biking, and I just kept “resting”.

Lately I have been struggling to get back on the right track sooner rather than later and resist the (very strong) urge to just sit in front of the TV until mountain-bike-able conditions come back. As I’m approaching the end of my third winter in State College, I’ve begun to look back and think about what I could have and should have done differently.

My first winter in State College was brutal, with extreme cold and snow pretty much the whole time and the trails not clearing until April. I also tried to doing all my training on the road, which was extra cold, because the gravel roads were too icy to traverse on a ‘cross bike. The next year I tried to mitigate this by purchasing a fat bike, and ironically, that winter turned out to be very mild. The new bike purchase also made me very keen to try fat bike racing, and while doing long, hard races in January and February kept me very motivated through the winter, I felt like it wasn’t the best for me in some ways. Because I was trying really hard at really hard races so early in the year with no base, I wasn’t able to do much except race and rest, plus traveling to New Jersey so often wasn’t that great. I thought that I would be better off staying home this winter and getting quality weight training and intervals in during the week while maintaining my endurance with easier long rides closer to home.

And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t those meddling kids…

Okay, okay, it was mostly my meddling brain telling me that whatever I had planned was too much and that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

I will begin by saying that there is no way to make winter training completely not suck. You can definitely employ strategies to mitigate the suck (warm gloves, warm shoes, fat bikes, etc.), but you cannot eliminate it completely. I think that everyone has to find their own comfort zone between strategies to mitigate the suck and strategies to embrace it. Some people develop high tolerances for indoor riding, while others will ride outside no matter how bad the weather is. I, for one, absolutely hate riding in the dark, so since moving to Pennsylvania, I’ve accepted that any weeknight ride will be indoors.

Of course, I also try to skew my training plans to minimize weeknight riding by spending most weeknights in the weight room and only doing a couple of quick, “get in, get out, get it done” interval sessions per week. I do my best to follow a polarized training philosophy with short intensity during the week and making up my volume on the weekends. It’s a great idea in theory, but where I failed was trying to go too intense on weekdays and not being motivated enough for long, boring, cold outdoor rides on weekends with no immediate races to keep me focused.

I think I found the answer to my indoor training problem, but it just came a little too late for this winter. Along with all of the skills tips available on the Lee Likes Bikes Online MTB School, there is also a very reasonable 12-week “Pump Up the Base” training plan which features two manageable-length, manageable-intensity indoor workouts a week. It seems to fit my mental and physical capacity for indoor training, and fits my own philosophy of leaving plenty of time for strength training and skills instead of just grinding the trainer all winter. I went ahead and started the program a couple of weeks ago, and I figure I’ll keep it up until the weather is actually pleasant for outdoor post-work intervals. Obviously, I won’t finish the whole 12-week program, but I figure I’ll pump up my base as much as I can in the remaining time before I switch to full-time outdoor training.

The other half of my polarized training fail from this winter goes back to finding the balance between mitigating and embracing the suck. For me, riding longer than an hour and a half is just not fun unless it’s above 50 degrees and there is a significant amount of singletrack involved. Unfortunately, to be successful at long rides with singletrack in the spring, one must accept long rides without singletrack in the winter. I didn’t do very well at that this year, as I was always bargaining my way out of the long boring rides that I was dreading by driving Raystown (except that I only have a 2.5 hour tolerance of Raystown) or attempting to do six laps of Accuweather. The fact of the matter is that I should have stopped trying to mitigate the suck and just lowered the barrier to entry by getting on my fat bike, riding up the mountain to Keppler road, riding out for a couple of hours, and riding home. For future winters, I guess I just need to embrace the motto of “get out the door, get in the hours”.

Finally, I will end with the one happy lesson that I learned this winter:  Harrisonburg, VA is only four hours away and is mountain-bike-able pretty much the whole winter. Not that weekly trips down there would wear on my any less hard than trips to New Jersey, but I’m glad to know that there’s a place to run when winter (or Lousy Smarch) gets to be absolutely too much. I definitely plan to return there in the future, although maybe with my Camber instead of my Hail.

Luckily, it appears that there is a light at the end of the weather forecast tunnel, and I might even be able to get out on the ridge tomorrow after work. I’m having some regrets about not being in as good of shape as I could have been going into this mountain bike season, but I’ve officially done all that I can about those by leaving this note to my next-winter self. Now I must embrace the gnar to come instead of dwelling on the past.

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