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A Roadie’s Guide to Getting through the Winter

A Roadie’s Guide to Getting through Winter

Through the month of January 2018, we have experienced the best winter cycling weather I’ve seen in my twenty years here as “A Stranger in a Strange Land.” While the almost-60-degree days with no wind for the entire time were wonderful, winter, as we call it, has set in. This threatens to have an effect upon our training and riding. To help you maintain some fitness, keep a resting pulse of under 110 bpm, and to avoid a thirty pound weight gain, here are some tips.

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Ride when you can, where you can On a nice day, obviously you can ride your road bike outside during February in St. George. But during periods of inclement weather, rather than skipping a ride, force yourself to ride on a trainer inside. I use the word “force” because riding a trainer is best done with someone threatening you with bodily harm. Most people hate it. Not all cyclists abhor trainers, though. Race Across America winner Lon Haldeman once told me that when he trained for ultramarathon events, he would sometimes set up his trainer in the basement of his Harvard, Illinois home and ride it for hours and hours in the dark. In a row. In the dark. I shudder thinking about it. Twenty minutes is actually enough to yield some benefits, but you are welcome to do more.

Through poor weather conditions, you can get your riding in by spending thirty minutes on a trainer at home, or, if you belong to a gym, you can ride on a Lifecycle while watching Oprah, Shep Smith, or Ellen. What I enjoyed most about riding at the health club was the horrified look on peoples’ faces after I had been riding for twenty minutes, making obnoxious wheezing sounds, drenched in icky sweat, with a three-foot-wide puddle of perspiration on the floor underneath me. With no small degree of pride, I can tell you that I’ve personally broken three health club bicycles; a Schwinn Airdyne, and two upright Lifecycles.

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Although it’s difficult to do on a regular basis, on a particularly bad day, just gut it out and do a short ride outside. Guh-hed. Think of it as an epic adventure. Bragging rights. Maybe it’s overcast; maybe there’s light rain; maybe it’s windy. Become a character in a Jack London novel (preferably the protagonist), and dress in all your Winter/Gortex/Thinsulate/Super-Zoot/Thermal Stuff. Wear your warm gloves (those lobster thingies, if you don’t mind not being able to shift), and cover your toes, head, ears, etc. If you can get in a dozen miles in absolutely abysmal conditions, you will feel as if you have accomplished something, which you have. Bonus points if you are seen by someone you know.

Do local scheduled rides, or just arrange rides with other people. “Misery loves company” is the expression. If someone else is with you, you are likely to ride farther and/or harder. Earlier last year on a blustery, cool, drizzly day, Gary Powers convinced me to ride out to the Gunlock Reservoir with him. Despite the massively depressing fact that Gary was with me, it actually turned out to be very enjoyable. Go figure.

Buy new cold weather cycling clothing

Anytime I buy a new jacket, toe warmers, or even a balaclava, the first thing I have to do is “try it out.” It’s an excuse to get out and ride. And, on a larger scale, buying a new road bike in the dead of winter is a surefire way to get you out on the road. Actually, any new cycling toy will get you outside in weather that would normally relegate you to the couch. Buy a new bike computer. Join Strava. Buy new tires; anything to get you outside on your bike.

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Engage with the Neanderthal sport of Mountain Biking

Winter is a great time to ride a mountain bike, especially for us pampered roadies. You’re not as likely to go sliding on black ice (this is an issue on Old Highway 91), and at the slower speeds, wind chill isn’t as much of an issue on a mountain bike. If you’re not accustomed to riding a mountain bike, start out on the street. Next, try some easy trails. You’ll discover how different it is from road cycling, and how much fun it is. And…you’ll be riding a bike.

Neanderthals...
Neanderthals…

Controlling your weight

I did an entire article on this topic, but I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version here. If you’re riding fewer miles and eating the same amount (and types) of food, you can gain a pound or two per week during the winter. I came out of this past riding season ten pounds heavier than normal, and with the holidays, decreased activity, and lower metabolism due to my tremendously advanced age, I have a battle in front of me. And so do you, most likely.

Here, in no particular order…

Weight loss starts at the grocery store. Don’t shop while you’re hungry, and avoid junk food. Be proud of your shopping cart at checkout. Others will hate a smug, fit you, leering derisively at your cart and thinking, “Ooh, look at the health nut! You think you’re better than me because I have Little Debbie Snack Cakes??” If it isn’t in your house, you won’t eat it. Take smaller helpings. Only allow yourself one starch per meal; if you’re eating pasta, that means you get no bread. No sugary drinks; try Perrier. Stop eating when you’re full enough, even leaving food on your plate. You don’t need seconds; you’re in a feeding frenzy, so give it a few minutes. If you eat dessert, don’t continue to snack through the evening. This is the number one reason people gain weight. After dinner, you have dessert. Later, you have your one harmless ginormous bowl of ice cream. (With Hershey’s, of course.) And maybe some pound cake. Yummy. Before going to bed, let’s just check out what might be lurking in the kitchen. Maybe a half dozen of those delicious Biscoffs they give you on SkyWest…Maybe a Jell-O pudding…or two? (They’re so small!) If you ask yourself if you’re really hungry, the answer will almost always be “no.” If you can consistently eschew (not chew) snacks, you can maintain your weight, and even lose a few pounds. On the bright side, if you gain twenty pounds over the winter, your pathetic self-loathing will be justified…

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Mix up your activities

I always increase my free weight and machine workouts in the winter. But there are plenty of outdoor physical activities you can take advantage of in winter. Dress up and go for a walk. A few miles will burn some calories and get your pulse up. If you have a history of running (and you don’t have my messed up I.T band), go for a jog a few times a week. We live in an area that is rich in locations that are spectacular for hiking. Take a hike!

If you somewhat adjust what you eat and drink and add varied, fun physical activities to augment your outdoor riding, you’ll find you don’t have as much of an uphill battle ahead of you in March, and you won’t have to legally change your name to “Hugh Jass.” Spring will be here sooner than you think, and once again you’ll be able to reintroduce Blue Bunny Peanut Butter Party and Nutella to your diet!

Written by Paul Scarpelli.

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3 Responses to “A Roadie’s Guide to Getting through the Winter”

  1. Stuart Joshua Holt on 23 Jan 2018 at 3:42 pm

    Another good and timely article. Everything you said comes from experience. After having ridden in excess of 300,000 miles since I started this “trek” I have experienced just about everything you mentioned. Thanks for the memories: some good, some bad.

  2. Paul Scarpelli on 27 Jan 2018 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks, Stu. I’m only up to 220,000 miles, but I’m glad some of the rides and races were with you.

  3. Tim on 28 Jan 2018 at 11:34 am

    Thanks Paul, one of my favorite rides was in Seattle on a rental 3 speed, in the rain, downtown after a Seahawk game.

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