It’s very tempting during the winter to simply batten down the hatches and retreat indoors. Turbo, treadmill and indoor pool – they all provide great training options, but they shouldn’t be used exclusively.
If you spend the winter bolted to a turbo, not only will your sanity and backside undoubtedly suffer, but so too will your bike-handling skills. You might develop a superb engine but throw in a few corners or tricky descents and those gains could easily turn into losses.
Running on a treadmill is quite simply a soul-sapping experience; the belt will always do some of the work for you, the never changing footstrike is a recipe for overuse injuries and air-conditioned gyms are a haven for colds and flus. Meanwhile, only a hardcore few would take on open-water swimming through the winter. Saying that, there are some heated outdoor pools that can give you a real mental boost.
So with a little forethought and preparation – choosing your clothing, kit, workouts, etc. – there’s no need to hibernate indoors this winter. Just heading outside, breathing in some crisp air and, most importantly, receiving some mood-enhancing daylight, will help see you through ’til spring. So, get up, get out and follow the tips overleaf, and your enhanced mood, fitness and race results next season will be your reward.
Winter-proof your bike
Mudguards are the number one priority for enjoyable winter riding. Not only will they make you far more popular with your ride-mates, they’ll also help keep your backside and feet dry. They protect your bike from corrosive salt spray too, prolonging the life of your components and reducing the time you have to spend cleaning post-ride.
Full-length guards are best but, if you haven’t got the drillings or the clearance, there are clip-on options too, which still do a decent job. Get some alloy training wheels and fit some puncture-resistant wider (25-28mm) tyres for a more comfortable winter ride.
Hitting the trails, whether on a mountain bike or cross bike, is a great option, especially in snowy or icy conditions when the roads can be especially dangerous. For a good, even-paced winter workout, you’re not looking for technical trails, so converted railway lines (see www.sustrans.org.uk) are ideal.
Trail centres are also a great option, with many having fast-draining all-weather surfaces. Blue and green-graded routes provide an excellent way to get solid winter bike miles in and many centres have a café to thaw out in afterwards (see www.forestry.gov.uk).
Aim to start your runs and rides feeling slightly cold to avoid sweating as you warm up, which will only chill you later on.
Adopt simple layering to stay comfortable. Start with a wicking base layer next to your skin; next is an insulating mid-layer such as a fleece; and finally is your wind- or waterproof shell. Add or remove layers to adapt to changing temperatures and as you warm up or cool down.
Look after your extremities
On the bike especially, pay particular attention to your hands, feet and head. Buy high-quality cycling-specific gloves and make sure they’re not too tight. Silk or merino liner gloves really up their warmth. Remember: to help stop the cold and wet getting in, jacket cuffs go over your gloves.
Waterproof overshoes are a must for winter riding, but also consider taping up drainage and ventilation holes in your shoes. Knee-length warm socks prevent cold calves and ankles, but not so thick as to make your shoes tight. Prevent water getting in by zipping your tights over the top of your overshoes. As for headgear, you’d be hard-pressed to beat a traditional Belgian-style winter cap for keeping your head and ears toasty.
For icy pavements or trails, metal-dobbed orienteering shoes, such as Inov-8 Oroc 280’s (www.inov-8.com), are superb.
If you’re heading onto upland trails, running crampons, such as Kahtoola microspikes (www.betaclimbingdesigns.com), allow you to tackle steep and icy terrain, but also carrying and knowing how to use an ice axe is recommended.
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