Training Through The Cold

After BMC’s December training camp in Spain, I headed back to the USA for the holidays. It has been great being home, but the weather has made it particularly challenging. Apparently, the first week in January was the coldest on record for this part of North Carolina. Fortunately, it has been dry, but we’ve struggled to get above freezing. While it’s made training extra challenging, it has created some epic winter scenes –most that I hope to never see again like the French Broad River freezing over and lots of waterfalls, creeks, and streams being completely frozen. 

This time of year, I understand that consistency is super important.  It can be easy to overdo it on a nice day outside and then limp your way through the days stuck inside. I’ve learned over my years to try and make an effort to maintain some consistency and quality in my workouts, so I go for a balance of trainer workouts and get creative for the outside rides on a mountain bike or cyclocross bike.

Growing up in Michigan

Sure—I grew up in Michigan and spent winters skiing and riding in a colder climate than this. I try to remind myself that I know what real cold is and this North Carolina freeze isn’t it. Looking back, I kept riding through the Michigan winters, which proves that I’m clearly a little nuts or extremely committed….probably both! 

Sometimes think I used up my ability to handle the cold during my childhood. I’ve got to admit; I’m pretty sensitive to it now.

Back in Michigan, we would ride single-speed mountain bikes on snow-covered dirt roads because they were the only surfaces that weren’t heavily salted and turning into icy slush.  We’d ride 20 to 30 minutes, basically until our toes started to freeze, and then we’d run beside our bikes for a few minutes to get the blood flowing again. At that point in life, it was kind of fun. The big difference now is that I’m trying to follow a plan and get in specific work, which makes things a bit harder to manage.

Winter Riding: Inside or Outside

 I do not like riding the trainer. I might even say I hate it.

Trainers have definitely gotten better in terms of feel and ride quality, but I grew up riding on a mountain bike and setting off on adventures. When I ride, my brain doesn’t want to only think about science and numbers. I look at some of the other pros that come from track backgrounds and I think they almost prefer the controlled environment of a trainer. Not me—I love riding my bike and always want to be outside.

If I have to do a trainer session, I cap it at 1 to 2 hours maximum. In an absolute extreme situation, I might do a double-session, but typically I’ll do a morning trainer workout to get in some quality and then head out on my mountain bike or cross bike to get in some fresh air and some dynamic body movements.

I feel that if I can watch a TV show or a movie while on the trainer, then it means I’m probably wasting my time. So typically, I just suffer through with some music and focus on pedal stroke and power.

Tips and Tricks for Winter Riding

When I first head out for a winter training ride, my initial thought always seem to be, “How do these meteorologists get paid to mess up the forecast this badly?!”

When it comes to riding outside, my advice is wearing layers, keeping the head warm, and investing in a good pair of tights. I always have at least two pairs of gloves and use hand and toe warmers. The trick is placing them between the two layers of your shoe covers.

I also stash a spare neck warmer, hat, and a pair of gloves in a big freezer bag, so it doesn’t get sweaty. I swap them out when I fill up my bottles or stop to warm up with a coffee.

I recommend doing multiple layers on the upper body, but it’s unrealistic to wear baggy snow pants and still train.  This is where those tights come in—they keep you warm, windproof and comfortable, which is absolutely key.

To keep my bottles from freezing, I use insulated ones and depending on the temp, may partially fill them with hot water, drink mix, or tea. I keep my food close to my body and under a layer or two.

Finally and something people often forget—it’s crucial to keep eating even if it is freezing cold out. It can be a hassle with the gloves, so I bring items that don’t require too much unwrapping.