Sunday, 19 April 2015

Winter Success

My Winter Plans
Despite a few late snow falls, I think it's safe to say that winter is behind us (us as in people living in my area, at any rate).  With that in mind I thought I'd reflect a bit on the success I had with my winter plans.

Originally I had several options:
  • Get a trainer and join a local class.
  • Try out outdoor winter cycling with studded tires.
  • Get rollers to ride at home.
  • Use the recumbent stationary bike I had at home.
Well the first two options were wildly successful.  I can't say the latter two were terrible in any way.  But the indoor class and the winter cycling outside literally filled my fitness schedule and kept me engaged throughout.

Indoor Cycling
The class was the first time I exercised in a more social setting.  I'm more of a loner when it comes to hardcore exercise.  But I definitely enjoyed working out with others.  For one thing biking on a trainer is dull and being exposed to other people's taste of music and friendly banter made the time fly.  When the workouts became unbearable, seeing other people's "pain faces" gives you this sense that you're all in it together and can all pull through.  Giving up also meant doing the "walk of shame" past everyone, where you'd be sniped at by mild ribbing.  A few times I stayed in the saddle just to avoid that walk!

I found that the class also kept me pushing myself further.  By testing myself and monitoring the data at hand (speed, cadence, heart rate and simulated power) I learned just how hard I could push myself.  Then by testing at regular intervals I could see just how much further I could push myself.  A higher heart rate became easier to maintain and specific exertions would bring up my heart rate less.  Each test would set the bar higher.

Before this class I was surprisingly ignorant about breathing.  Normally with big exertions I would be gasping for breath and I'd be using my effort to try to suck in as much air as possible.  A lot of that effort is wasted especially if your arms are close to your chest.  Instead I learned to concentrate my effort on expelling air through my lungs using my diaphragm and let the air flow in naturally.  This worked well in positions like the drops where your arms are right up against your chest.

Speaking of positions, I really learned better positioning and form.  I learned to relax my upper body as much as possible, saving all the energy for my legs spinning.  I learned proper pedalling techniques that kept my energy expenditure efficient.  I got much more comfortable with going in the drop position.  Prior to this class, standing on my pedals for more than 20 seconds made my legs want to buckle.  Now it is an effort I can easily sustain.  Last but not least, I learned how to plant my ass properly in the seat with my seat bones anchored on the wings of the saddle.  Great if you want to avoid back pain and saddle sores!

Winter Cycling
Cycling in the winter is fraught with challenges.  Snow storms can reduce visibility to nothing.  Snow and ice can result in treacherous road conditions.  Obviously you have to stay warm but there is also the not-so-obvious challenge of staying cool enough.  Keeping your water or other beverages at a fluid state can be difficult.  Sometimes food got too cold to eat -- trust me, biting into a frozen Cliff bar sucks!

As I've mentioned before, my choice of bike was a mountain bike using Ice Spiker Pro studded and knobbed tires.  This particular combination did pretty well in the winter time.  It really excelled in any sort of icy conditions, whether that was freezing rain, compacted snow on roads or on lake ice.  I wasn't able to navigate in deeper snow.  Most of the time I had to avoid snowmobile trails outright.  A fat bike would have really excelled in those conditions.  I'm hoping next year to have a fat bike for snow and an ice bike for lake riding.

I learned a lot about clothing.  Layering, what worked well, what to avoid.  I took detailed notes on it all.  I now have an arsenal of clothing combinations for any weather condition Ontario can throw at me.

I feel like I developed twitch reflexes when it comes to balance and control.  Sometimes riding conditions would be so treacherous and slippery, the back tire would slide out to the side and the rest of it would go the other way.  I got used to treating my bike like it was a bucking bronco.  Even with winter gone, I'm still very sure footed and ready for surprises.

I had the best mountain biking experience of my life on a local lake.  Circling around fishing huts, terrain that was constantly varied due to blowing snow, sneaky surprises such as old fishing holes.  Not to mention the ice making a loud CRR-RACK that usually made my heart skip a beat!  I don't know if was just a great challenge or the adrenaline junkie aspect of it, but I loved this so much..  I can't wait to get out there again.

I learned to always be prepared.  In the summer, a flat tire is an inconvenience.  In the winter, a dead mobile phone combined with a flat tire in a remote area could mean frostbite in the best case.  I got a CO2 inflater pump to make sure I never froze while pumping up a tire by hand.  I carried an extra cell phone for emergencies and USB batteries to go with it.  I made sure to keep my phones warm and functional, sealed in zip-lock bags.  As usual, I carried spare tubes and a patch kit.  Whenever I was on the lake, I brought ice spikes in case I broke through the ice.  I kept up several strategies to keep my fluids and food warm enough to consume.

Winter taught me to respect wind a lot more.  In the summer, headwinds can slow your speed.  In the winter, your speed is slowed and you get cold a lot faster.  Blowing snow and ice particles make goggles essential.  And as I discovered, it really assists in forming beardcicles!

Conclusion
I picked out several winter options because I was worried I would dislike them and give up.  I figured I would at least be able to bear with one of the options.  It was a complete surprise that I would have such a good time with both activities.

Don't get me wrong, I intend to thoroughly enjoy riding my bike in spring/summer/fall conditions.  But when the days get shorter and the air gets colder, I'll still be cycling and having a great time.

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