Editor note: It’s that time of the year again. Our friend Burke wrote this series for us in 2014. We are posting it again now because it’s awesome and relevant!
T. Burke Swindlehurst “aka” T-Bird, is a retired professional road and mountain bike racer whose career accomplishments include a record 6 stage wins and 3 overall victories in New Mexico’s mountainous Tour of the Gila as well as podium placings in both US Professional Road and Marathon MTB championships.
Now days he puts his energy into promoting his on/off-road event in Utah, the Crusher in the Tushar and chasing KOM’s on Strava. He’s been an avid First Endurance user since day one.
Tell me people, are you going insane?
Ah, December, that most wonderful time of the year. A time for friends, family, cups of cheer and if you’re a cyclist preparing for the upcoming season, a time for “base.”
You know…the time of year when you spend countless, soul-crushing, mind-bending hours confined to a narrow heart-rate zone for ever-escalating weeks wherein you go just a wee-bit crazy and often find yourself ignoring your coach’s strict admonition to stay within your “zones?”
Oh no, not you. I thought so.
Now, the concept and methodology of “base” training has been around for many years and with good reason, I might add. After all, it makes perfect sense. If you want to reach a “peak” in your fitness, it’s necessary to invest time building a nice platform of aerobic endurance to support the higher-intensity training that’s needed later in the season to bring your fitness to a crescendo.
Thing is, you’ve been doing this a while now, right? For the last “X” number of years you’ve dutifully slogged through November December and January, methodically adding hours, doing those one-legged pedaling drills and staying (mostly) inside your prescribed heart rate zones; moreover, when the weather outside gets frightful, you do what any dedicated and disciplined badass would do: You haul yourself onto your indoor trainer and diligently knock-out every bit of your workout down to the last second because that’s what a bona-fide Badass does, right? Right?!!!
Yet, in spite of this, perhaps you’ve seen your performance the last several years stagnate?
Maybe you’re getting old.
Maybe you’re losing your edge.
Or maybe… just maybe…. you’re going insane.
I’m not joking. Before you discount the latter, let’s quickly examine the most concise definition of insanity I’ve found as it pertains to endurance training:
Insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting you throw the whole idea of base training out the window. No way, no how.
What I am going to suggest is that it’s not only possible but perhaps even necessary to spice things up a little bit from time to time to break the stagnation cycle of both your body and mind. After all, it’s generally accepted that the greatest adaptations and growth happen when you (or your body) face a new and different challenge. This is particularly true if you’ve been doing the same type of training for several years or more.
So, what might this look like?
Let’s say, for example, that a nasty stretch of weather descends upon your nape of the woods for a spell and riding outdoors isn’t an option. Normally you might climb aboard your trainer and watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones and soullessly pound-out 2 or 3 hours of coach-prescribed Zone-2 monotony, right? Well, I’ve got some fantastic news! There’s a whole, new world waiting for you out there that can be experienced while building your aerobic fitness without riding a bicycle (gasp!) That’s right. I posit that you can get stronger on the bike by doing things off of it.
Cross country skiing, snowshoeing and trail running are all excellent ways to not only maintain, but even build new strength that can benefit your performance on the bike later. These benefits can include new adaptations within your body’s physiology by doing something that you’re already not super-efficient at (like pedaling a bicycle). Activities like running, for instance, place similar demands upon your aerobic system but can provide new stimulus to your musculoskeletal system, which can oftentimes be compromised in cyclists from years of non-weight bearing activity such as cycling. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find fairly advanced stages of osteoporosis in even young professional cyclists due to their near complete lack of weight-bearing activities. Now, imagine the ramifications to a Master’s-age cyclist’s bones who has been cycling for decades. Not good. Another huge and often overlooked benefit of doing other activities is that it greatly can help keep mental burnout at bay by keeping your mind fresh and wanting more of the bike, rather than dreading it, by the time the racing season rolls around.
Now, I know this might all sound a little crazy to some or at the very least, a little risky. Indeed, that little voice in your head might be saying something like “but what if he’s wrong, and you spend some time running, skiing or snowshoeing only to find out that what you really needed was to ride your bike as much as possible, under any circumstance, without fail?!!!!”
Well, I’ll leave you with this: It might be time to stop listening to the voices in your head. You just might be even more insane that we first thought!