Winter is a terrible time to be a cyclist where you are faced with the option of getting wet or cycling indoors. Neither of these is appealing but for me the indoor trainer is the least bad option in these circumstances.
The indoor training market is expanding rapidly thanks to the introduction of smart trainers and the "gamification" of cycling thanks to platforms such as Zwift. Unfortunately I don’t have the money to throw at such things and rely on a very basic turbo trainer set-up as you can see below.
Resistance is given by a viscous fluid on the back wheel and is adjusted using the gears of the bike. With these types of turbo trainers set-up takes around three minutes and then you are ready for a session of pain. And that really is the great thing about cycling indoors. You are free from the burden of cars, traffic lights, weather (wind) and can really focus on the effort itself. I thought I would dedicate this blog to some of the sessions I have been doing recently to highlight the usefulness of indoor training and to hopefully show the improvements I have made.
I have written about running in another blog post (https://www.velocroatia.com/single-post/2018/08/10/Running-back-to-Cycling) and I used this as a means to keep some of the weight down over the winter months. My running culminated in a sub-40 minute 10k so I was pretty happy with that despite not having run seriously for a number of years. It was actually nice to spend some time off the bike and work other parts of my body (I even did some strength exercises).
The graph below shows my cycling activities this winter. The extended gap between activities at the end of February was due to travelling for work to Houston. I did some running on the treadmill at the hotel having been warned by the receptionist not to run outside in the area. On the maps it is called Greenspoint but locals call it Gunspoint. I made a joke that it might make me run faster but the British wit was completely lost on the receptionist.
Here you can see my activities over the winter period. My average session length is around 33 minutes.
I use the training videos that are on the GCN (Global Cycling Network) on YouTube. I have found these to be the most effective sessions for me and the presenters (particularly Matt Stephens and Dan Loyd) explain the sessions very well and really give you an insight into their training methods. They have a few sessions that they do with pro teams which are really motivational since you can really see how deep the pros go on these sessions.
To try to get a sense of my progress through the winter I have looked at three training sessions, each around one month apart. The session is designed to replicate cycling up the famous Sa Colobra in Mallorca, a climb I have actually done in real life. The video below shows the session and it is a real tester since there is really no rest in the whole session.
The graph below compares my heart rate across the session at monthly intervals. The blue line shows my first session back in February, the red line shows my session in March and finally the green line shows my most recent effort at the start of April.
The graph below shows my corresponding cadence for each of the three sessions in the graph above with the same colours used to represent the efforts.
As you can see from the cadence graph, the sessions offers intervals at different cadences throughout which keeps it interesting and allows you to work slightly different muscle groups. The high cadence spikes throughout the session represent ten second high intensity flat-out efforts with no time to properly recover after.
The heart rate graph shows that as the session progresses my heart rate steadily rises. This is due to a combination of increasing effort and fatigue.
It is interesting that my heart rate at the start of each session has increased month-on-month. This is likely due to my legs getting and feeling stronger and so I feel more confident putting in a bigger effort at the start and then trying maintain throughout the session. The heart rate analysis below shows what zone I was in across the session and it is clear a lot of this one is spent at threshold.
You can view my latest Sa Colobra session on Strava below.
In the middle of all this indoor training I decided to go out for an actual cycle the other weekend on some familiar roads to find out what level I was really at in the real world. I had been putting this off for weeks because of a combination of weather and mostly fear that I would get confirmation of just how far away from my peak cycling fitness I really was. Perhaps the indoor sessions were giving me a false sense of progress.
The time came to get out on my bike and one look outside told me it was windy and was on the cusp of raining. I had every excuse to stay inside but I was determined to at least get some cycling outside. After seven months off the bike I struggled to find all my equipment and my usual cycling routine was no longer a muscle memory. Finally I was suited and booted and ready to leave the house. I got to the end of the street before realising that I still had the turbo trainer quick release skewer in the rear wheel and the brakes were not in the closed position. As auspicious start that was quickly rectified.
I was cycling again with the wind in my face. Literally in my face. I had forgotten the existential crisis that was cycling in a headwind after being cocooned indoors all winter. I genuinely wanted to cry, to turn back and donate my lovely bike to charity. If I could just make it to the next turn then the wind would move a little to the side and make life just a little easier. In this way being a cyclist is a lot like being a sailor with an innate intuition about the winds.
I tried to get into a more aerodynamic position but any and all flexibility had clearly abandoned me over the winter. There was nothing I could do except try to put as much power through the pedals as possible and cling to the hope that a nice tailwind would see me home.
It was a sobering experience and one that confirmed that there is still much work to do.
With all that being said, anecdotally I can definitely feel at least some improvement in form based on the indoor sessions. If nothing else they have been excellent at dropping a few winter pounds; I have dropped a full belt size!
With the lighter nights around the corner I am hoping to get out for some more cycling and then Croatia beckons for some proper cycling and KOM's to claim for Scotland.