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Switching Gears: Making the Most of Winter Training

By Rebecca Rusch

Maintaining focus during the colder months is hard and takes discipline. Here are a few ways to keep stoking that fire until the trails thaw.

As the powdery snow piles up layer-by-layer each day, my beautiful hometown of Ketchum, Idaho, goes from singletrack nirvana to skier’s paradise. Though I love this time of year, and cherish the beauty of Idaho winters, it means that I must switch gears in training to make sure I am able to achieve my goals after the snow melts.

This time of year allows me some well-earned mental and physical rest, but that in no way means I am not training, focused, and engaged in my mission of being the best athlete I can be.  However, I am human and my motivation wavers from time to time. Maintaining focus during the colder months is hard and takes discipline. Here are a few things to do this winter to stay on track.

Use your energy to organize and reassess. People often have excess energy when they are not focusing ­on immediate competition. This is when I usually clean up all the neglected areas of my life that turn chaotic during the busy race season. I clean my closets, organize all of my gear into bins, get rid of old T-shirts, file the piles of paper stacked on my desk, get tax stuff sorted and finalize sponsor and business plans for the next season. It sounds super boring, but clearing the clutter is therapeutic and allows me to start fresh again next year. I also bake bread, cook more often and get sort of domestic.

Discover cross training. Just about the time I’m bored with my organizing and cleaning, the snow will start flying and ski season arrives. I spend much of my winter in the backcountry on skis. Hours in the saddle on the trainer may work for some, but I could never be cooped up inside when I have a winter play land at my front steps. Winter is a great time for me to take a forced break from the bike, get into backcountry and Nordic skiing and enjoy my hometown. I throw in some Nordic races to stay motivated and push myself to get those hard workouts. I’m also adding fat biking into the mix. It’s awesome skills training and keeps me cycling fit. Diesel, the dog, loves it too.

Break up with your bike for a while. Ok, I know I just said I’m getting into fat biking this winter, but that’s just part of the training plan. You have to be ok with putting the bike away and learning to love the sports that are available during the cold months. It’s really not that hard to do. You and your bike will appreciate the time together when you are reunited.

Be creative with your training. I do spend some time with my bike in the winter, but only about five hours per week and those hours involve quality — not quantity — training. My specific training is more creative and varied than my training during the riding months. I take the time in the winter to do drills on the trainer to improve my pedal stroke. I also get to the gym to stretch and work on strength, and I do plenty of walking uphill on skis.

Allow yourself to rest. The saying that it is easy to over-train, but hard to over-rest, rings true here. If I spend the entire off-season training like I do in the spring and summer, I will be burnt out once the trails are ready. Taking some time in the off-season to truly be “off” ensures that come spring, I am very inspired to ride and get back on the bike. It also allows me to be motivated and strong all the way through the end of the next season in November. Downtime doesn’t have to mean you become a couch potato and do nothing at all. I still keep the activity level high, but with less structure and intensity.

Get a coach. A coach might be the key to getting the most out of your winter. My coach, Dean Golich, also keeps me honest because I am downloading workouts and if I’ve got nothing to download, then I have to answer to him about it. He keeps me focused, encouraged and holds me accountable. If I’m slacking, he’ll call me on it. He also makes sure I am where I need to be in my overall plan – not over-trained or under-trained.

Get a partner. Going solo all the time can be difficult. I solicit the help of friends to train with me and get me out the door. I find I struggle to stay super motivated on my own; a workout with a good friend can keep me going, push me harder, and make my day. After all, it’s really about having fun anyway, so a partner always makes staying fit more fun.

Get some warmth if you can. I also take at least a couple of winter trips to warmer climates so I can remember what it’s like to ride a bike. This year I’m heading to South America and Arizona for my winter training camps. Doing this helps to keep the muscle memory in my legs and the warmer weather tends to start that fire needed for the spring season. If you can’t take a trip, be sure to regularly look at photos of your past cycling adventures to keep those images fresh and to spur your motivation.

Set some goals. Surf websites, check your calendar and plan your next adventure or race. I rely on short-term and long-term fitness goals to keep me honest with my training. There are so many fun events out there. Pick something that makes you a little nervous and really excited, then pay your entry fee and commit. When your motivation wanes in the cold months, look at pictures of the place you will be going or past times of your competitors to give you the spark you need. Close your eyes and visualize those places and finish lines when you are indoors on your trainer. I do it all the time and it helps take me to that place and out of my Idaho basement. Instantly the pedals start revolving faster and the heart rate comes up.

If all else fails, relish in the fact that your days on the trainer inside are numbered and you can use this time to lay a solid base for a strong 2014 season. By the time spring arrives, your winter efforts will be paying you back in spades.

Here’s to a great winter!

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