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The Big Thaw: Regain Your Mountain Biking Fitness This Spring

By Rebecca Rusch

If you’re like me, spring is rejuvenating, but also a bit stressful. As the snow melts, the time to start progressing on the goals I’ve set for race season is just around the corner — but my fitness doesn’t feel like it matches what I’ll be asking my legs to do in short order.

I find training for performance puts me in a constant ebb and flow of confidence and self-doubt. Yes, despite being a professional athlete for many years, I still doubt myself and my abilities. Spring is one such time when I emerge from that much-earned mental and physical rest only to wonder if I can ever feel fast and powerful again. This is also the exciting time when we anticipate achieving all our dreams and goals!

Here are a few things we can all do in the spring to shake off the cobwebs and get back on track.

Sign up for your own Spring Classics. Just as road cyclists jump into the Spring Classics for motivation and training, I also need to use races to get me fired up and keep me on track for goals later in the season. Even if I’m not “race fit,” I swallow my ego and sign up anyway. For example, I just did my first ever snow bike race on a rental bike and with little experience. It was way more fun than doing a hard four hours alone. My next endeavor is the Austin Rattler. Why not join me there?

Become a weather watcher. Weather can be a challenge for many athletes and hinder the best laid workout plans. Keep an eye on weather systems and plan your most important workouts for the best possible forecasts. Plan weekend trips to get in longer miles in warmer climates. You can often drive to better weather in just a couple of hours, and the change in scenery can be good for your training, as well. Plan ahead and prioritize instead of letting weather become an excuse not to get in your workout.

Find partners in crime. I just sent out a group e-mail to my friends letting them know I need to put in some long training miles over the next two weeks. I know that good company will provide extra motivation to get me out the door and in the saddle for multiple hours. Rally support any chance you get. You don’t have to be the same speed as your friends. Just tailor the workouts to meet at turns, circle back or spend more or less time in the wind to accommodate for differences. If you don’t have riding friends, join or start a club or shop ride. I know that this time of year, I really need the moral support.

Don’t cram. Even if the season is creeping up on you and you feel less prepared than you would like, you cannot rush getting into shape or losing a few winter pounds. Trying to cram too much too quickly will ultimately lead to burnout or will make you sick. Be smart and take it slowly so that you can squeeze the most benefit from the time you have. Trying to “just do a little extra to make up” is a slippery slope that rarely pays off.

Ride hard and rest even harder. Coach Dean Golich said to me last week, “You don’t get stronger from the workout, you get stronger from the rest after the workout.” If you’re doing hard workouts, but don’t take time off the bike, get proper sleep or eat well, then you’re giving up much of the benefit you suffered for on the bike. Take your recovery seriously, and realize that stress from work and family can take a physical toll.

Be nice to yourself. We are human and that means we miss workouts and things don’t always go as planned. You are what you consistently do, so forgive yourself if you miss a workout. Just don’t make a habit of it.

Spring clean your gear. If you’re lucky, you have some brand new 2013 gear on the way or already delivered. Even if you don’t have new gear, a little spring cleaning will get you motivated and ready. Whether you live in a year-round riding climate or are pulling cycling gear out of winter storage, spend some quality time buffing out your gear for the season. This includes new cleats on your shoes, new tires, a full bike tune-up to replace anything old and crusty, fresh grips, maybe even a new chamois. Make sure your shoe covers, gloves, buff and riding jacket are accessible so you have no excuse not to get outside. Freshening up my gear always motivates me — and it ensures that a mechanical won’t send me home early.

Find motivation online. Now’s the time to start reading cycling websites again, and to check in with social media to see what the racers and your mountain biking friends are up to. There’s nothing like knowing that everyone else is out racing and riding to get you amped up and out the door. The stories and photos from events and amazing ride locations always help foster fresh motivation for the season.

Make a plan. Go ahead and commit to a few big races and rides for the year. Pay the entry fee, book travel and commit right now. Without a plan and exciting things on the horizon, training can sometimes feel sort of pointless and it’s easy to skip too many days. Adventures on your calendar will keep you honest and excited.

If all else fails, relish in the fact that your days on the trainer inside are numbered or perhaps even over for 2013.

See you out on the trail!


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