As published on triathletemag.com
By Melanie McQuaid
Dec. 10, 2007 — November and December are finicky months. Here in Victoria we can get anything from torrential downpours, to 60mph winds, to gorgeous, blinding sun. What we do not have is snow — ever (well, maybe for two days every four years). For some athletes living in Victoria, the temptation to keep training all year round is strong. However, too much training in November can lead to sluggish mid-summer results. Other athletes have no problem pushing triathlon activities to the back burner and find it difficult to get moving when the weather is gloomy. The sweet spot would be somewhere in between the two, where you are motivated to train but are “hurrying slowly” towards fitness by incorporating a variety of other activities. As we are not “snow” people, to get away from our favorite triathlon activities on a regular basis we need to find other fun things to. I think the two most popular winter activities for athletes in Victoria include riding cyclocross bikes and “run/hikes”.
For the longest time I did not partake in the cyclocross festivities because I felt it was another race season that I couldn’t possibly fit on my plate. In fact, cyclocross doesn’t have to have anything to do with racing. It’s basically a cross between your road and mountain bike (hence the name) and offers the kind of ride where you can cover large distances like you would on your road bike but you don’t necessarily have to keep the route paved. For winter time this is great because icy roads are treacherous, whereas gravel roads are fair game. When you ride on cross tires with lower pressure you end up pushing much harder than you would on a road bike, so it is a great workout. The increased ground contact means more rolling resistance which is also great for traction when the roads are sketchy.
During the race season so many workouts have specific requirements of pace, effort or time. Spending time exploring trails and roads you haven’t seen is a great way to lay down base miles without feeling like you are training. As you increase your race specific preparation you will need to use your race specific bike to put in miles, so taking this opportunity to build quality base while having an adventure is great. An added bonus to riding a cross bike are the bike handling skills you develop when riding off road. You will earn extra points for learning proper mounts and dismounts, which will be useful when you ride in and out of transition.
The second fun "shoulder season" activity is the run/hike. Again, running trails is nothing new to most triathletes, but during the race season most of us choose less technical, rolling trails to complete our intended workout. In the off-season, I gravitate towards vertical trails. The type of trail that is nearly impossible to run up, hence the name “run/hike”. When you do this kind of run workout you actually incorporate a lot of your cycling muscles as well to hike up the steepest portions. When I was a pure cyclist these run/hikes were a major part of our winter training program, allowing us to get off the bike for a bit without taking complete days off. Now that I run more, these run/hikes actually improve my strength both on the run and on the bike. There is nothing as rewarding as climbing a mountain and enjoying a view!
We have two wonderful, hilly, wet and muddy trail races in Victoria called the Gunner Shaw 10k and Stewart Mountain 10-miler. Both are held in Thetis Lake Park and each one is very challenging and rewarding. Gunner Shaw is like a trail sprint. It is so fun hammering up and down through the trails that you end up losing yourself part way through the race until suddenly, the race is over. Stewart Mountain is much longer and has a huge hill that reminds me of the run we used to do up Big Bear Mountain in XTERRA. I find running these events motivating. I get a great workout on the weekend that I didn’t even need to think about. Winter racing is a great time as no one is really worried about how well they are going and instead just have fun going hard.
Finding fun winter cross-training activities where you have no set agenda are a fun way to keep motivated through this time of year. If you don’t have any races, gather a group of friends to hike your local mountain or try some new trails. Head out on your cross bike connecting your regular road ride to an unpaved road to mix it up. When the mountains are open, get some turns in. The key is to find physical activities to do just for the fun of it. Keeping things fun at this time of year will encourage balance while you are still recharging for the next race season. And, most importantly, keeping a base level of fitness will mean the transition from “off” season to “on” season is smooth and painless.