Indoor Training Can Kiss My Ass… I Mean, Kick My Butt.

For the first time in my life, I decided to start an indoor training program for the month of January. I’m not really one to “train” because for some reason my brain interprets cycling as a chore if I call it “training” instead of “riding bikes” — which is the last thing I want my brain to think. So for years and years I never “trained”, I just rode my bike. But as I’ve matured and become a more seasoned cyclist I’ve realized that to be a better rider and to have the most fun possible, I have to maintain a certain level of fitness. I’m also scheduled to have surgery next week to reconstruct a tendon in my thumb that I destroyed in a mountain bike crash a few years ago. I don’t want to recover from surgery and start from square one with my fitness, so I figured indoor training will help me set a good baseline and let me pick up right where I left off.

Maintaining good fitness is a hard thing to do in the middle of winter, especially in New Hampshire. Commuting to and from campus is one thing – just bundle up, ride for 20 minutes, then change clothes – but prolonged exercise with extreme cold, excessive windchill, shitty roads, and short days is not super realistic. (This is not to say that people don’t do this, it’s just not a great match for me). The other option is to ride trails, but unless you’re able to access a groomed trail system on a good day, the opportunities to play are few and far between.

With my budget and quick reality check, I decided to take advantage of the training features on Strava. To access these, you have to be a premium member. I’m not gonna lie, I felt like kind of a dork upgrading to premium, but here are my reasons for doing so:

  1. It’s actually not that costly compared to all the crazy fitness programs, apps, etc. I bought the one year subscription upfront, which is less than $9 per month. It’s also less than my monthly Netflix subscription. A fancy coaching program or other cycling training apps are definitely more costly.
  2. Strava keeps a training log for you and you can set weekly goals, either in hours or miles. Right now I’m set to hours since I’m doing all of my riding indoors right now and don’t have a cadence/speed sensor. The visual of seeing the little wheel fill up as I put in my riding time is really gratifying. Sometimes the simple things in life can really motivate you.
  3. I’m a data driven kind of gal, so I really like graphs and tables and things like that. Strava keeps track of your fitness through an algorithm, that I have yet to fully explore and understand, and provides visuals of your freshness, fatigue, and overall fitness. It’s actually pretty neat.
  4. The availability of training plans, training videos, virtual coaching etc is handy. After I complete the four week, indoor training plan, there are dozens of other training plans at my disposal once the weather starts to warm up.

Some other things that I use or found useful for my indoor workouts:

  1. A spin bike. I can post up at a spin bike in the gym and do my workouts there. This set up has pros and cons. I like how quiet a spin bike is compared to a bike on a trainer. I also like how it smooths out my pedal strokes and I can really focus on being efficient. I dislike how I always have to adjust the positioning. In addition, the spin bike isn’t your actual bike, so while smooth pedal strokes are nice, they aren’t realistic unless you ride a fixed gear everywhere.
  2. A real bike and a trainer. This is nice for the longer rides (aka “endurance miles”, 1.5-2 hrs of comfortable riding) because I can Netflix-and-chill with my bike in my living room. Cons of this set up, the bike that I want to use has a thru axle and my old trainer is set up for a conventional axle. So I’ve been using my touring bike for this, instead of my cyclocross/road bike until I break down and buy an adaptor axle ($50).
  3. An interval timer app. I LOVE THIS. I bought the full version of the Seconds app (available in iTunes, $5) and it was well worth it. I can create custom interval timers for each of my scheduled workouts, program the lady in my phone to give me a count down before each interval/rest, and still listen to Spotify all at the same time. I don’t have to constantly check the clock to see when I get to rest because the lady in the phone rules my workouts.
  4. A good play list. I have a playlist on my spotify that shuffles through with music that’s fun to ride to. This makes sitting on the trainer/spin bike somewhat enjoyable.
  5. A heart rate monitor. I have a HR monitor that came with a running watch that is also compatible with my bike computer (Garmin Edge 25). The Strava workouts are based on the Carmichael Training Plans and use HR zones to ensure a certain level of work ethic during your workout.

As I wrap up my last week in the four week training plan, here are a few things that I learned:

  1. If the weather is “nice” (above 32F and not precipitating) and the roads are not covered in snow and/or brine then I WILL bail on my scheduled indoor ride to ride real miles outside. I don’t sweat it one bit because it’s fun and that’s the whole point of riding bikes.
  2. I don’t always stick to the schedule Strava makes because real life happens. I might end up riding on a rest day because the day before something happened to where I couldn’t get my ride in.
  3. It’s a good idea to do the fit test before your start the program (as suggested by Strava). I didn’t because I’m lazy. I just used a recent known max heart rate to calculate my “zones”. This isn’t ideal because the workouts are structured around hitting various target heart rates. So I may have been working in too hard or too easy HR zones.

Now that I’m almost done with this indoor training experiment, I can get my surgery done and start focusing on rehab. I’m hoping to maintain (and even build) my fitness until I’m back 100%. In the mean time, I have some power intervals to tend to (ugh!).