Winter can be a difficult time for a motivated mountain bike racer. For starters – there aren’t a lot of races happening at this time of year (at least not in Ohio). But also, you have to convince yourself to cut back on cycling. It’s important to stay in shape, but if you go too hard in the colder months, then you will be burnt out by the end of the next season.
How can you balance your desire to stay in shape with your need to cut back on the bike? Cross-training?
I decided to take up running. I consider myself to be in fairly good shape, but one thing that I quickly came to realize was that cycling shape is much different than running shape.
I was determined to take it easy on my first run, because I know that my propensity to go out too hard has the potential to cause injuries. I didn’t realize though how easy I had to start. I walked for about 5 minutes to warm up and then began a light jog. After about a minute I started cramping around my ankles. These muscles hadn’t been intensely worked since high school track.
After a few intervals, the muscles started warming up and the cramping went away. I did 5 or 6 one-minute intervals at a very easy pace and walked for the remainder of my 4 mile workout. It was shocking how little running I could manage considering I could easily ride my bike for 3 or 4 hours at a good pace.
Over the course of the next week, I started gradually increasing the length and number of the intervals. I wasn’t feeling sore after the workouts, so I guess I got a little cocky.
I decided to do a workout where I would do 5 minute intervals with 2 minutes of resting between each interval – 5 of them. I probably could have managed this fine if I had just jogged the intervals, but I was getting impatient about building up to a point where I could stress my cardio system a little.
The first interval was moderately intense. I was tracking my speed with GPS and the numbers inspired my competitive spirit. Each one got progressively faster. My breathing was becoming more labored and I felt like I was getting a good workout in.
When I finished up I felt tired, but in a good way. This was the kind of workout that I wanted to do to stay in shape.
It wasn’t until the following morning that I realized that I had overdone it – by a long shot. When my kids came in and woke me up the next day I could barely walk. My calves were so tight and sore that walking to the bathroom felt like a chore. Three days later I was still hurting. I hadn’t been this sore since my last ill-advised game of tackle football.
Cycling shape is not the same as running shape. Just because you can climb like a billy goat on your bike, does not mean you can sprint like a cheetah in your Reeboks. In the end, I think the running will provide some great benefits. But cross-training between two sports can be a difficult thing to balance. My cardiovascular system is in great shape, but the muscles needed to work it just aren’t there yet.
Have you experienced this when you switched sports? From what sport to what sport? I love playing flag football from time to time, but with all the sudden sprints and changes in direction, I’m always in danger of pulling my groin or some other crucial muscle.
My legs feel better now and I’m going to continue to build up my running. My goal: to be able to run for 30 to 60 minutes straight at a good pace (7 to 8 miles per hour). I think if I can work up to that, then I will be in great shape when my serious riding begins in the spring.
Until then, I plan on alternating between running outside and riding on a spin bike in the basement. My indoor cycling workouts will never be more than 60 minutes because I want to avoid burnout – which I have experienced in past seasons. I’m just trying to maintain a good base for the winter. In March, I will start riding outside again (Brrrr!!!) and going on longer rides with increased intensity to prepare for the first races in April and May.
I’m already so far ahead of last winter, when my workout plan was to sit on the couch and drink beer until February. Just knowing that is getting me pumped up for racing next spring. Will you be ready to get out and race with me?
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UPDATE: I ran again today and it still hurts. OUCH!