Hot Lattes and Cold Base Miles
Winter has well and truly set in as I’m sure our Melbourne based cyclists are quite aware of. I’ve always loved this period as a cyclist for two reasons. The first is the longer easier rides that are a staple of Saturday and Sunday mornings now that Crit season is well and truly behind us. The second is the feeling of a nice hot latte during the ride that warms the body and the soul in a way not many other things can (if you’ve ever done 3+ hours in freezing temperatures you’ll identify with this feeling).
Winter also means that most of our athletes are now 4+ months away from their category A races (their priorities). With this comes the inevitable long and slow endurance kilometers that are so important to ultimate success. As a cycling coach, I find that one of the most difficult parts of my job is to convey to our athletes just how important this period is. As cyclists we love pain, sweat and competition. It drives us to get out of bed at 5am, put on our weather specific lycra, clip in and pedal off past frosty puddles, frozen grass and with every breath of cold air hurting our lungs. This mentality is our lifesource and is perfect for those times in races when we have to find an extra gear, or push through the most extreme pain in our quads, glutes and lungs. But we also find it hard to switch this part of us off. Every ride becomes nausea inducing, a Strava KOM attempt or a chance to emulate our favourite pros we’ve watched the night previous from a sunny Europe we all wish we were in.
But switching this mentality off in our early general prep training phase might be just what we need to achieve the ultimate success. Common comments I get about this phase are “Won’t riding slow make me slow?”, “I generally don’t race in Zone 2, so why train there?” and “I don’t feel like I’m getting a good workout!” All are valid comments, and to address this I need to touch on the science of long Zone 1 and Zone 2 riding. By riding in Zone 1 and Zone 2 (generally anything under 75% FTP or LTHR) for long periods of time, our bodies build more capillaries which help deliver oxygen (via blood) to your muscles. Furthermore you will increase your mitochondria as well as making them larger. Mitochondria are the part of your cell responsible for converting oxygen and nutrients into energy. My personal favourite benefit of a strong base phase is that your body learns to better convert your stored fuel into energy sources. Hello body fat decrease and more energy! Ever felt flat towards the end of a road race? Perhaps you needed more base miles in your general prep phase.
One of the best parts of these long rides is the social and aesthetic aspects. If you find yourself struggling for motivation in this phase, think of these rides not as a chance to bury yourself physically, but as a chance to chat to your riding buddies about work, family, coffee, beer, race plans or your amazing coach. Feel free to stop riding and take in some of the natural sights that are plentiful along popular cycling routes wherever it is you call home. We don’t do this often enough in cycling, but you can actually “stop and smell
the roses”, while also getting the training benefit. And next time you get that soul warming latte on an icy winters day, remember that sometimes it’s important to ride slow in order to ride fast.