This is the time of year that defines an athlete. Anyone can get excited about going for a ride on a sunny, 75-degree day in the spring or summer. It takes quite a bit more dedication to bundle up and head out the door on a cold morning in November/December/January. And when the weather keeps you indoors, it requires a similar level of dedication to sequester yourself in some corner of your home, garage, or basement to ride the trainer. You don’t call people who train through the winter “enthusiasts” or “casual exercisers”. You’re a runner, a cyclist, a triathlete. You’re an athlete.
All the same, even dedicated athletes are tempted to take short cuts at this time of year. The thought is, “What’s the harm in riding 30 fewer minutes, running one fewer mile, or skipping that last interval?” “There are plenty of months between now and my next goal event.” “There’s plenty of time to make up for those lost miles.” “I’ve done plenty already.”
You sure got plenty of excuses.
And there are plenty of bloggers and columnists out there making it easier to indulge in those excuses. They say this is the time for long, low- to moderate-intensity workouts to build an aerobic base. They warn against making January heroes who are zeros by May. But those aren’t the only two options. Time-crunched athletes who train 8 hours or less per week don’t do enough volume or create enough workload with moderate-intensity rides to build the aerobic base those bloggers are talking about. Going easier requires you to go longer, and if you can’t then you have to use some intensity to generate that workload. You don’t have to prepare for a peak performance in January, but Tempo and lactate threshold intervals during this period are a better use of your time if you’re a time-crunched athlete.
The truth is that this is one of the most precarious periods of the year for athletes who train year-round. For the vast majority of athletes, your fitness level has declined – at least slightly – over the past two months. That’s pretty natural, especially for summer-season cyclists, triathletes, and runners. You just can’t let that slight decline gain momentum and turn into a free-fall descent.
Each workout – and each interval and mile within those workouts – counts at this time of year because the weather, the short days, the illnesses, and the relentless succession of Holiday events will conspire to knock you out of training for a few days, a week, or more at some point in the next six weeks. It happens. It’s one of the realities we go through with our athletes every year.
So, when you’re cold and tempted to cut 30 minutes off your ride, or it’s getting dark and you want to skip that last interval, suck it up and get it done. At this time of year it’s important to bank as much high-quality training time as you can; it’s an investment against the workouts you’re going to have to miss or cut short for legitimate reasons.
CEO/Head Coach of CTS