Winter is a tough time to be a mountain biker. Long summer days on the trails are a forgotten quantity and the feeling of warmth on your back an almost alien feeling.
The clock is ticking towards Christmas but 2011, with snow already on the ground around the UK, seems an age away. The fire may be burning or the pub calling – both seem better options than trying to maintain your fitness over these cold, dark months. In short, motivation is waning.
It’s not just the pros, or even competitive cyclists, who suffer burn-out.
Cross training gives you the chance to break up the, dare I say it, monotony of year-round cycling.
But consider slipping on a pair or trainers and prepare to pound the pavements – running is an underrated winter activity for cyclists.
Discard it at your peril. While the worst of winter conditions will force you off the bike, only icy pavements will stop you running.
So here are our top tips for getting the most out of your time off the bike:
Take it easy
As a cardiovascular workout, running will have you working harder, in a shorter amount of time, raising your heart rate past the level required for similar effort while cycling. In my experience, a 20 minute training run will drain resources at a similar level to a steady one hour ride – although everyone’s body will react differently.
But that’s not to say just because you can cycle at a steady pace for six hours that you can throw yourself in at the deep end and run for two hours. Far from it.
Ease yourself in. Start with a 20 minute jog and gradually build both time and distance – your muscles, particular those idle when on the trails but called into action when running, and joints will thank you.
Know your limits
On the same theme: while cycling is a low impact activity – unless you take a tumble – running is incredibly tough on the joints – if it leaves your knees reeling for days, stop. It’s no big deal.
That said, you can protect yourself against the rigours of running. Invest in a good pair of running trainers – a tatty pair of Reebok Classics won’t do. Each time your foot hits the ground, the impact through your feet, legs and spine is equivalent to three times your body weight.
If possible, run off-road where the impact is reduced and you can enjoy the scenery en-route. After all, we’re mountain bikers? Why stick to the road? A specialist running shop will look at your running style and suggest a trainer or trail shoe to suit.
However, you can work on your technique as well. Take someone like Alistair Brownlee, world triathlon champion in 2009, and the way he floats on the balls of his feet from one stride to another. Seemingly effortless.
Learn the basics: maintain an upright posture with a slight forward lean, keep your upper body relaxed, avoid landing directly on the heel and take advantage of the foot’s natural ability to spring.
Adapt your training
On the face of it, running and cycling work different leg muscles, although there is no harm in building strength across areas not used in your primary sport.
However, you can adapt your workout to suit your overall goal – cycling. A long, steady run will, of course, build your cardiovascular capacity but consider hill running – easy if you’ve got fells within striking distance – to target those muscles used primarily in cycling. You’ll feel the benefits when you’re beasting it up sharp, rocky inclines next spring.
As in cycling, a heart rate monitor will allow you to adapt your workout according to effort – by far the most accurate and reliable indicator.
They’re our tips, what are yours?
So what do you need to get going? Here’s three things to get you off and running…
1) Craft thermal running gloves
Like when cycling, it’s all too easy for your hands to suffer if left out in the cold. Craft’s thermal gloves are designed solely with running in mind and the ergonomic fit ensures they’ll fit your hands like, well, a glove. They’ll also keep your hands toasty whatever the weather. The front of the gloves are ventilated, while reflective print helps to keep you seen in low-light conditions. Available for less than a tenner, these are a no-brainer. More here
2) dhb Merino base layer
dhb is online retailer Wiggle’s in-house clothing brand. They’ve revamped their whole range this winter and have introduced a series of Merino base layers, which are warm, breathable and a great fit. The wool also feels soft next to the skin and won’t stink to high heaven when sweaty. www.wiggle.co.uk/dhb/
3) Inov-8 Mudclaw 330
They say when the going gets tough, the tough gets going and these trail shoes will see you through the worst of winter – no questions asked. The ultra-durable Mudclaw 330 has a host of moulded studs built into the sole making them ideal for fell, hill or mountain running. Made by one of the most respected brands around, they also won’t break the bank and retail at £70. Here’s the full lowdown