At this time of year, lots of you will be emerging from semi-hibernation over the winter, extracting a dusty bike from the shed and wondering where your shoes are. Hardier souls will have been riding all winter regardless of conditions, and probably feeling quite smug at this point. But fear not. Even if you’ve been off the bike for months, it doesn’t take much to get yourself back into shape. Here’re a few tips for making it as painless as possible…
The ability gap
It’s easy to be disappointed with your abilities after a winter lay-off. In your head you’re as fast as you were in October, but the rest of you won’t be able to keep up. And we don’t mean strength and fitness-wise – this is a technique thing. Just because you were nailing that rocky drop-in five months back doesn’t mean you can do it first time out.
The key is not to let it worry you. It can be frustrating, but just accept it, don’t push too hard and allow yourself to get back into the swing of things. If you were pushing yourself on tricky stuff a few months back, go back a few steps to things that were really easy. Ride within yourself for a bit until you start getting the feel for your bike’s responses.
Even if you’ve maintained some sort of activity over the winter, like running or swimming, you’re unlikely to be able to ride as hard or for as long when you get back on your bike. Again, once you’ve accepted that this is the case and adopted a relaxed mindset, you’ll quite quickly return to form.
Don’t kill yourself up the hills, and don’t try to sprint everywhere. Ride as fast as you feel like, even if you know it’s not as fast as you were. Remember that you’re not starting from scratch – you were riding fit not all that long ago, and most of that fitness is still there somewhere. As you ride more, you’ll find yourself getting naturally faster until you’re back to a basic fitness level that you can build on with some structured training, if you so wish.
A little and often
Part of not pushing too hard is to aim to do a larger number of shorter rides rather than fewer longer ones. Stamina and endurance are quite resilient fitness facets so your ability to ride a long way won’t be as affected by a lay-off as your strength and speed. Obviously long rides may be your favourite thing, and if the big Sunday ride is your week’s riding then so be it. But don’t view the all-day ride as one to get your speed back – trying too hard too soon can severely diminish your ability to get home again…
Instead try to fit in some shorter rides. As the evenings get lighter, scope for quick post-w*rk rides is improved. Pick a day, decide you’re going to ride, plan a route (ideally from your house – don’t worry too much if there’s not much off-road in it but try to make it interesting), get everything ready before work and get out as soon as you can. Change out of work stuff straight into cycling stuff. Do not under any circumstances sit on the sofa or “just have a quick cup of tea”. Have it afterwards when you’ve earned it.
Keep it up
If you’re trying to get back into riding, motivation can be a problem. Different people find different things work here, and if you’re getting back into things then that’s the first hurdle gone. But knowing that you’re not as fast as you were and feeling like you’re not getting back there in a hurry can be frustrating. Patience is key. You will get better, just relax and let it happen.
And if you really don’t feel like riding, then don’t. It’s meant to be fun, and if you feel a bit ropey it won’t be fun. There’s always tomorrow…