What?!? Are you kidding me?!? The calendar says it's still 2012! In fact, we still have one more month (and the entire holiday season) before the start of 2013!!
Well...I hate to break it to you! 2013 starts now!!
No...I'm not talking about hours of riding in frigid-cold, sub-freezing temperatures or slaving away on the trainer for hours on end with mind (and body) numbing intervals (although intervals will never hurt!). I'm talking about the preparation to become a more successful rider in 2013!
Well...here are eleven tips for getting the 2013 cycling season off to a stellar start and hopefully becoming a faster rider in the upcoming new year...
1) The first step in "getting faster" is setting goals. What are your cycling goals for the 2013 season?? Perhaps it is to complete your first century event. Maybe it's to complete your first double century, or the Colorado Triple Crown for that matter. Perhaps it's to complete an Ironman Triathlon? Whatever your goals are for 2013, you need to start your planning now! This is important for two reasons. First, many events have a limited window of registration. Registration for Team Evergreen's Triple Bypass, for instance, Colorado's most famed single-day cycling tour, opens in early January and often reaches its registration cap within a few days (and sometimes in less than one day). As the saying goes, "the early bird catches the worm!" Failure to start your preparations for your 2013 events now may limit your ability to register for many popular events. Second, and perhaps more important, is that riders who train with specific goals in mind are likely to be more focused and will thus train more effectively for the upcoming season. You need to have goals to give your "down-season" training some purpose...otherwise your training will very likely be less efficient. Bottom line...you need to start thinking about your objectives for next season NOW!!
2) Spend the money on a good bike fit! Plain and simple...if you can't ride comfortably on a bike for 100 miles, then you will suffer dearly on a 200 mile (or longer) event. Probably the best way to improve your comfort on the bike is to seek the help of a professional. It's amazing how a few small adjustments on the bike can do wonders to your overall comfort and efficiency. A professional bike fit, however, is going to come at a premium...$200 to $300 (maybe more)! But it maybe the best money that you spend on your "bike habit" for 2013. One more piece of advise is to seek a bike fit from an expert who has a background in physical therapy. No one is biomechanically perfect. We all have little kinks in our physiques that could potentially pose problems on the bike, whether it be a leg-length discrepancy, muscular inflexibility in our legs or backs, or a foot varus/valgus problems. A professional bike fitter with a background in physical therapy will be able to tease out these potential problems and can make small adjustments to a bike fit, perhaps warding off a potential injury. A professional bike fit can ultimately make you more efficient on the bike. Suggested local places to go: 1) Merrill Performance in Boulder: www.mperformance.com or 2) Boulder Center for Sports Medicine: www.bouldersportsmedicine.org.
3) Drop weight! Plain and simple...this is the most effective way to become a faster rider, especially on hilly or mountainous terrain. The numbers are pretty staggering when you look at them, but lighter riders, with a better power-to-weight ratio, will simply be able to climb faster than a heavier (and sometimes more powerful) riders. Obviously, this is easier said than done. Our busy lifestyles and work schedules often make it very difficult for use to eat as healthy as we would like. And as the winter kicks into full swing and the days continue to get shorter and colder, it becomes more difficult to do longer calorie-burning rides. Well...as the holidays approach, try to be accountable for every calorie that goes into your mouth, including both liquid and solid calories. Riders who really struggle with putting on a lot of weight during the off-season should consider seeking help from a nutritionist or dietary expert to help them "dial in" their off-season diet and assist them with weight loss. Extra weight is guaranteed to set you back as the 2013 season begins!
4) Become more aerodyamic on the bike. Okay...this goes hand-in-hand with a good bike fit. But the physics behind this concept are not difficult to understand. If you can become more comfortable in a slightly more aerodynamic position (no...you don't have to ride as aero as Dave Zabriski or Fabian Cancellara), you will produce less drag and you will go faster!! Notice I said nothing about purchasing a $3000 aero wheelset or fancy aero time trial helmet (although these pieces of equipment will definitely not hurt you, but fragile, carbon aero wheels are these probably not the best equipment choice for an unsupported 200-mile bike race!) Bottom line...if you can become more comfortable in a slightly more aerodynamic position on the bike, you will go faster, even if your power output does not change significantly. But it is important to not sacrifice comfort over aerodynamics, especially for ultra-distance events!
5) Address the "show stoppers!" Your contact points on the bike, especially your feet and butt, are absolutely essential for successfully completing endurance events. You could be the strongest rider in a two or three hour road race, but if you can't ride comfortably on a bike for longer periods of time, you will suffer dearly during an ultra-distance event, which could take 12-to-24+ hours to complete! And ultra-distance events are notorious for exposing the weaknesses of even the strongest riders, especially those weaknesses related to shoes and saddles. Bottom line...if you really struggle with "hot foot" or other foot related problems, consider talking to bicycle fit specialist about your on-the-bike foot pain. A pair of semi-custom or custom orthotics may be all that it takes to improve your on-the-bike foot comfort and make you a faster rider. Other riders may have to resort to full custom shoes, such as those made by D2 Shoe, located in Eagle, CO. In addition to footwear, the off-season is an ideal time to start experimenting with different saddles. Saddle choice is clearly the most individualist equipment selection on a bicycle. And a saddle that works well for one cyclist may not necessarily work well for another cyclist. Well...now's the time to continue your search for your personal "holy grail" of saddles, which will hopefully allow you to ride more comfortably (and faster) in 2013!
6) Nutrition. On-the-bike nutrition and hydration is essential to successfully complete any ultra-endurance competition. This point cannot be stressed enough!! And like saddles and shoes, nutritional supplements are extremely individualistic. What works well for one rider may not necessarily work well for another rider. Well, the "down-season" is the perfect time to start experimenting with different nutritional supplements--both liquids and solids--that you can use to meet your caloric requirements during different types of rides...long rides, short rides, intense rides, and recovery rides. Additionally, riders should also experiment with the amount of calories and fluids that he/she needs to consume per hour to successfully finish an ultra-cycling event. Most riders will require approximately 250 to 500 calories per hour to successfully complete an endurance cycling event and 20-28 ounces of water per hour (depending on the weather conditions) to maintain hydration. Riders should continue to dial in their on-the-bike nutrition during the winter months, which will hopefully lead to less experimentation and faster riding when the 2013 cycling season kicks into high gear!
7) Mix it up! Don't be afraid to try different aerobic activities in the "down-season!" Remember: the heart is not a "smart" muscle. It just wants to beat!! And there are so many different winter activities in Colorado that cyclists can take advantage of to maintain aerobic fitness...from snowshoeing to cross country skiing to skate skiing, etc. As cyclists, it's very easy to get "stuck in the grind" of riding day after day, even during the winter months. Well, this sort of mindset is almost guaranteed to eventually lead to an early-season plateau and burnout. Mixing your aerobic activities during the winter months will allow you to maintain (if not improve) your aerobic fitness and give your body and mind a bit of a break from the bike, which is essential for maintaining cycling enthusiasm during the peak part of the season!
8) Get Stronger! Off-season weight training is the perfect way to continue to improve muscular strength. In theory, riders who are physically stronger should be able to push larger gears and thus generate more power on the bike. Okay...I'll be perfectly honest...there's really not much scientific data that actually supports that weight training will make you a stronger rider. But weight training can allow you to improve muscular imbalances that often develop during the cycling season, making you less prone to develop injuries during the upcoming season. Additionally, since weight training is effective at promoting muscular development, and since muscle tissue is metabolically more active than other tissue types, weight training will help you burn extra calories during the winter months, thus helping to keep your off-season weight gain to a minimum. Bottom line: Don't be afraid to get into the gym during the winter months to pump some iron! But don't wait too long to get started! It takes several months of serious strength training to get noticeable improvement in muscular strength. If you wait until February or March to start lifting weights, you will very likely "miss the boat" for making noticeable improvement in muscular strength...
10) Get a heart rate monitor. A heart rate monitor is the poor man's version of a power meter. Over the past decade, power meters have become the "gold standard" for measuring cycling performance. Because of this trend, many brands of power meters have popped up on the market over the past several years, including Power Tap, Quarq, and SRM. Power meters are extremely pricey, ranging from $1,000 to $4,000! Proponents of power meters argue that they are more effective at giving objective data at evaluating cycling performance, as they are less susceptible to variables such as fatigue, dehydration, and weather/wind conditions which can skew a cyclist's heart rate. 300 watts is always going to be 300 watts, regardless of these variables. Unaffected by these variables, power meters enable cyclists to train in specific power zones, which are predetermined by lactic acid threshold testing. Power meters can be effective at not only improving cycling power (as measured in wattage), but also at assisting with active recovery, preventing cyclists from training too hard on rest days. And as cyclists, we are always into "gadgets." A power meter is a great way to "trick out" your bike out for 2013!
But, in spite of these arguments, there is really not any scientific evidence (at least that I've been able to find) that actually demonstrates that training with a power meter is more effective at improving cycling performance than training with a simple heart rate monitor. Because of the lack of legitimate scientific data, power meters may be more hype and bling than the true "holy grail" of measuring and improving cycling performance. Bottom line: If you are interested in improving your cycling performance, and don't have thousands of dollars to drop on a power meter, a simple $60 Polar Heart Rate monitor may be all that it takes to train more effectively and improve your aerobic efficiency for 2013! Once again, if you're not sure how to train effectively with a heart rate monitor, I would suggest talking to an expert to help you dial in your heart rate "training zones" to get the maximum benefits of your new training tool!
11) And finally, be sure to get some rest and relaxation during the winter months. Although it is important to maintain your aerobic conditioning and improve strength in the "down-season," it is just as important to take some time off of the bike! A little "R & R" can go a long way toward allowing your body and mind to recover from a long 2012 cycling season. Consider taking a vacation to somewhere that you won't even have access to a bike. Almost guaranteed...you'll come back feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, and ready to tackle the season ahead! The winter months are also an excellent time to get caught up on some of the home and family obligations that you have been neglecting during the previous months. So be sure to take advantage of the "down time" during the winter months! Bottom line: a little "R & R" can go a long ways to improving your cycling performance in 2013!!
Now that you're on the road toward a faster 2013 cycling season, enjoy the holiday season ahead!!