I’m a cycling novice, having only really committed to regular training on the bike in the last 6 months. Prior to that, it was just heading out whenever I felt like it on irregular occasions and for irregular lengths of time. No plan. Nowadays, I’m on the bike 5 days a week with structured short and long sessions for specific days. However, I have to admit that I’m still not overly fussed about being too strict about how far I should go for a cycle in any session, preferring to leave it up to how I feel on the day. I’d rather not suck all the joy out of cycling.
As a novice, winter cycling is new to me. Of course I have cycled in winter before (it would be weird if at the age of 30 I had not…) but in previous years where running has always been my priority, deciding not to bother with a recovery cycle just because the weather was horrid was not a big deal.
Now that running had been put on hold for the foreseeable future (breaking my heart in the process but let’s not get morbid!) my cycling mentality has temporarily taken over my running mentality. This means if there is a session for today scheduled, then it’s get up and out, get it done. Doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, doesn’t matter if I’m “not in the mood”. Up, out, get it done.
This was tested today.
On a Sunday in Ireland, where a thick white frost covered the fields for as far as I could see, leaves on trees and bushes frozen in place like tiny statues, and a constant white fog hung in the air, there was no mistaking that winter had indeed arrived on our not-so-green-today island.
I deliberately waited to later in the morning to head out on the bike in the vain hope that temperatures might increase as the morning progressed, but in fact, they never got about 0 degrees. Cloud hung low in the sky, blocking out the sun and preventing it from shining through and creating a smidgen of heat.
I love a good, solid, unmistakably winter morning but today’s conditions were simply freezing. Armed with two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks, overshoes and solid layering on top, I was all set to test my cycling resolve!
I headed out in the direction of Kilcock, feeling better than I expected to and happy that I had got the whole layering thing right. Not too cold and not cooked either. After passing through Clane, I continued on the Kilcock road before turning off for Donadea, where main roads gave way to country fields on either side and an accompanying deep white fog. I quickly realised I should have equipped my bike with lights today as although it was daytime, visibility would be seriously affected by the fog.
I then continued to Timahoe, from where I turned right for Cloughrinka, making way through bog country and farm areas, all appearing as though the White Witch had just past through turning everything she touched to winter. Bushes, trees, leaves on the ground, the grass verges… all encased in white. The fog ever-present as I pushed on, with me wherever I went. My fingers started to numb despite the two sets of gloves because even though it was dry, the moisture from the fog was such that it was starting to settle on my clothes and hands and soak in. You wouldn’t think it, but I could see the moisture drops forming on my bike and starting to roll off my helmet.
From Cloughrinka, I made a left toward Edenderry and from there, I motored on to Clonbulloge village, on to Rathangan and then straight home to Naas. I hardly drank or ate anything on the bike today, despite the 94km distance. Partly because I was too cold to notice where I was thirsty or hungry, but mostly because my hands were too cold to pick up my bottle. It just seemed like too much effort to route around my back pockets to dig out an energy bar or wrestle with the bottle from its cage. At one point, I dropped one of my bottles on the road after losing my grip on it due to my numb fingers… and having to turn back when you’re cold and tired is a killer. I tried to drink more towards the end though.
I was happy to get in a good long cycle today and it’s always good practice to cycle in challenging conditions. I have to admit that reading George Hincapie’s biography at the moment and his stories about training in freezing conditions for hours on end is inspiring me to be a tougher cyclist. OBVIOUSLY my cycling expeditions are on a whole other level to George’s but he has really made me aware of just how hard pro riders actually train and the extent of the effort and discipline involved in the unglamorous, unforgiving daily life of a cyclist.
George was in my mind today I spun through the chilly conditions and although it was a long spin, I felt brilliant when I got home. Well, more specifically, I felt brilliant after I had defrosted, had a hot shower and changed into warm, dry clothes… and clung to a radiator for a while.
Running or cycling. I always feel brilliant afterwards. It may be winter out there, dark, cold and forbidding and oh-so-tempting to stay in your warm bed, but it’s always worth it to get outside.
So go forth folks and embrace your inner winter demon!
You can always go back to bed then.