By Kevin Kolodziejski
What in the World’s ‘Gotta Wanna’?
That’s what I was thinking, too, nearly 46 years ago when a high school basketball coach who sounded a bit like Rocky Balboa after six espressos used the phrase in a lecture at a summer basketball camp I attended. His topic was playing defense, something he said that everyone in that gym — tall or short, fast or slow — could do well. Playing good defense, he explained, was simple.
“You gotta wanna.” He spit on the floor and rubbed one sneaker sole over it, what old-time ballers used to do for better traction on a hardwood court when they were about to really D-up. He spit once more, cleaned the other sole, and assumed the back-straight, knees-bent, hands-low defensive stance taught back in the day, and repeated his mantra. “You gotta wanna, fellas.”
It was the south Philly way to say that playing good defense is merely a matter of desire. It was true back then and still is today. And so is this: It’s easy to lose your gotta wanna for cycling in the winter. A biting wind and a sunless sky can make a 32-degree day feel more like 2 below and be why you ride indoors. Which is fine — and if you own the best high-tech indoor-riding gadgets, maybe even induce temporary rapture — until an overnight freeze followed by a late-day thaw after a 12-inch snow keeps you inside for five days straight. By the sixth, another virtual ride becomes as bitter a pill to swallow — and almost as lethal — as the cyanide capsule a spy takes upon capture.
Unless you’ve done the Iditarod Trail Invitational a couple times or are a direct descendant of the wooly mammoth, the drop in temperatures each winter does something more serious than force you to ride inside at times. It messes with your cycling mind — especially if you’re in a warm-winter clime and consider knee warmers rather than thermal bibs to be standard winter wear — so much so that you could actually lose what that grammatically challenged coach called your gotta wanna. You may find yourself binge watching “The Walking Dead” or finally finishing a job on your ever-growing To Do list rather than throwing a leg over the top tube and making those pedals go round.
And while it can be good to pedal less in the off-season, that’s best only if that’s what you choose — and not because of a feeling you lose. Since my cycling buddies have marveled at my gotta wanna in the winter for years — and repeatedly told me so — here’s what I suggest to keep yours.
Just Survive When Outside
Your blood is a bit viscous. It’s one of the reasons why the Mayo Clinic suggests you double your warmup time when exercising in the cold — as well as starting with lower loads of intensity once you’re fully warmed up. Factor in that Rate of Perceived Exertion is higher in cold weather and that if you do really exert yourself in the middle of the ride you’re chilled to the bone by the end, and it’s easy to have a why-bother attitude and ride inside all the time.
But most cyclists tolerate rather than embrace indoor rides, which makes it easier to burn out both mentally and physically indoors as opposed to out. So ride outside as often in possible, but don’t place great demands on yourself. Just survive. Save the tough stuff for indoors. Recognize the value of base miles and the additional calorie burn needed to heat your body in the cold while accumulating them outside— as well as the fact you’re out in the sunshine.
Seek Out Sunshine
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates about 16 million people in the United States have one episode of major depression in a given year. Some episodes get their start from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which stems from a lack daylight. But even if you’re not part of the 5 percent diagnosed with SAD or suffer from any other form of depression, you probably have a better remainder of the day and more gotta wanna to ride the next day when the beginning of your day starts with a good dose of sunshine on a ride. That’s because sunshine functions as a natural anti-depressant by preventing serotonin from being removed from the brain.
So if you have the sort of job or commitments that make weekday rides in daylight impractical, view outdoor riding on the weekend — even if they’re nothing more than a bundled-up survival rides — as imperative.
Have a Purpose for Every Indoor Ride, Even Easy Ones
I probably do 30 to 40 percent of my winter riding on a no-frills indoor trainer purchased in 1999, and I know the time pedaling on it goes much slower when there’s no goal — especially a long-term one. So if you haven’t done so already, write down what you want to get out of all the riding you do between now and April 1. It doesn’t matter if it’s to race well in the spring, rehabilitate an injury sustained in the fall, or to keep from getting fat in the winter. Any goal important to you supplies gotta wanna — but the more specific, the better. Especially for those rides that can seem the longest to me, the shorter, easier indoor ones to facilitate recovery.
To keep the time from dragging, you can’t mindlessly pedal. Let’s say it’s Monday before supper and your glutes and hamstrings are absolutely trashed from riding longer and harder outside than you expected over a fair-weather weekend. You really don’t feel like doing any sort of recovery ride before supper on Monday, but if you don’t, you know from previous experience that Wednesday’s lunchtime ride with a couple coworkers where the pace gets pushed a bit is guaranteed to be a disaster.
In a scenario such as this, you may think the goal is obvious: to get the bad feeling in the hams and glutes to go away. But with a vague goal like that, the time will probably drag. If you set out to find the optimal gearing, effort, and cadence to make the pedaling feel like a masseuse is massaging those hams and glutes, though, there’s a chance you’ll lose track of time because your mind’s fully engaged.
At least that’s what happened to me the last time I did a one-hour recovery ride with hams and glutes that felt as if they went through a meat grinder. (FYI: I make it a point not to know speed, wattage, or even the running time of pure recovery rides.) When I finally checked the wristwatch I stuffed in my jersey pocket, I was already at the 77-minute mark. While I won’t lie and say my legs were feeling great, they were certainly feeling better.
And my gotta wanna was as good as always, no worse for the wear.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.