I’m happy to report that I’m back on the road again! Fully two months after my crash (my longest time off the bike in the years I’ve been riding, by far) I joined my buddies on Father’s Day for our annual ride.
It was a glorious respite that morning from the oven that has been Atlanta’s weather of late, and it felt amazing to propel myself through space once again. There’s simply no feeling like it, and it’s what has always been the utter joy of cycling for me.
Staring at the doors of the printer closet in my office – where I do my indoor training – had grown so tiresome after four weeks on the nowhere bike. Just to rub salt in my wounds, most of those weeks were simply gorgeous, temperate spring weather here – with my buddies falling all over each other to schedule as many rides as possible.
We use a group texting app for the purpose, and I read their posts with absolute envy, every last one of them. Then I trudged back to the trainer, strapped my arm to my chest, and got on with it.
But I ended the indoor portion of my comeback training on a high note, knocking out a nearly 4-hour workout following the plan Coach John Hughes has me working. That particular “grand finale” workout included 2:45 on the trainer, in three separate sessions, sandwiched around walks. Challenging? Yes. Fun? Only for a masochist.
Trainer Was the ONLY Option for Recovery
I’ll be the first to admit that I utterly despise riding the trainer. I chose the “I’d rather have a root canal” option when we asked about trainer riding in a Question of the Week in the past. And for many off-seasons, I’ve followed a steady diet of elliptical machine, core and plyometrics as my preferred indoor workout. (Of course, we’re not cooped up indoors for months on end here in the South, so winters typically allow for some outdoor riding, too.)
But I knew that the only way I could hope to keep some cycling fitness through the spring as I recovered from surgery – and have any realistic shot at being prepared for the Tour de Wyoming in mid-July (my long-planned big ride for the summer), the trainer was my only option.
So I embraced it fully. In doing so, it became somewhere between bearable and something I semi-looked forward to. (C’mon, you didn’t think I was going to say I grew to enjoy it, did you!)
It’s hard to draw meaningful lessons from a forced trainer regimen necessitated by an injury, but in thinking about diligently following Coach Hughes’ plan, I did come away with some thoughts I’d like to share.
What I grew to appreciate is that it did help me maintain some fitness in the midst of a really crappy period of my life, and positioned me to get back on the road and continue a training program when I got the OK from my surgeon – without missing a beat. (To be sure, I still have good days and bad days as I do physical therapy to regain range of motion and strength in my arm and shoulder. When nerves are cut and muscles go unused for six weeks, they tend to balk at “coming back online.” It’s a process, like the recovery overall has been.)
I came to understand that a lot of little things I hadn’t paid much attention to when I used to ride the trainer can add up to making it bearable. So, if you’re in the “root canal” camp, too, there’s surely something here for you. And even if you’re a gung-ho trainer rider, you still may recognize something of value.
Let me preface this, too, by saying that I went mostly “old school” in my trainer regimen. I used an older but high-quality fluid trainer and cranked music from my office computer while I rode. I did, however, use my cyclecomputer to train with power, which made following Coach Hughes’ plan that much more straightforward.
Lessons For Trainer Riding Anytime
Find a distraction you enjoy. Just the thought of grinding away on the nowhere bike with nothing to distract your attention from the monotonous slog is cringe-inducing. Of course, so many modern trainers allow you to sync with pre-programmed training videos or ride virtual Tour de France stages and other established routes.
When I used to ride the trainer in the off-season, I had a TV in my home office that I would park my bike in front of. I long since trashed that old thing, so this time out, I elected to go the music-only route. My family shares our iTunes accounts, and my two teenage sons are hip to music I would otherwise never hear. Some of it proved perfect for the driving-beat motivation I needed on the trainer.
Whatever it is – music, regular TV, training DVDs, iPad or on-board video programs – find something, anything, that will distract you from the suffering of working really hard to go nowhere.
Break it down to “chewable” bites. Again, thinking back to the way I used to ride the trainer, compared to following Coach Hughes’ plan, I realized the folly of my old ways. I used to get on the thing with no real plan in mind, and maybe do some hard intervals during commercials, stand up now and then, and just grind away for an hour or so. Following the very defined plan from the coach, though, showed me that having a plan in and of itself is a far superior approach – made even better if that plan is broken down into bite-sized pieces that don’t get overwhelming and tiresome.
Using that last “marathon” trainer session I mentioned above as an example, instead of fretting about the first 1:15 block, I instead focused on the 10 different specific pieces it was broken into – none longer than 10 minutes at a time in a defined training zone. Knock off one 10-minute piece (maybe 2 songs’ worth), move on to the next, and so on.
The same principle holds true for any riding, for that matter. If you break a century down into four 25-mile rides, or five 20-mile rides, it makes it imminently more palatable.
Ensure variability in your workouts. This follows from the last point; if you do the same workout over and over, day after day, even if it’s in bite-sized pieces, you’ll get bored out of your mind – and you won’t get the training and fitness benefit from doing the same thing. The same goes for doing the same ride time after time, or riding at exactly the same pace always.
The coach’s plan called for different types of workouts on different days, and the variability served to keep me fresh in how I approached each one.
For instance, knowing that tomorrow I only had a 30-minute session focused on one-legged drills helped me mentally during a time in which even just getting dressed for the ride was an ordeal. (I quickly realized that I could knock out those short sessions without having to bother pulling on my cycling shorts and socks – a monumental chore one-handed! Instead, I’d just slip my cycling shoes on my bare feet, strap my arm in place and hop on the trainer.)
Make it a challenge to better your previous ride. I also found that where Coach Hughes offered me an option (he would specify 2-4 30-second sprints, or one-legged drills of 30-60 seconds), I would always try to improve on my last ride by doing more reps, or longer durations. The benefit was both physical and mental. The mental being yet another “distraction” by focusing my mind on achieving this “micro-goal” in the midst of the overall training plan.
Walking is a terrific adjunct year-round. We have a 1 1/2-year-old German Shepherd that needs a good walk every day, so I’ve been doing pretty regular walks with her year-round. Throughout my recovery, though, we lengthened those walks – and often did 2-a-days.
It was a rediscovery, of sorts, about what a useful and easy adjunct walking is to your regular cycling (or trainer) workouts. I find that walking helps with recovery and keeps your legs fresher. And the coach made walking part of my overall training plan.
As I mentioned, each of the last two weeks of the plan included a “long-distance” session of more than 2 1/2 hours on the trainer, broken up by walks of at least a half hour, and some up to 50 minutes. It makes for a good workout! If I have the time, I may well start adding a post-ride walk to my “cool down” program.
John Marsh is the former editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of "less than podium" talent, he brought our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That's what we're all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John's full bio.