Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Suffering for the Sport

As the pros prepare for the "first" (according to the purists) stage race of the season, I find myself still struggling to eek out a 2-3 hour ride outside. Here in Michigan, we've been blessed with a super cooled winter with temps typically topping out in the teens. Makes for some cold toes and fingers...

There are folks I know who have been putting in 4-5 hour rides for the last couple months, and I give them a lot of credit, they are obviously more hardcore than I am. I went out for an hour and a half last Saturday and it was pretty damn painful. I opted to ride my fixed gear, the thinking being that, by forcing me to keep the legs moving, I would keep warm. Well, that thinking didn't seem to apply to my toes... Even with wool socks and booties, my toes were totally numb about 45 minutes into the ride. I kept trying to wiggle my toes to get some feeling back but to no avail. The only thing that helped was the sun. But it only warmed the side of my body facing the sun, so on the way out the toes on my left foot were cold and on the return trip, my right. By the time I got home, my shoes must have turned into little ice boxes, because in comparison, even the concrete of my front porch felt warm under my stockinged feet...

It's all comes down to suffering for the sport. It's the most sincere way I can think of to show your dedication. Sure, there are those with deep pockets who can continuously purchase new bikes and make pricey upgrades, but I liken that to the wealthy parents who attempt to buy their child's love instead of spending some quality time with him/her. Don't get me wrong, I still drool over $6,000 carbon and custom titanium frames, I have a pulse.

New and pricey cycling stuff is great, but you still gotta put in the time and sacrifice. Whether that be dieting to increase your power to weight ratio, boring sessions on the indoor trainer where minutes turn to hours, or training rides in frigid temps, we do all this in hopes of having some on-bike fitness for the coming season. That's what makes cycling what it is. It's also what bonds us emotionally and physically to the sport. It all comes down to the suffering.


  1. Ah yes. Racing is only a smidgen of what riding is all about. Training or general riding is really what the structure and finesse of cycling comes from. Racing is just the presentation of what you've been doing by yourself, of with a select group of training buddies.

    Check out some toe and hand warmers. We sell them at 'cross races and early season road races. Oddly, for online purchases one of the best places is through the place we also get our shipping supplies:

    Also try riding in a light gear instead of mashing along on the fix. The fix is a double edge sword in the winter. It can build power, but getting the speed to keep yourself moving brings the cold wind. After an hour or so, you're tired and the cadence drops a tad which then compounds the cold feeling. Sucks all around. I sold my fixie bike to get some powercranks this year and it works a lot better. Training here in the New York area we've had similar weather this season. If you don't already have an extra frame to put the powercranks on, any old bike on craigslist will work. Just match the geometry from your current road bike when you set it up.

  2. It comes down to a simple cycling reality: the only way to kick ass in the good weather is to bust your ass in the bad weather. I like to think that every guy I beat in a cyclocross race is a guy I beat because of the miles and effort I put in on a raw, grey, cold, windy, lonely training ride in the waning hours of a Maryland winter day. Those are the rides where you barely see anybody out on the road, especially the Trekked-out credit card crowd, and the only thing keeping you warm, aside from a pair of Pearl Izumi thermal booties (highly recommended), is the focus and concentration on squeezing everything out of an intense training ride.

    Keep plugging away, I might be many miles away from an icy day in Michigan, but I hear you and I fully understand why you ride on days like that.

  3. I've tried the foot warmer thing while warming up at some cross races and they never seemed to get warm enough to actually affect my toes... Maybe the shoes were too tight. I think I just need to invest in some neoprene booties and maybe some winter cycling shoes.

    As for the fixed gear, I never thought about that but it makes sense. Maybe I just need to throw some slicks on the 'cross bike and spin out the 36... That could help keep me warm!