Disclaimer: I swear upon Tom Simpson’s memorial on Ventoux that I wrote most of this prior to my boss calling me out on his widely-perused blog, in which he also categorizes the joy and variety of stationary torture machines; which I’ll leave out for the sake of his rather astute coverage of that topic . Really. Carry on.
Surviving Aerobic Base:
The very mention of the phrase “Aerobic Base” sends chills down the spine of many a cyclist in northern climes - visions of frostbite, snow, marathon trainer sessions (with accompanying salty-sweaty patinas on random surfaces), spousal threats of divorce, and the pungent aroma of capsaicin grease (romantically referred to as “embro” around these parts) pollute the mind.
I’ve got bad news - it’s all true. The bitter three-month (typically) pill that plenty of cyclists swallow between November and February so they can fly come March; embodied by long, relatively slow rides, can be a torturous (and necessary) personal hell. Thankfully, using a vast array of insightful research approaches, my team of experts (note: me) has developed a number of useful ideas and techniques for dealing with self-inflicted torment during this magical time of year.
A word of caution: I’ve traced a lot of mental, physical, and social dysfunction directly back to aerobic base. Pondering existential theory, questioning your own sanity, sleeping for 12 hours on a regular basis, and breaking up with girlfriends (or vice-versa) are all normal symptoms of the affliction of wanting to tear the legs off your fellow man come Spring. You’ve been warned.
BEHOLD - the (turbo) Trainer. Only slightly more civilized than the medieval stretch rack.
Whenever the topic of trainers comes up in certain circles, there’s usually an inauspicious level of banal groaning and mentions of a mental time limit, as if pedaling aboard one was a soccer match with a 90-minute stopwatch, or that you lack the stones to ride outside in the winter. These pessimistic attitudes towards the most efficient training method legally available are seemingly born out of what I’d like to characterize as a distinct lack of HTFU (as well as the likelihood that critics have never attempted to race full-time and work full-time with only eight hours of daylight). Yes, trainers are quite miserable - but minimizing the misery of your new malevolent mistress isn’t insurmountable. Knocking out a 4+ hour ride in one place isn’t a totally mammoth task if you’re prepared. So, a few quick notes.
-Come prepped to ride. There are few bigger motivation-sucks than getting on the trainer tired, hungry, or needing to take an epic poop.
-Entertain yourself in your own bizarre fashion. The weapon of choice in my world? Video games. Not any video games, mind you, but video games that require only fleeting focus and a click at your leisure. I’ve been known to stray to books, movies (specifically LifeCycles), general web surfing (even work email/IMs), but the games remain my top banana for distraction. They’re of the flavor that are so mentally unstimulating you wouldn’t feel pressed to play them off the bike (think turn-based strategy and “management” genres). Anything requiring significant action in real-time (racing, shooting, real-time strategy) is pretty difficult to swing if you’re riding at a solid endurance pace and actually getting a workout in. My two favorites, Civilization V, and Pro Cycling Manager, strike a happy balance between just enough going on to keep you interested, but not enough that you can’t hold 250w for half a decade. PCM also has a user community that turns out some interesting tweaks for the game, like databases that allow you to race with real (and historical) teams/riders/races/bikes, all the way down to a Continental level. Not only that, but it teaches a semblance of bike racing tactics (note: SEMBLANCE, my vaunted attacks on the Galibier with Cancellara leading out a Schleck seems decidedly unlikely) to a rube like myself. Besides, DSing the team I’ll be racing with next season on courses I’ve raced on? RAD.
-Get a methodical, comfortable setup rolling. Mine is pretty basic (read: cheap and functional) in the grand scheme of things, but it works well. A big LCD monitor hooked up to my laptop (I recommend a glossy screen to better showcase your progressively ripped legs/waifishness through the winter), a set of some cheap speakers (for your presumed thumping of the greatest trainer song ever), and a wireless keyboard/mouse on a rolling hospital bedside table keep everything electronic functional. The ceiling fan keeps all things perspiration to a minimum, and being able to open the huge bay window next to the bike is key (also to successfully ensnare the 60-something neighbor lady who often stares at me from her kitchen). The window shelf makes a most excellent spot to stash hydration/food/sweat towels/copies of Peloton/Rouleur/diaries about how sad you are.
-Eat and drink liberally. Remember that you’re being quite a bit more efficient on the trainer with output than on the road (doing more work in a shorter amount of time), so adjust your food accordingly. Added bonus: The trainer lets you eat some really…interesting stuff since you don’t have to carry it with you. I’ve been known to make big plates of freakish food combinations for long trainer days. Tell me, have you ever had Lucky Charms, spongecake, pumpkin pudding, and ribs on the bike - from a casserole dish? That’s what I thought.
Yes, sometimes even with this myriad of truly staggering distractions and amenities of the First World, the trainer sucks. Sometimes all it takes is a heavy dose of HTFU. Imagine - you could be outside getting frostbite. Or mining for diamonds in Sierra Leone. Or getting slow whining on the internet about guys riding their trainers in November. Ah, the little things.