At this point in the season, you’ve probably poured gallons of sweat onto your basement or garage floor. You’ve done countless intervals staring at some sort of screen or listening to your most motivating music. All the indoor boxes are checked— it’s now time to head outside and continue your training progression.
For some, the step from training indoors to training outdoors is easy. But in my years as a coach, I’ve learned the majority of riders, myself included, take time to adapt to riding outside after long months of indoor training. Weather, increased bike handling demands, mental readiness, and longer training sessions all create the need for some adjustments when transitioning to riding outside.
Depending on where you live, the temperatures could still be quite chilly when you venture out. Your lungs will take time to adapt to sucking in cold air after hours and hours of room-temperature riding. Give yourself a few days of moderate-paced training to let your lungs adjust. Also, make sure you stay hydrated! Yes, even when it’s cold outside, you’re still sweating. Staying hydrated will also make breathing in the cold air a little easier. See this article by Dr. Steven T. Devor.
Now, I honestly don’t have any scientific data to back this next one up, I just have 32 years of training and racing based out of southern Ohio. Your first few rides outside almost always require more clothing than you would normally wear for a given temperature. Your body needs time to adapt to the colder temperatures, so be prepared to dress a little warmer for the first few outdoor sessions.
Don’t forget about the dreaded headwind! Murphey’s Wind Law states that if it’s windy, you’ll have a headwind no matter which way you go — especially in the early spring! Imagine, you are riding on your favorite road for the first time in 2019 with a nice and steady pace, then all in a sudden, you are blasted by a gust of wind so strong it brings you to a virtual standstill. You will need to get in your drops and be ready to put out some big watts to muscle through the gust — you’re not going to find that riding in your basement!
Zwift and all the other indoor training programs get very close to replicating the power demands of real road conditions, but as long as you’re locked in a fixed position on the trainer, you don’t have to worry about bike handling. After a long winter, roads are often in disrepair. A pothole, road debris, or the motorist that buzzes by too closely all require some bike handling, and these situations simply can’t be simulated indoors.
To react, your body will need to activate muscles groups that may have slept through winter training. You’ll be coming out of the saddle more, and your arms and upper body will need to adjust to control the front end of your bike. And don’t forget, your core is getting a workout every time you come out of the saddle or get low in your drops to beat that headwind!
I try to give my riders a warning before they head out on their first group ride of the new year, because everyone tends to be a little rusty. Solo suffering can delete some common practices of group ride etiquette; pot holes aren’t always called out and riders can be a little shaky holding a straight line. Try to remember that you are now riding with others, and in a sense, you are responsible for their safety, too.
Of course, in the spring you’ll also get the rider who wants to show how hard they’ve been training during the winter. The group might have a nice smooth paceline going when Joe Zwiftking gets to the front, drills the pace, and blows the group apart! When you have riders on their first few rides of the season, it’s not a great time to put on your “super suit” — save those watts for later in the season when everyone is feeling sharper.
The advancements in trainer technology have dramatically increased our ability to tolerate more time riding indoors, but the fact remains that riding two hours outside is way more stimulating than riding two hours inside! Once you’re able to transition to training in the great outdoors, it’ll feel easier to get in more volume, and a lot more variety. Make sure your body is ready for longer rides — it might be hard, but try to slowly increase the duration of your rides before heading out for the first truly long ride of the season.
It’s all about adapting and adjusting. When my riders start to convert their training outdoors, I generally prescribe three or four acclamation rides. During these sessions, all of the above factors are taken into consideration so that the jump from inside to outside is not so dramatic. Once those first few rides are under the wheels, you should be ready to resume your hard work on the REAL roads you love!