Over the last couple of months I’ve been bonding with Wilbur the Wattbike. Whilst this is written from a cycling perspective, I think most of it holds true for running as well, particularly when the weather gets 'extreme'.
The benefits of indoor training
When I started training properly for Race Across America a couple of years ago, I found winter training really difficult. Whilst I’ve great kit to keep my top 2/3 warm, I really struggle to keep my feet and calves warm after about an hour in anything below 5 degrees celsius and my morale really suffers.
I do have battery heated socks (which actually work), but they don’t last longer than a couple of hours, so not so great for 5-6 hour rides, even with thick socks and overshoes.
We also live on top of a hill in the countryside and the roads are treacherous once it gets icy. Having had a couple of crashes and ended up battered, I really don’t like riding when it's literally freezing.
I’ve gradually embraced mountain biking for it’s bike handling benefits (when I actually stay on the bike) but for long rides I do still suffer with cold calves and feet. As a consequence of all this, I used to constantly fret about the weather forecast. I used to think indoor training was a bit of a cop-out for anything other than hard interval sessions and although I did do it when there was no choice, I then didn’t feel that I’d done a “proper session”.
All this changed last winter when I was following one of the threads in the RAAM forum about winter training and discovered that many of the guys were spending hours on their indoor trainers through the winter; including Christoph Strasser who holds the record for RAAM and lives in Austria where they have to deal with some serious weather.
That was a real breakthrough for me (literally, if it was good enough for him, it's good enough for me!) and revolutionised last year’s training. I’d get out when I could but I embraced the benefits of indoor training and got far more quality time done with far less stress (and less bike washing).
So, here are my thoughts on why you should see indoor training as an integral part of your training regime...
No time spent pulling on endless layers of clothing or bike washing afterwards. You can also shorten the session if required as it’s more focused and with less recovery time for traffic lights, downhill etc. This can be particularly beneficial if you've family commitments at this time of year (brownie points for not disappearing for hours on end!)
For a variety of reasons; if roads are slippery with leaf mould or ice; when it’s dark; if you are getting cold, you won’t concentrate.
Develop new skills
If you’ve not got a set of rollers, I strongly recommend them as a good core workout and a chance to improve bike handling (or bike falling off). On a Wattbike you can monitor your pedal stroke and work on improving it and even on a turbo you can practice one-legged drills.
Where I am I’m limited to hills of no more than a few minutes duration. If I want easy access to proper hill work, I need to head west to the Brecons - which I love - but that isn’t always practical (especially in the snow….)
On the turbo or Wattbike, it’s up to me how long I spending grinding away in a big gear, and at whatever wattage, so I can simulate climbs that I can’t actually do locally. I need to train on really long, steady climbs for RAAM so indoors is ideal. Think about what event you're doing and consider building in hills similar to the ones you will face (within the bounds of the specificity of your session)
You can do an easy ride whilst watching a film or TV without the stop-start of traffic lights and hills. I can get on to the tri-bars and just do a steady ride in a way that isn’t always easy around here unless I take the same boring routes. I've also found it handy to be able to watch webinars whilst on the bike which I would have struggled to find time for otherwise.
This is really useful if your event is going to be somewhere hot. Heat acclimation is all about teaching your body to sweat and you do this even at lower intensities indoors.
If you do need to get better at working in the heat, consider not using fans or opening windows (this might need to be done gradually) and you will gradually find you improve. This is then an ideal time to practice your hydration strategy. Last winter I did two indoor charity turbos, of 10 hours and 12 hours each.
I sweated A LOT but it was a key opportunity to test my hydration products from Precision Hydration in a safe environment. I tested both pre-loading and then my “in-race” strategy and how to then get on track when I sweated a lot more than I’d anticipated. It was also my first test using the products for a long period of time and seeing how my stomach would tolerate both the drinks and the capsules and gave me a lot of confidence going into the real thing.
I did 4 specific heat chamber sessions in preparation for Race Across the West but I put the fact that I coped reasonably well in the desert down to the indoor training I’d done rather than these sessions (which were more about getting used to cycling in an oven!)
So, in summary, if done with some thought then indoor training can be very beneficial and really shouldn't be seen as second-rate. Give some thought to how you can really add some value to the sessions and you could see real gains...