Winter Plumage

March 30, 2006

At one point in my life, when I was teaching High School, I had the opportunity to teach several electives and one was Ornithology. I think that Birds are fascinating and perhaps with the paranoia of the bird flu epidemic, others will start following them more closely as well.

Birds ready themselves for the winter by thickening up their feather coat to help regulate their body temp as a sort of body heater. Molting is the process of shedding or replacing feathers, so you can see where I am going with this one. As a former Nordic ski racer, I'm used to racing in a lycra skinsuit in the cold but when I'm training for cycling, I want to be warm, dry and even a bit toasty. So I've got an amazing system of layering that I call my Winter Plumage Kit; before a winter ride I add layers and once I get going, I often have to shed, or molt, a layer.

As one can imagine, preparing for endurance events requires an insane amount of dedication and commitment. I put the bulk of my energy and focus into training during the off-season. Once I have put in the required hours (and more), it pretty much becomes a race and recover deal starting immediately after the first big endurance event. Acquiring the necessary hours to be on top of my game is not an easy task. I live in Vail, Colorado and we've had a snowy winter. Not that I am complaining, but the cold temperatures hamper my motivation.

Training for the upcoming season began following a seven-week forced separation from my bike. After the 24 Hours of Moab I rode occasionally, but without any structure, a time I like to call "leaf crunching season". Some racers call this type of riding "epics", but I prefer to find all the single-track trails that are covered in fallen aspen leaves before they are lost under the snow and claimed by the hunters. Other than those killer rides with my friends, and a few one hour cyclo-cross races, I am off of the bike completely.

After the long refreshing break, it's time to head to warmer weather to get in the serious training blocks. These blocks are mostly on the road bike, and are designed to maintain and strengthen my base. I traditionally visit my grandfather in Wickenburg, Arizona for the month of December, which is a great way to tie in my training with family time. The rest of my family comes out the third week for the holidays and there you have it: the perfect combination of family and training. My family is very important and I don't get to see them as much as I would like, so this is a great way to spend the holidays!

This year we changed it up a bit. My girlfriend Janis and I went to visit her grandmother in Palm Springs, California after Christmas. What a treat - eighty degree weather for my 20-plus hour weeks. The great weather saved me during this huge block of endurance base training.

Lately, I have been training in Denver because the weather has been very mild there and that is where Janis lives while she is attending medical school. Since the roads have been amazingly dry, I have been climbing all of my favorite climbs on my road bike. For example, the past two weeks I have been riding up and around Mount Evans, Lookout Mountain, and the many hills of Evergreen and Conifer.

If you can't tell already, I live to climb. I am also a speed freak and get off on the downhills by racing cars. I fine tune and hone in my mountain bike skills with all the gravel on the corners as I descend, while chasing or even trying to distance vehicles on the mountain roads. Last March, I unfortunately went down hard and found that Winter Plumage also pads as well as heats.

There are several other benefits to all the goods in my kit. On some rides, I have as many as nine pockets, which means plenty of tasty food. Janis hooks me up with treats like croissants with Nutella, chicken sandwiches, burritos, and homemade pizza. We all have to settle for bars once in a while, but mixing it up sure helps keep me out on the bike on longer rides. I have my 40 gig iPod loaded with music and lots of energetic playlists. I also put a spare set of extra thick booties in one of my pockets. In the winter, I ride one shoe size larger than normal with extra long wool socks and tall thick booties. If it is really cold I put on a Nordic ski boot cover as well. I also pack into another pocket my Yoko lobster Nordic gloves for those super brutal days. By keeping my fingers and toes warm, I'm able to ride for hours on end. Part of being successful in the longer races is being tough. For me, I like to stay tough by riding in all types of adverse conditions.

Most of my winter training is done on my road bike. To keep it fresh, I also have a hardtail 29er winter bike with metal studs on both tires and fenders that make it great to take out on the snow. This bike has poggies permanently attached to the bars. Poggies are what kayakers use on the cold days to keep their fingers warm, and they work just as well for winter riding. This bike has turned into a winter townie and big snow day bike. It's a gas to ride. Often, I take it out for winter night rides or for quick errands around town.

Usually once a week, I see my good-weather training partners Jay Henry, Mike Janelle and Jimi Mortensen. However, we are all on different schedules so we hardly ride together in the winter. Each of us has our methods for staying warm, but we are all on the same page by training outside as much as we can. Mike is perhaps the most skilled winter rider out of all of us. He is a madman in the winter on his bike.

I would have to say that the riding in Eagle County is excellent throughout the winter. After a snow, if you wait a till the afternoon, you can have a fairly warm, (considerably) dry ride on the frontage roads for miles and miles. It sure beats the trainer any day of the week! As the end of the winter is in sight it comforts me to know that every ride I am able to molt more and more layers while training.


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