For several years, I had a coach that wrote into the training plan a 1-month layoff after the season ended. I could ride if I wanted, but always for fun, and not too much. Other aerobic activities were highly recommended during that lay-off; running, XC skiing, swimming, etc. The idea was that a one month layoff from biking allowed the body to regenerate, to recover from a season of abuse, and I'd come back stronger the next season. And each spring it would take me weeks to get back in the swing, and I don't think I ever really did improve much. It was status quo from year to year, never getting much "better" than past seasons.
So last year I decided to try no lay off and went directly from the Ironcross to base training in the indoor sessions. We did twice a week for 3 hours at a whack all on the trainer/computrainer from November 1 to mid-March. It was quite tolerable in a fitness setting with like-minded cyclists. But the question remained, will this help me?
Chris Carmichael states in his Food for Fitness book, "You shouldn't mistake the Transtion period for a prolonged vacation from training. If you were to stop exercising completely for a month, it would take you another two months just to regain the fitness you lost. That means that after three months, you would only be as fit as you were the last day of your season. It is difficult ot make significant progress from one year to the next when you spend three months losing and regaining fitness."
Well there you have it...for years I was taking off and not gaining a whole lot. Last year I didn't take off and as I look back, yes, I think it helped. How? At first I didn't think it was worth the effort after my honorable last place at French Creek, I wasn't any faster and certainly didn't improve my finishes. But I noticed there wasn't that nagging aching feeling in my legs, and I could go faster longer and even push to the bitter end. Other years, I'd struggle to finish - I'd be tired, weak - barely able to finish. My first couple races early in the season after winter training had me feeling physically ready - I just had to deal with mental monsters! Winter training, I think, gave me the endurance to do Marathons in 2007 too. And the final assurance winter training was worth it for me was our annual trip to Florida to do the Horrible 100, a full century. I actually felt ok for the duration of the ride. Last year, I recall barely being able to walk the next day. That was clearly not the case this year. It had to be the extra endurance training over the winter.
So yes, winter training is worth every drop of sweat, can of Bag Balm, and hours on end in the saddle. Thanks Coach Laub!