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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  1/1/2005

Taking It Easy

Conventional wisdom says to take it easy during the off season.

When is this "off" season anyway? Here in California it's downright balmy compared to most of the rest of the continent. We can ride all year long, right? Yet trainer extraordinaire Davis Phinney advises those of us who live where winters are mild should also be using winter for recovery.

"Don't get caught in the flying-in-January, dead-by-June trap," he says.

To tell the truth, I've been freezing since mid-October. This is one of the coldest autumns I've experienced since I got into cycling some 20+ years ago.

Even more telling, I've lost much of my former enthusiasm for train-all-year-round cycling. You know, getting up early in the morning so I could get in enough miles and still leave enough time for the rest of my day. Committing to marathon-length rides on weekends and missing out on other time-off activities.

So I'm all for taking it easy. But how do I do that? I need some options for kicking back and relaxing without sacrificing the fun factor of an active lifestyle. I don't want to lose fitness or gain weight, either. So vegging out on the couch in front of the TV is out.

Here are some of the alternate activities I've come up with so far:

Walk the dog

My dog Cindi loves to go for walks. The longer the walk, the better. If time constraints keep us from extending the "necessary" jaunt to the nearest park, she protests. In fact, she just about drags me to the larger park, about a quarter of a mile further from home. When her persistence pays off, we put in about three miles out and back.

Bonus: If the parks aren't crowded, Cindi sometimes gets her leash removed. Then she can chase the occasional squirrel and maybe even play with some of her canine buddies. True, I don't get much exercise watching her run rings around her playmates. But I do get to coax her away from the squirrels.

Best motivator for this activity: It's gotta be done. Even Cindi hates it when she has to resort to using our tiny back yard as a bathroom.

Take a hike

Thanks to my cycling buddy Vickie Romo, I recently signed on to the mailing list for the MidPeninsula Open Space District's docent-led hikes. Mostly up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, these hikes usually roam over MidPen trails I've formerly ridden on my mountain bike. Nowadays I enjoy the slower pace, stopping to listen to the docent's patter about history, geology, flora and fauna.

I've also discovered that quite a few of the Open Space Preserves in the district allow dogs on leash. So occasionally we take Cindi on a hike of five miles or less.

Bonuses: Hikes are like mini-vacations, when I can set aside thoughts of what I should be doing instead. And I get to meet new people who share many of my interests other than cycling. Thanks for the tip, Vickie!

Best motivator: Getting out in the open air, often with my sweetie and our dog.

Go to the snow

This was my default alternate for many years. I wouldn't have been caught dead at Tahoe without at least two pair of cross-country skis -- one for track skiing, the other for backcountry adventures. But believe me, it was not "taking it easy." It was rigorous, exhausting cross-training. In fact, Nordic skiing is probably the most aerobic (and often anaerobic) sport invented.

In my new winter-take-it-easy mode, I'd prefer to spend some mountain time on snowshoes. Maybe take a sleigh ride or go tobogganing. And then curl up by the fire and read a good book.

Bonus: Hey, it's Tahoe. Another mini-vacation!

Motivator: See bonus above.

Get a new computer

I just did. I've been spending hours transferring files, data and docs. Figuring out where certain functions live in the menu bar and how to launch certain applications. It's not much in the way of exercise, but I do tend to sweat a lot.

Bonus: Browser access to more Web sites (finally!) and faster downloads.

Motivator: Got to get this column submitted to BikeCal.com!

Of course, I still want to get out on the bike once in a while. To keep myself from overdoing it, I thought I'd take a few tips from Road Bike Rider editor Fred Matheny.

Fred recommends:

Cruise your local bike paths

With typical speed limits of 15 mph, most bike paths force you to slow down. Instead you get to dodge dog walkers, in-line skaters and baby strollers. Could do wonders for your bike handling skills, but I'll pass. It's still a little too frustrating. (Note: I never walk my dog on bike paths.)

Ride to lunch or coffee

Last weekend we took the tandem a mere 10 miles or so to Sweet Pea's, our favorite cafe in Los Gatos, had lunch, then cruised home. Fred suggests wearing sweats or khakis instead of speed-inducing Lycra. No thanks, even 10 miles without a chamois is punishment for me.

Play tourist

Twiddle up a local hill in granny (or at least maiden aunt) gears and check out the views. Ride to a local museum you've always wanted to visit, or maybe just do the out-and-back over the Golden Gate or Dumbarton Bridge. (Look out for those headwinds!)

Go shopping

Grab your beater or utility bike and panniers, your grocery list and lock and head for the supermarket. Schelp all your purchases back home. That's training without straining (well, not too much). The bonus is that it keeps you from overbuying -- good for both your budget and your waistline.

Ubertrainer Phinney also weighs in on winter easy-going rides. Here are a few of his tips:

  • Ride with a friend or group. Sharing conversation as well as a draft helps the miles go by. But keep the ride cohesive. Stick together and resist turning it into a hammerfest.
  • Start your ride into the wind. Get the push out of the way early while you're still fresh, then turn around and let the tailwind blow you back (without the wind chill effect).
  • Ride short distances. My personal rule of thumb is 35 miles or less. It's too cold to be out much longer and anyway, I'm taking it easy. And I need more time to recover after the ride.

In fact, it's still in the 40s outside my house at 11:30 am. To ride or not to ride? I'll wait until the sun comes out, thank you. And I'll keep the distance to about 15 miles. Now that's taking it easy.

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net



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