Coached athlete and 5 time #HauteRoute winner, Ruari Grant, shares his thoughts on the off season.
After my article on the 2018 season, I’m sharing my thoughts on the ‘off season’ and getting it right - as it’s just as important as what we do when the weather improves, and we begin flogging ourselves in races again.
Among pros and amateurs, off-seasons vary from continuing regular training and subsisting mainly on leaves and chicken breast* ‘or else I’ll never get it back’, to the arguably more, or less balanced school of thought which dictates binge-eating and drinking for a few weeks. I’m always in the latter camp… and I’ve always ‘got it back’.
Balance is really important, we put ourselves under considerable stress, both our bodies and our minds, for nine months, through hard training, sensible eating and the mental challenges we have to overcome. I find this all the truer, as an amateur - who races seriously, (I don’t have to do it. It doesn’t pay the bills) and obviously whilst I enjoy all the riding and training though the season, it does need to fit in with my work … and my life, and it’s this discipline that means sacrifices. So, in the ‘off season’ I relish the freedom to do exactly what I want for a couple of months. Hannah (my significant other) muses that if it wasn’t for the winter, I’d keep on going indefinitely – but I wouldn’t because I couldn’t, I’d burn out, mentally and physically.
So, what riding do I do in the bleak mid-winter? Well, for a few years I would take an enforced month off the bike. I’ve stopped doing that now. I love cycling! So, if I fancy riding on a Saturday morning because the sun is out, then I do! I’ve also worked with a Holohan Coaching, through the off-season, focussing on some aspects we don’t usually bother with; For one, scattering in torque work on the bike, working on my weaknesses, as this explosive power is generally less important for endurance rides. It’s been interesting and has kept some focus in the training.
Weight wise, I’ll typically put on 8-10kg in three months; I know that this would worry a lot of riders but in reality, with a fairly sensible regime, come the New Year it can be lost fairly easily. My other theory is that if you eat enough in the pre-Christmas period, you really are sick of it in January. All that said, I’m pretty simple in what I do enjoy. I have a weakness for anything sweet and chocolatey; mince pies are the probably my number one. A group of us also go to the Ghent 6 every November – that’s usually a two-day extravaganza of waffles, frites, bratwurst and Rochefort 10.
It’s funny though, form always comes back and weight drops off faster than I expect. So, while my approach of extremes does mean I need seasonal wardrobes, I think it’s worth sharing that letting yourself go in the off-season, is no bad thing. I do it every year but have also progressed each season on the bike (I don’t believe in tempting fate). What’s more, it’s well-documented that many cyclists have odd relationships with food, in fact, many have serious eating disorders, when so much is at stake in terms of your overall health, perhaps overfilling on a few extra calories, is no bad thing.
So, I'd recommend enjoying the off-season, correlate your indulgence levels in winter with your training levels. Stop thinking about next year, just bloody relax and eat a whole Yule log or something, it’s a long season!
*Interestingly according to Michael Hutchinson, the white breast meat is ‘sprinter’ meat, that’s to say it is made up of fast twitch muscle fibres rather than the poultry equivalent of the endurance athlete – found in the legs – something to consider when you’re tucking into Christmas dinner.