One difficulty in training is figuring out why--why we train, why we adapt particular methods and workouts. This is particularly difficult in January and February, for several reasons. The season is a ways off, and the effort of a January ride often seems disconnected from the reward of June fitness. The weather can be awful, and staying cozy can be a more compelling why than a getting fit.
I think something more is needed.
For the past two years I've been fairly motivated to train, but not only for reasons of fitness and racing. I like riding, even in the cold, but I especially like experimenting with different techniques. In particular, I'm still trying to figure out the best approach to improving threshold.
Here are two prominent extremes:
-Traditional: ride slow, ride long
-Time crunched cyclist: do intervals year round
These are extremes, and most plans fall somewhere in between, or involve both.
Since 2011, I've gradually moved away from an almost pure focus on 1-5 minute interval training. Unsurprisingly, my 1-5 minute power improved a lot, but my FTP did not. I'd read a great deal of research on intervals suggesting, however, that 1-5 minute intervals improve FTP. Time and again, studies find evidence of this.
I can't say whether I'm unusual or whether there's something about the typical testing protocol for these studies on intervals; for example, they may test untrained cyclists, there may be omitted variables, and there may be seasonal differences and so on. In any case, I wasn't seeing the improvements in one of the key variables that measures cycling capabilities: threshold power.
This year I started doing longer intervals between 15-60 minutes in length. Every week since November I've done mid-week 2x20 power test. I've done the test not only to have plentiful data to measure my week-to-week physical changes, but also as a new approach to training.
Here's a chart showing the results, with the data scrambled and jumbled so (1) it all fits together on one chart, so the relationships are clear, and (2) so you don't see my pitiful numbers and you don't know precisely how fat I am.
CPI 20 = power output over 20 minutes (log)
TSS = training stress score for week (log)
Weight=body weight (lbs)
Now here's another chart showing just my power, as measured by these weekly 2x20 tests, above and below my December 2011 threshold.
In short, I'm discovering the principle of specificity--the fastest way to get better at a particular skill (and over a particular duration) is to do that skill. Do short to prepare for races where 1-5 power is required (say, Highway to Heaven Hill Climb); do longer intervals to prepare for races where 20-60 minute power is required. Duh.
A note of caution: my old wired Powertap has been acting strange for several months, so my improvements here might just be measurement errors!
Point is, even if you're an old dog like me, switching up your winter training is one helpful way to find purpose. You may find yourself in the opposite situation of having done a lot of longer intervals, or of having focused solely on another type of riding.
Try something different, add some why to your how, and see what happens when.