You Don’t Need To Bike To Bike Fast

Jake Boyce was my least favorite person on the Nordic ski team at St. Olaf College.

I roller skied all Fall. Jake didn’t touch his.

I lifted weights all Fall. Jake still could do more pull-ups than me.

I watched my diet. Jake would eat Captain Crunch.

Jake didn’t go to all the ski camps, but he’d show up for all the cross country ski races and beat me every time.

I loved Suzy. Jake treated her like garbage, but she still wanted to be with him even though…

So how did I do everything I was ‘supposed’ to do to be fast at nordic Skiing while Jake did none of it and still was faster than me?

He rode bikes.

Jake was a Cat 1 bike racer for a regional team in Minnesota. He raced bikes all summer and trained like a madman all Fall. When the Minnesota winter made riding outside completely unbearable, he’d join St. Olaf’s Nordic ski team for goofs and beat nearly everyone.

I’ll give you four reasons, three of which apply to you, but first, I’ll wade into controversy:

"You don't need to bike to bike fast."

First, Jake was faster than me on skis* because all his cycling training and racing gave him superior aerobic fitness.

Training changes two broad physiological categories – central and periphery. Central physiological training changes occur in the heart, lungs, and blood. Peripheral physiological training changes occur in the muscles.

Metaphors help here. Imagine a car. Think of central physiological changes as your ‘engine’ and peripheral physical changes like your wheels.

 

You’ve probably heard of the concept of ‘cross-training,’ which is training in a secondary sport rather than your primary sport. Cross-training can be physiologically beneficial because while this type of training won’t stress your primary sport’s peripheral physiology, it will stress the central physiology. An endurance athlete switching sports doesn’t have to start with a new engine; they just have to switch out their wheels.

Second, Jake was happy (in the way that men that grow up in Duluth are happy) because instead of doing soul-crushing rollerskis all Summer and Fall like a giant dork, he raced bikes.

Racing bikes is fun. Rollerskiing is sad. People throw beer bottles at you. Cows stop feeding in the pastures and look up, judging you. Even you barely enjoy yourself, and the yoke of being strange slowly wears you down.

 

Remember the adage, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail?” Endurance athletes get into this cult mentality with their chosen sport. Hardcore cyclists bike when they should be skiing. Hardcore skiers ski when they should be biking. They think they do it because they’re committed, but the price they pay is their happiness.

The last reason Jake was faster than me on skis without Skiing is that the technical aspects requirements of bike racing transferred over to Skiing and made him a better ski racer, regardless of fitness. Like biking, Skiing requires pack skills and an intuitive ability to economize your effort over the course.

While I was doing neat little controlled intervals against myself on lonely country roads in Wisconsin, Jake was lining up with ferocious packs of Type-A psycho bike racers and turning in circles for an hour at 30 miles per hour.

When the gun went off during the mass start ski race, I dutifully waited my turn in line behind other races, waiting for the course to open up so I could demonstrate my superior fitness when we got to the hills.

Jake? He slingshotted around lines, crashes, and slow skiers and slotted into the draft of the best. Three kilometers in, and he was always in the lead group when they pulled away over rollers while I drowned in the wash of the concertina effect and girded myself for another poor result.

So, what does this have to do about not biking to bike fast?

Take my story in reverse – doing other endurance sports will make you fast on a bike. No matter what anybody says, you don’t have to slaughter yourself on a bike all year round to be fast on a bike. No one is paying you to race your bike, you’re doing this for fun, and there’s no reason to limit yourself to just riding. There’s a bumper sticker way to say this:

"Don't worship at the altar of specificity."

It’s February, and for most of us, that means winter is running things. Go ski, and if you don’t know how, learn! Or if that’s not in the cards, run, or do some rowing, hiking, or anything that gets your breathing hard that’s different and fun and adds variety to your workouts. You’ll get fit, you’ll acquire other skills that will increase your overall athleticism, and, most of all, you’ll have more fun. Life is too short to be chained to a trainer.

In June or July, when you’re racing again, you won’t remember that one workout you did on the trainer, you’ll remember that ski tour you did or that fun adventure hike, and neither your fitness nor your head will be the worse for it.

Obligatory Throat Clearing:

  • Jake started skiing in the womb and made all state cross country skiing in Minnesota in high school. He was a really good skier.  If you had never skied before you couldn’t just jump into a ski race and smash everyone, no matter how fit you were.
  • At a certain point, you ABSOLUTELY NEED TO TRAIN SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUR EVENT. As a rule of thumb, the closer you get to your event, the more specific your training should be. For example, if you want to podium a bike race, your training shouldn’t only be skiing leading up to it.  My point is that when you’re 4,5,6 months out from your first race, you don’t need to be that specific in your training.
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