I’m glad you’ve written this. It drives me (slightly) mad every time I hear it on the podcast, to the point that I wrote a good rant about it. (I never did post it.)
There were a couple of weeks, probably not long after Nate had completed Leadville, where advice was given to listeners about doing longer rides outdoors that was along the lines of ‘don’t bother - just stay in and do a sweetspot workout’. I think he was a little blind to the fact that, although he had completed Leadville in a good time doing mainly sweet spot training, he could perhaps have done better if he had done longer rides in the run-up.
Let’s not forget that he was totally broken from the mid-way point (if memory serves) and it turned into a battle of survival.
Quite often it’s said that ‘marathon runners don’t run marathons all the time’. Well, we’re not marathon runners; we’re cyclists and the top riders are doing a lot of distance a lot of the time. Do you think the pros are turning up to Milan San Remo having only done 2 hours in the saddle all winter? Don’t kid yourself!
Don’t get me wrong - I’m not suggesting that you should be spending all of your waking hours on the bike - the reality is that that’s almost impossible for the vast majority of recreational cyclists but I think that time in the saddle is very important, not only for the training benefits that may not come from shorter ride on the trainer, but also to find things out about yourself and your preparation that you could never find out sitting on a trainer.
Here’s what I wrote in response to the dilemma of whether to stay in or go out…
People should get a grip and actually go and ride their bikes. I know it’s the winter in the northern hemisphere but if you can get out you should. Not every day: hit the trainer when it suites, or when you need to but come Saturday and the sun’s out (or, like here in Scotland, it’s just not totally grim) go and ride with your mates, see the country side and enjoy yourself rather than worrying about whether you should have stayed in to do your 5th or 6th 90 minute sweet spot session of the week.
Actually, you should go out when it is totally grim. You’ll learn a lot about riding your bike and even more about yourself. Come race day that may well be the difference between success and failure, whatever the bar is that you set yourself.
Years ago I remember being asked about why I went mountain biking in the rain and pitch black. The answer was simple: if you didn’t, you wouldn’t ride much living in Scotland.
Remember that training isn’t an end in itself.
When you’re doing a grim interval session and slump over the bars at the end, try to not lose focus on what you’re trying to achieve. I want to be a better and faster cyclist for my own enjoyment but if all I do is sit on the trainer what’s the point?
Look at riders like Mateau van der Poel and Nino Shurter. Yes, they’re super talented and may well be once in a generation riders but do you think they’re sitting indoors every day playing on Zwift? I doubt it. They’re having too much fun working hard at riding their bikes and getting faster.
Remember you’re a cyclist and riding a bike is what you do. There shouldn’t be a dilemma: Do it when you can.