Grandma could have seen this coming
The beauty of late-season fitness
“Better late than never.” This is what my dear departed grandmother used to say when I presented her each year in June with a thank-you note for the birthday gift she had given me the previous October. Her words always caused a twinge of guilt, but not enough to make my next thank-you note any more timely.
It’s an age-old saying for a reason, and it applies to many things. But not all. There are things that would be better never than late, among them conscription notices, publishers’ rejection letters, and spirit-crushing attacks by opponents in bike races.
These days, now that grandma’s dead, “better late than never” is what my cycling friends say to me, seeing that it’s fall and I’m finally able to hang on to the Sunday ride without getting dropped. And they’re right – it is better to have late-season fitness, if the alternative is to not have fitness at all.
Peaking in late season is something I’m familiar with, both as it pertains to cycling fitness, and on a macro level, as it pertains to life itself. It took me half a lifetime to get to where I am today, but look at me now: I’m a published writer with a regular column in a national magazine – a column that people actually read. I know that people read it because two of them have taken the time to write letters to the editor in the past five years. Neither one was complimentary, but that’s OK with me. I’m really only in this for the money.
But let’s get back to the late-season fitness question. There’s actually something clever about taking one’s time to develop strength and endurance. It’s a bit like the contrarian investor’s approach to making money in the financial markets, in which the investor seems to do the opposite of what most are doing. Taking this approach to cycling training won’t make you rich. (Although if I write a book about it, it might make me rich.) But this strategy does allow you to do a number of wonderful things.
First, it means you can relax for most of the winter. We all know that lying on a couch eating wine gums from December to March is much more fun than grinding it out indoors on the trainer. Oh yes, I know that Zwift and all these other marvelous new technologies have transformed trainer workouts into epic virtual-reality rides across pixelated alpine passes. But I’ll take a belly full of candy and a three-hour nap over that any day.
Second, it means you can launch sneak attacks on people who’ve been trash-talking you all summer. It’s the ultimate form of sand-bagging. If you leave your fitness until late enough in the season, your rivals will be lulled into total complacency and will be stunned as you fly past them up the final hill on the weekend ride, or crush them in a decisive show of power as you sprint for the county line.
Third, it means that by the time you’ve gained sufficient fitness to feel that you deserve a new bike, you’re in a great position to negotiate a deal on a close-out at the end of the season. Not only does this technique get you a new steed at a discount price, it also means you now have more disposable income for the additional luxuries that your newly fit self deserves. What luxuries are these? Well, custom-tailored compression tights and handmade pasta in the shape of Tour de France champions from days of yore, to begin.
So as you can see, leaving it all a bit late is fine – as long as you make sure you can leave it all on the road while the road is still dry and clear of snow and ice. As soon as the winter hits, your moment in the late-season sun will be over. Before you know it, all that hard-won fitness will evaporate. You’ll be back to where you started last season: struggling to keep up, feeling a twinge of guilt. If you’re like me, the guilt won’t be enough to make your comeback any more timely next year. If grandma could see me now, she wouldn’t be surprised.
“But I’ll take a belly full of candy and a threehour nap over that any day.”