by Oliver Evans
SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, affects many people, especially in the winter months.
It’s been cause for some added challenges when it comes to winter riding for me and I’m sure I’m not alone. As the season begins to change, I’m reminded of how this time of year is often a challenge and I want to share a little bit about how I try to navigate training at this time of year.
This past Saturday I participated in the Whistler Gran Fondo. I went over to Vancouver on Thursday so that I had plenty of time to prepare on Friday. It was quite overcast the day before the event and the clouds grew darker in the afternoon until it started to rain. This was the first rain I’d seen and ridden in for several months.
I spent an hour or so sitting in a coffee shop early that evening sipping tea and watching the rain fall onto my locked bike and splash off the tires of passing cars. Street lights were on early due to the dim light and it felt like the beginnings of a West Coast winter. I had low energy all day and actually felt quite sad at this moment. I wasn’t prepared for summer to end. I wasn’t prepared for darkness, the cold or for rainy rides.
In the winter my depression and anxiety become more intense and are generally more of a consistent reality. As I mentioned before, this has made training very difficult in the past. Last winter, although I still struggled, I tried a few things that made a big difference.
1. A very kind friend of mine gave me his SAD lamp last autumn. SAD lamps emit a light that simulates sunlight. This type of light can trigger the release of Serotonin which helps regulate sleep cycles and energy. I like to spend 20 or so minutes reading right next to it on winter mornings before going for a ride. SAD lamps can be purchased for as low as $50 on Amazon.
2. I allow for flexibility in training. I don’t plan for long rides in the cold, and if I’m really not feeling like riding (if I know it will worsen my mood), I won’t go. I’ll also allow rides to happen at different times throughout the day based on ideal weather windows, instead of forcing myself to ride at a certain time no matter the weather.
3. I ride with fenders and lots of proper clothing. Anything I can control, especially level of comfort, is important. Whatever I can do to make the experience as enjoyable as possible is key. Comfort over speed.
4. I make it fun. As I’ve said in many articles, I like to be adventurous and explore on my rides. Often I’ll leave the pavement for something more interesting.
5. Riding alone has also been difficult before as it has given me a lot of time to spend in my head. If I’m really sad, this time spent in my head is sometimes harmful. Now I ride with friends and music to try and avoid or limit negative thoughts while riding.
6. I do a variety of activities so that cycling isn’t my everything. If cycling is all I have and it’s not going well, then that’s a lot of negativity.
7. Last year racing cyclocross really helped. It’s fun, different, short and keeps things exciting.
8. Riding for the sake of riding and not to train. Even if it means a 10-minute ride in normal clothes to a coffee shop. Getting outside, even just for a few minutes, usually has a positive effect on my mental well-being.
At the end of the day, I usually feel better having done a ride, even if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s sort of ironic and paradoxical that cycling can be a cause for stress in the winter, as well as a source of release and pleasure. Getting out the door is often the hardest part, so incentive always helps. The SAD lamp gives me that little boost of energy to get out the door, and having friends to meet and upbeat music as I get ready to go also incentivizes a timely departure.
Cycling in the winter can be and often is a lot of fun. Do your best to enjoy it!
Oliver Evans 20-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, currently living in Victoria.