Observations from the Trainer

The trainer has a bad reputation. I’d know; I’ve spent a solid chunk of time this winter on Twitter perpetuating it. It’s an easy target: the trainer is boring, uncomfortable, sweaty, and tedious. It’s cycling distilled to the pure mechanics, absent most of the camaraderie, competition, and stimulation that comes from riding outside. I say most because there is something unifying about sharing the misery of a trainer workout with somebody else, be it physically or only through commiserating. There’s also some perverse thrill in comparing sufferfests: “You did two hours? I did four.”

For the record, I have never ridden four hours on the trainer. I don’t hate myself enough for that. My historical max is 2.5 hours, at which point I basically wanted to get off and slam my head in the door a few times for a fun diversion.

But for all the complaints, the trainer deserves some acknowledgement for what it can do for a cyclist. An article made the rounds on the Internet recently about how a willingness to suffer is more important than talent for an aspiring elite athlete. If there is a better place to suffer than the trainer, please show me. (Do not send me a link to a village of starving children or a battlefield; that was rhetorical.) I truly believe that sitting through workouts on the trainer helps you become tougher in ways that riding outside cannot. How much misery can you take? How much time can you sit and pedal with no outside stimulation, no sense of speed, no excitement? To complete a trainer workout is to ride purely out of dedication and a willingness to suffer for the sport.

When I’m stuck indoors for a workout, I don’t exactly mind because I know I’ll get a more steady, consistent effort and will feel more accomplished when the workout is done. Sure, my spirit is broken and my soul is crushed, but I’m a tougher athlete for it (right? RIGHT?!? please say yes).

I used to pass every trainer ride watching movies or television shows. Now I can’t watch anything. This doesn’t make any sense, but for whatever reason, trying to pay attention to a movie/show feels impossible and irritating. The only things I can watch are the numbers on my Garmin and a blank wall. Literally. My bike faces a wall and I stare at that wall for every second of the ride. If I can suffer and stare at a wall for 1-2 hours, think how much easier it will be to suffer while distracted by the stimulation of a race! This is what I tell myself.

Really hope I am not wrong here.

The trainer has also helped me discover that deep inside my body is a reservoir of onions. It’s the only logical explanation for why, after riding and sweating profusely for over an hour, my previously cocoa butter-scented skin starts to smell like onions. It’s not a very strong onion smell, but it’s there and I’m basically a corn tortilla and some chicken away from being a fajita.

After some conversations at team camp and a shared Facebook video of people making their indoor riding a more magical experience, I decided to pass part of today’s ride by making my own video:


You will watch this and think I look ridiculous and you are not wrong. But I made over three whole minutes of trainer time go by and it was almost FUN. This is how I roll…while stationary.

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