Somewhere during last night’s computraining session, midway through the third of five tw0-minute intervals at 85% intensity, a black vortex began to spin inside my head. The normal floaters that flit before my vision were replaced by a veritable snowglobe of flecks and spinners. Still, I kept staring at the green bar on the computraining screen that indicated my ideal pedaling zone. I was not in the red. Nor was I falling into the yellow.
He’d assigned me a load of something like 220. I don’t know what the means yet. All I know is it causes pain.
My body was giving me feedback to compete with the empiric and illustrated data on the screen. And that’s important, because when cycling indoors, you have no other measure to tell you whether you are keeping up with anyone else. The rise and fall of those indicator bars is all you can own. So you train your eyes on them. Like it or not, all your self-worth and hopes are tied to them. You are training the untrained cycling eye on them.
Sooner or later, your legs begin to fail. Which sucks. Because there is no reward for that. The computrainer senses your slowing cadence and the effort actually becomes harder. You ask yourself. Who invented this thing? Yet the sensation is very similar to reality. When you get tired in the real world, the pedaling does get stiffer. So you fight it as long as you can. But there are limits. And I stopped. Let the numbers fall to zero. Then started pedaling again. Everything is accomplished in increments, or it isn’t typically accomplished at all. Next time through you go a little farther. A little longer. It’s just like adding laps and pace in the pool. Throwing an extra interval onto the end of a workout. Don’t beat yourself up about it the first time. Increments. They tear us down, but they also build us up.
Getting back on the bike for indoor cycling after what amounts to two-month layoff thanks to my dead Felt (it’s a garage collision thing, you might recall) was not easy. Nor should it be. It’s a matter of history, record and reality that cycling never gets easier. You simply go harder. That’s an especially vicious truth when you haven’t been riding in 60 days.
You don’t get to begin where you left off. People wise to the ways of the cycling world know that indoor miles are a these days a requirement if you want to ride with the group come March or April. Everyone else is doing it. You had better do it too.
Here’s the thing. Hard as it was, and as much as I dreamed of quitting altogether during the 1.5 hour session, I did ride to completion. That required breaking the two-minute interval sessions into one-minute sessions with a rest in the middle. But I finished.
And by the third interval session that consisted of one-minute rides with breaks between, my legs were on the rebound. The reward was finishing most of the 30-second intervals at 150% at the end. So there was a takeaway.
Somewhere along the way, my rear tire starting balking and slipping on the trainer cylinder. Turns out the tires and tubes on the Waterford, my stand-in bike while I shop for a new one, are really pretty old. The entire bike was a gift from my brother-in-law, and it’s been an interesting bike to fix up a little and ride. But I didn’t replace the tires. The rear was flat when I pulled it down from the hook in the garage. So those tires need to be replaced.
The bike is a specific setup. Fit for a Crit, it also has a nice Dura-Ace derailleur that shifts so smooth you don’t know it exists. On the road, the aluminum frame rides smooth and clean. The bike gives back what you put into it. Sure, it’s a touch on the heavier side, but on an indoor trainer that doesn’t matter, now does it?
To ride the bike at all last fall, I played with the setup myself and had the seat height about right. Still, I asked the bike expert running our computraining session to give it a look. He did a little test with my heel on the pedal and it checked out. So that was good.
Because I figured I’d suffer enough without having the seat height completely wrong. Guesswork doesn’t really cut it long term in cycling. During the ride I sensed there is still something wrong with my positioning on the bike. There was no time to think about that. But you know how that goes. Fatigue comes quicker when doubts fill your mind.
The trainer guy came by again to chat during the session. I’d told him I’m looking at the Specialized Venge Expert for a new bike. Turns out he rides the top-level Specialized Venge himself. “You’ll love the Venge,” he told me. “Several guys on our team just got them. And for you, switching out the seatpost will be great for triathlons…”
Then he went on to explain how that works. The hip angle. The aggressive position. How it all works. It was fascinating. “Stop me if you’ve heard all this before,” he told me.
I hadn’t. Even if I had, his words were registering in new ways. It was inspiring, like sitting around the cycling campfire listening to sage pontificating on the merits of Ultegra. “That Venge will be great for crits, too,” he advised.
That’s what I’m after. A bike that pushes me in new or previous directions, and renews the cycling spirit. It was time. Now it’s just the money. That’s coming together too.
When the computraining session was just about over, we did yet another set of one-legged pulls. For me, that was like churning biking butter. Either my pedal stroke need major improvement or my bike position is completely f’d up. I was jerky as a reggae song and pretty out of tune. Out of shape. Out of juice. Increments.
That’s okay. You have to start somewhere. Training the untrained cycling eye takes time. Staring at the computrainer screen through drops of sweat is as good as any place to start. You’re not alone. There are plenty of others joining you in the Sweat Shop, as they call it at Mill Race Cyclery. They’re good people there. Serve every kind of cyclist from barely able to ride to racing like a sonofabitch.
In fact, there are many good bike shops near my home. Spokes in Wheaton. Prairie Path in Batavia and Winfield. Sammy’s in St. Charles. The Bike Rack in St. Charles. Performance Cycling...all over the place. I spend cycling money at all these places. They all carry different types of bikes and gear.
Many of these local locations also host computrainer sessions. It’s a revenue source for some shops during the winter months. Bike shops used to sell cross-country skis in the winter months, but sketchy Illinois winters make that a risky investment.
So this was the first time I’ve been to a true computrainer session, but not the first time I’ve ridden a bike indoors in winter. Way back in the 80s when I was in peak running form, the winter months training in downtown Chicago could be brutal. We had a couple years of really cold weather years then, with temperatures reaching more than 20 below zero. So I purchased a MagTurbo bike trainer and set up a Schwinn in the living room of our Clark Street second story flat and pedaled while looking out the window at Lincoln Park.
It wasn’t computraining, by any means. There were no empiric measures to give you feedback. Just your gut instincts about effort and a Talking Heads tape in the cassette deck to keep you company. But I trained hard on that bike.
So last night felt a bit like going back in time. See, it turns out that suffering follows you around in life. All you have to do is open the door and let it in.
And speaking of which, we also got up this morning at 5:30 and did a running workout of 8 x 400 at 8:00 pace according to my companion Sue’s training schedule. She’s been transitioning to a midfoot strike in her interval training and her stride has become smoother. Granted, our legs were both a touch tired from last night’s computraining session, but that wears off after a couple laps. It’s how you have to roll if you don’t want the winter months to be a loss.