This post is a bit of a request. During the middle of last night’s Computrain session, a friend and blog reader turned to me and said. “Chris, what are you going to blog about tomorrow?”
It was a good question. Because at that point, blogging was the farthest thing from my mind. I’d gotten off the bike (naughty) to fill my water bottle that had been emptied in the first hour. Sweat was soaked through black bandanna on my head, which now looked like a black banana instead.
You can hardly think when the lactic acid and carbon dioxide starts to eat your brain from the inside out. This was only my second ride of 2016, and the last time I rode in 2015 was on a late October day in the wind and murk. From the get-go I did not feel good that day, and it only got slower the further we went. By the time I got home and forgot the bike was on the roof rack, it was too late. The Felt died that instant.
So the bike perched on the trainer last evening was the Waterford, a machine that has never been properly fitted to my body. The bike expert running the CT training took a look at the seat height for me two weeks ago, and that was okay. But the seat position front and back still seems off. So I nudged it forward last night. But my companion Sue pedaling next to me noticed that I still looked stretched out.
“Don’t remind me,” my brain muttered in silence. “Yeah…” I sighed instead.
There is nothing like those first couple rides on the bike after an intentional or unintentional layoff. If you are unlucky enough to start your season outdoors, the landscape turns into a worldwide torture chamber. No matter how hard or how long you pedal, the cyclometer seems to be lying. You could not possibly be going only 15mph.
And nothing makes you feel your age, no matter what age you truly are, than being out of riding condition. Or running condition. Or swimming condition.
It’s never conditional. The way you feel rhymes with “gain” and starts with the letter “p.” There is no way around this wordplay that hurts so much at times, you wish you were dead.
So I’ve gone from zero to 58 in a heartbeat, or many as the case may be. At one point I put a pair of fingers to my neck to check the heart because I was not hooked up to the monitor on the computrainer. That seemed just a bit too intimate. It already owned me body and soul. Why should I let it break my heart as well as my mind?
It all starts with the load assigned to your riding by the cruel man or woman who decides, on a whim, what kind of condition you’re in. Or how you rather look like a rider, so we’ll set you up <<here>>. Mine was 220 for some ungodly reason. Everyone else in the class had a lower number in that category than me.
In some respects, that has been a pattern in my athletic career. Coaches have smiled and told me on many occasions, “I think you can do this.” It happened at age twelve, when I ran my first 12:00 two mile. It hurt, but I did it.
It happened at 14 when I first broke 5:00 in the mile. And again at 17 when I first broke 4:30. And again at 19 when I first broke 4:20. Progress is the word that sounds like “gain” but starts with a “p.” It always, always hurts. But you learn to perform in spite of the “p”.
Yet there’s something unique and special about being stuck in one place on a bike in a basement where the name of the place is the Sweat Shop and there are 10 other people sweating along with you. The music was pure 80s tunes, which took me back to riding my bike in that Chicago apartment during the winters of ’83 and ’84, when I was just 23 years old. It was hard then, and it is hard now. That’s what training is.
And I will admit that the training got so hard at a couple points that I had to stop, let the rear wheel wind to a stop, and start up again. My cadence was low on average, about 74 versus the 90+ one is supposed to maintain. The director came by at one point and asked, “How are you doing?”
“I’m muscling through,” I told him.
“Well, that will have a cost,” he reminded me.
And the gal next to me issued a statement at some point into the third of five hard intervals. “You should keep your cadence up. It’s easier. Or else the trainer makes it harder.”
That was like telling a dying man to breathe a little more. I was doing all I could. The best choice and the worst option was to make sure I hit the harder segments hard. Keep that green bar green, not yellow, blue, orange or red.
It turns out that I averaged 18.55 mph for the hour and a half on the bike. Which absolutely frightens me that I’ve hit some kind of age-related threshold. Because that’s what I’ve averaged on long rides for years.
It also means that other than a couple years, my riding intensity and training have not been sufficiently difficult or “gainful” enough to make a difference. Early on in my riding career, I was too stupid to know that I was riding too hard. And I got faster as a result. But as I’ve aged and gotten wise, my body and mind have learned ways to trick myself into thinking I was riding hard. When I wasn’t.
That’s the ultimate tarsnake of training on the bike, the run or the swim. As you get better, you also get better at tricking yourself and compromising on the “gain” required to improve each year. Which is why the Computrainer and its empiric face are honestly the best way to begin a season in earnest. Next week we’ll do a 20-minute test to see where we really sit in terms of fitness. That will be interesting.
All this gives one an interesting respect for world class cyclists that can crank out 400 watts for hours at a time. I’ve seen inhuman athletes at work. Men like the relatively diminutive Sebastian Coe, who could leg press 700 lbs and run 400 meters in 44 seconds, 800 meters in 1:42 and a mile in 3:46.
And women who defy their supposed status as the “weaker sex,” that can kick your ass on the bike and the run. I once raced next to Grete Waitz for 30+ minutes in the Orange Bowl 10K. I’ve seen what women can do. They are not the “weaker sex.”
And it turns out we’re all together in this world of “gain” that begins with a “p.”
See you at the Sweat Shop.