The cycling season has ramped up kind of slow for me this year. For the last few seasons, we’ve gone to a triathlon camp that kicks fitness into gear. Like most athletes, I need that sustained period of training to break through the physical malaise of winter. Usually the first day goes well, the next day is a struggle and the third or fourth day I rise from the ashes and start to ride much better.
It worked that way back in the scholastic and collegiate days of running. I was not that dedicated to summer running in high school. Mostly I played half court basketball. That kept up a degree of fitness, but not sustained running. That first week of cross country each fall was a process of breaking the body down and building it back up from scratch. Soreness and all, it always worked. But like they say, “It never gets easier, you just go faster.”
College was similar, only a bit more volume and just as intense. We raced too much in practice and ran too many miles. That first two weeks of training was revelatory no matter how much I did or didn’t run the summer before.
Post collegiately I tended to train steady all year around. Still, the push through spring always involved an increase in mileage and series of training days that cooked the inner engine.
So I know what it feels like to sense a better stage of fitness. It’s like something clicks within the muscles and lungs. Pace that seemed impossible just weeks before turns into a baseline. But you have to push through some mental and physical barriers to get there.
I don’t have a series of races lined up this year, so my motivations are a bit different. My wife’s race calendar is sufficiently busy that adding another weekend would be counterproductive to both of us. I’m figuring to pick a race in late August somewhere, or mid-September.
If not, I still enjoy challenging myself to swim, ride and run each year.
Time trial time
Yesterday, I set out on a time trial of 23 miles with a goal of riding at an average pace over 19 miles per hour. Most of my rides finish between 16-18 mph. That’s been the case since I started riding back in 2007. I haven’t gotten substantially worse with age, but I’m not really quicker either. The one “fix” I’ve been working on is the position on my converted road bike with tri-bars. I pushed the seat forward and raised the stem almost an inch. That feels better and I’m riding faster. It’s no Cervelo tri-bike, but it’s what I have right now.
My wife is still faster and stronger than me on the bike right now. To train with her on longer rides, I need to hit the roads at faster paces, and more often. Plus I want to prep myself in the event that a do-able Olympic triathlon pops up this summer or fall. My goal is to ride at least 20 mph in that event. So it was time-trial-time.
Taking off west, I faced a headwind/crosswind for ten miles, but for the most part I kept the “needle” above 18.5 mph despite the resistance. I reasoned the difference could be made up on the return trip.
Six miles west Main Street drops downhill for half a mile toward Route 47. Then it climbs back up in two stages lasting over a half mile. My pace dropped to 12.9 at one point where the grade rises more steeply. “Ooof,” I though to myself. “I’m going to have to go hard to make that up.”
Rolling into the pretty little town of Kaneville, I spun the pedals a bit to let my legs recover from the climbs and that last mile of headwind. I’d hit the ten mile mark by that point.
As always, the turnaround didn’t exactly deliver a tailwind. It seldom does. This is because the wind hates me. That much I know for sure. I can hear its conspiring tones in my ears wherever I ride. Perhaps you can hear it too.
However, going south certainly felt better than fighting the full headwind. I set a new time record on Southbound Dauberman Road from Kaneville to Swan Road. Yay. 22.2 mph.
Turning east the route was again affected by a crosswind, but I hit the one-hour mark at exactly 19.20 miles. “Good,” I thought, I’m on pace. Now to finish the last four miles solid.
Aftter another set of small climbs I crested the bridge over I-88 and was headed toward home. I cranked the bike up to 29 mph on the short downhill and tried to clear out the lactic acid cause by the climb up the other side.
By that point, I could feel the pressure of the day building in my legs. “That’s good,” I volunteered. “Now go for it.” One more short climb and it was time to pedal the false flat up toward Deerpath and the turn toward home.That hurt.
Rolling up to the garage, I clicked the Garmin to finish the ride and get the summary. “19.20,” I said out loud. “Good job!”
The best reward you can give yourself is a congratulatory kudo at the end of a ride. No matter what else is going right or wrong in life, it feels good to push yourself and achieve a result. Even if it matters to no one else in this world, the feeling of going fast and being built to last is worthwhile.