Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sprinting - Failure to Achieve Sprint Goals

So Monday night I did some Summer Street Sprints. They didn't turn out quite as planned.

My goal was to do a number of sprints to help find my sprinting legs. With the house rapidly approaching bloom for the housing market, I decided to commit Monday night to the sprint workout. The rest of the evenings (and perhaps mornings) would be spent helping the blooming.

So Sunday I packed my bike, my new NiteRider, the helmet cam (with a new tape), my taillight, and all my gear, including the chargers for everything. Optimistically I packed shorts in the bag I bring into the office - it had been in the 60's each night.

Monday morning, before going to the office, I got done with a few things on my "to do" list. Figured I better get something done that day. First a dump run to get rid of stuff we found over the weekend. Next I bought a battery for my other car which is stored over the winter. (On a side note when will I learn to run the car every month while it's stored?) And finally I installed the Thudbuster seatpost I got for the future missus on the tandem.

A happy stoker goes a long way. So to speak.

Then I brought all the stuff I'd previously packed out to the car and drove in to the office. Once there I set about charging everything. I even charged my taillight batteries (rechargeable AAA's). Heck, I even brought my own powerstrip for all my various chargers.

But when I checked the weather, it was to be a bit cool - in the low 50's. Undeterred, I kept on my basic plan. I'd just add Atomic Balm to my preparation - I had a new bottle of rubbing alcohol (after realizing I was low at a Bethel this year) and my great small towel from Interbike a couple years back.

My first setback - I had to work late. Critical work kept me in the office until past seven - my normal expected departure would have been an hour previous. So when I left I was a bit flustered.

Then, on the way back (Summer Street on my way home from the office), I stopped for the restrooms at the final highway rest stop. It was really cold - and I cranked the heat to try and drive the chill away from my bones. I wasn't sure if the shorts would do it anymore - I was hoping for Atomic Balm to pull through.

Another setback was the fact that the water stopped working at the office - so no coffee to brew. I figured I'd buy one at a Dunkin Donuts. But with none on the way and not trusting the rest stop coffee, I resorted to stopping at an IHOP to get coffee. It was hot and had caffeine, but I couldn't start drinking it till I parked all of about a mile away from the IHOP (it's on my sprint loop). Not ideal for doing a hard ride.

I told you, I really wanted to do these sprints.

I gulped down most of the coffee as I prepared the various parts of the bike. Putting both the helmet cam and the light on my helmet was a bit tricky but I managed.

I also slathered on the Atomic Balm, noting how cool it was outside. The heat in the car had melted it so the first clump was about 2/3 the size of a golf ball - normally enough to set a pair of legs on fire. But mine just swallowed it up and I ended up using about twice that for my two legs. My legs glistened like I'd just dunked them in oil. At least if I was chilly I'd look pro!

I checked the helmet cam view and it looked fine with the headlight. But realizing I pointed it wrong after about 10 feet, I stopped and readjusted the light. So perhaps the whole tape would be of the back of the light. I have yet to review the resultant tape but those first 10 seconds looked pretty cool.

And I rode.

I was cold enough to wear a short sleeve jersey and the fleece long sleeve. I skipped the booties and decided against knee warmers because I had so much of the Balm on (I could have wiped some off but my frozen brain didn't work). I even wore a thick head covering - one designed for winter riding. My upper body was prepared for 50 degree weather. And though the wind came through (a vest would have been perfect), I was okay up top. But my legs were dressed for 65 degree weather.

The result? My legs never really warmed up. I felt stiff the whole ride. But having worked so hard to get where I was, and sacrificing a precious night of work on the house, I pushed on.

I quickly realized that I was going pretty fast on the "back stretch" where I don't sprint, indicating some kind of headwind on the "front stretch". And sure enough the buildings on this downtown street created some nice wind tunnel to cap sprint speeds.

But hey, they race in the wind all the time in Holland.

My other half called me a bit worried at 9 - I'd gotten on the bike less than 30 minutes prior. With the darkness complete she was a bit concerned with the cars and stuff. I reassured her things were fine. Whenever a car approached me, I'd turn my head (and the 10 watt halogen light on it) and look at it. Inevitably the car would firmly slow (I never heard tires squealing or ABS engaging) and move to another lane. All the roads I use have two or more lanes, barring a 150 yard stretch of quiet road which I started using to accelerate the sprint cycles.

I mentioned to her that I wanted to go another hour and although not particularly pleased, she agreed after hearing my trials and tribulations in getting on the bike. My mention of my commitment to house blooming stuff for the rest of the week didn't hurt either.

When I finally got some heat built up in my legs, work called. The lights and traffic had finally coincided for what might have been a good sprint when my phone rang. I was helping resolve an issue (meaning "I was fixing a problem") on my hands free when I got a perfect line-up at the sprint stretch. I started winding it up, going silent as I did - I sort of blanked on work.

Well "silent" might not be quite accurate. I was grunting as I jumped pretty hard. Then I heard "Hello? Hello?" and realized, "Oh right, work." I sat back down, panted as quietly as possible, and rode easy through what would have been the first or second good sprint of the night.

I kept trying to sprint in one gear lower than I selected because I tend to overgear when I'm not sprinting well. I kept shaking my head as I'd overgear again and again. Things just didn't seem to want to work out. Finally, after what seemed to be forever, I got in my first properly geared sprint. I got the bike rocking steadily, shifting up the whole time, accelerating...

To about 35 mph.

Quelle horrible.

At the Nutmeg State Games one year in the not too distant past, I started the race planning on working for my two teammates. When a break went without any of us and my two teammates started working to bring them back (they're the type that work, not like me who sits in), I had decided to help chase or get into the break so they could sit back.

By the time I got to the front, the break had been joined by a chase and numbered eight or nine riders. From the looks of it, they were committed to working. The gap had reached about 10 or 12 seconds, the maximum a solo rider can bridge.

Since I have very few efforts in my legs, doing a lot of pulls at the front would not work. I'd get one or two pulls in before I blew.

I decided that I had to bridge.

I told a friend (on a different team) I was going - an ally would help a lot. I was hoping to do the launch, he'd follow in my wake, and when I got a bit cooked he'd pull, and when he got a bit cooked I could pull through again. I gambled on reaching the break by this time.

Problem is when I jumped he couldn't follow. So I put my head down and went as hard as I could. A long time ago I read an interview with Sean Kelly after a Classic in which he bridged to a break. He said that when bridging to a break, you can't mess around - it's better to do a 1 km sprint than to time trial for 10 km a bit more comfortably.

So I went really, really hard.

And that's where my Summer Street sprint effort ties in.

At the Nutmeg State Games, I attacked over the top of the short hill (more like a rise) on the back stretch, went super hard down to the last turn, and did a leadout type effort going down the start/finish stretch.

When I looked down at my cyclocomputer at the start/finish line, after at least 30 seconds of effort, it read 38 mph.

I was absolutely flying. And I remember that particular effort whenever I think about sprint speeds. Because, for me, 38 mph is a leadout, not a sprint. Always has been, probably always will. But my legs no longer think that. And it gets demoralizing.

Back to Summer Street.

I started getting some sprints in. And they were all rather pitiful. So I focused on form, not absolute top speed. I was jumping in low gears - not the 14 but more like the 17. And I'd top out in the 13, not the 11.

With my morale taking such a beating, I resorted to doing a few jumps on the backstretch when the opportunity popped up. But with much narrower roads and less room for error, I didn't do much.

The winter hat I wore covered my ears so I didn't feel quite so aggressive in traffic - I learned that I don't like close quarters riding while I can't hear super well. And the CamelBak full of helmet cam gear was even more full with the headlight battery - and that made turning my head a non-trivial matter.

So I spent less time duking it out with cars and more time working on form.

And ultimately I did waste myself.

Problem was it was just more from fatigue than from going really hard. The frantic pace of work at the office, my early morning errands, the night chill, the multiple sprint attempts with no leadout, and uncertainty about my form (other than it's not there) led to my body and brain imploding after an hour and a half on the bike.

Good thing as I forgot about the time.

I did what I had to do to get into the car (change shoes, put bike in car, put helmet with Camelbak on seat) and drove home, Atomic Balm and all.

My legs were on fire as I drove but I wanted to get home more than I wanted to reduce the Balm-induced leg burning sensations.

Once home, I brought in only my helmet and Camelbak (uncharacteristically leaving the bike and my gear in the car), showered, and climbed into bed. Two fuzzy cats and a sleeping fiancee greeted me. My legs cooling off, I curled up in bed. One of the cats ("Tiger") greeted me like he always does - he climbed over the sheets and comforter and curled up underneath, between my fiancee and myself, purring contendedly.

I realized something in the middle of all this warm fuzzy stuff.

When I was rocking the sprints on Summer Street, a lot of the time I didn't have the warm bodies waiting at home - just a cold, empty house. In fact, for a while I slept either on the living room floor (when it was warm) or the couch (when it was cold). Who needs a bed if there's no one there with you?

So maybe the sprints didn't come off quite as I'd planned.

But it was okay. I was at home, warm and content.

And that counts for a lot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another great dose of perspective Aki! And that's some night-time sprinting get-up ya got there!