Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Training - Cycling and Me

After my exciting chain install I set off for a nice long ride through the hills of Massachusetts. I figured out a nice route, estimated it would take me 3.5-4 hours, took two bottles, some recently procured gel pack type things, a vest for the expected showers, and my ID and EKG thing.

Now, in case you don't know, in Massachusetts they don't know what a shoulder is on a road. I forget this all the time, but when I'm on the shoulder and suddenly almost ride into a bunch of gravel and sand, I know I just crossed into MA.

On the other hand it seems that drivers are nice in MA, their reputation outside of MA notwithstanding. It all balances out - I just move a foot to the left.

I didn't realize that the route I selected included a leg-breaking stretch of extremely steep up and downhills - it took me almost an hour to ride about 7 miles. 39x25, 53x11. I might as well have had a two speed bike.

This road took up my second hour of riding, pretty much emptied both my bottles, and prompted me to consume two of my gels (all I had). My legs were drained, my bottles almost empty, and I only had a couple bars left. At this point they'd be extremely dry, hard to chew, hard to swallow, and I started looking for places to get more water.

I turned onto an unusually wide road (it had a shoulder) and started thinking about cycling and why I like cycling. Maybe it was a reaction to the extreme pain I'd just experienced and the expected 3+ hours of riding ahead of me, I don't know, but lost in thought, I slowly cruised along.

Suddenly there was someone next to me. I think I literally jumped on the bike.

I later learned his name is Dennis, and we quickly discovered that we were heading the same way. Not only that but he also "learned" me of the rest of my planned route - even more hills. It didn't take much persuading to follow along on his less hilly way of getting to the same place.

He asked if I raced (shaved legs apparently gave it away because my build certainly doesn't), I replied to the affirmative. I quickly added that racing wasn't all that as far as requiring fitness. I was thinking this because, riding side by side, we were exceeding my average wattage in virtually every single race I've ever done with a power meter.

See, this is one of the things that makes me like cycling, one of the things I'd just been thinking of when he pulled up next to me.

Cycling is a sport that allows one to, at some level, make up for physical deficiencies. In high school I tried doing track (i.e. track and field, not track like a velodrome). Because I dreamed about doing big road races, I ran with the "endurance" kids, working on running longer distances (a mile or more). I was relatively fit from cycling but I simply couldn't run that fast, something - my aerobics, my leg length, etc - holding me back. On a bike, I can draft - and so I can sit in a field of racers going 35 mph lap after lap, much faster than I can ride on my own, and not be totally outclassed.

As an example, at the Harlem Rocks race, I averaged 200 watts for the race, my normalized power only a few watts above that.

We averaged over 27 mph.

200 watts, on a solo training ride, gets me maybe 17-18 mph.

The draft really helps!

Riding side by side with Dennis took away that advantage, but the conversation was interesting so I plugged away at my threshold, somehow able to breathe and talk and pedal all at one time. Dennis was obviously stronger than me because he ended up accidentally shelled me on a long false flat. He ended up literally hundreds of yards away from me, sat up, and started soft pedaling.

This is where another cycling thing came into play.

My brother also did track and field in high school, but interestingly enough he chose to do the 50 yard dash (sprint?). I had it stuck in my head that I'd be a road racer so I never contemplated doing any sprint stuff, but he had no such preconceived notions.

As you might expect he has an extremely good jump (genetics), and, of the team, he was consistently fastest out of the blocks. But after 25 yards, he maxed out his running speed, his legs (like mine) a bit too short to reach out like some of the other sprinters. They'd pass him before the line, his acceleration useless without top speed to back it up.

Cycling allows you to attain similar top speeds as even the pros because cycling (generally) has gears.

So when Dennis outdistanced me it didn't seem like a huge problem. Well, he was waiting, so that was good, but if we had been running, I'd have a long, long effort to get back up to him.

Instead, after easing over the top of the slight grade, I let my legs and lungs catch their breath and then chased. On the slight downhill and the following flat, I sat on the saddle and pounded a 53x11 at about 60-65 kph (37-40 mph). In no time I was back up to him, breathing hard but there. Had we been running it'd have been a different story altogether.

I'd exploded myself with that effort but our routes diverged shortly afterwards so I could ease up considerably. Ends up I was really pretty cooked because I couldn't ride very hard for the 45 minutes or so it took me to get back to the apartment.

I thought it was an interesting coincidence that I'd been thinking about gearing and drafting and how they make cycling available to me, and then along came a rider that illustrated their effects vividly.

Dennis was a great help in my ride - he pulled when the shoulder disappeared (I didn't pull because I was tired but I also didn't know where to go), he pointed out a natural spring that gushed out potable water (I drank two bottles of said water), and he talked about the roads and the terrain in an area I have yet to explore.

And this illustrated a non-technical side of cycling that I enjoy, albeit something that I was not thinking about earlier in the ride - you meet some very nice people.

Just before I got back home that point got driven home when I saw Secondo riding the other way.

Now I should point out that although I call him Secondo here, it was because he was second overall in the Plainville Series in 2007. But he's much stronger than I am, rides very aggressively and without fear of dropping himself. I rarely attack because I usually get dropped when I get caught. He attacks fearlessly.

Nonetheless, after my Secondo post, he's taken to calling me Primero every now and then.

So when I waved he yelled out, "Primero!" and made a quick U-turn.

He rode with me for the mile or so it took to get to the apartment parking lot. We chatted about various things, cycling, work, life. In the parking lot we kept talking, but as he had another hour plus of riding to do, I made him get to it. He rolled out and I rolled into the apartment, the missus so nicely opening the door for one shattered bike rider.

I realized that although I'd been thinking about the gearing and drafting when I was riding, us humans are social creatures. And I realized that the thing I didn't think about, the people aspect, is perhaps the most significant part of cycling for me.

I just didn't know it until that ride.


Anonymous said...

Great post and an apt reminder of how social cycling can be - from the folks you meet at the races to the ones you meet on the road. It's hard not to become fast friends if you have cycling in common.

Anonymous said...

As to the social side, I noticed at the Bethel tues. night races a guy who walks his dog past my house every day. I introduced myself and it turns out we had similar schedules so we arranged to ride the next day. I am returning to racing after almost 15 years. He on the other hand, although only slightly younger is on top form and leads the previously mentioned series. Long story short he dragged me along for two hours, was willing to wait but nice enough to deserve better. It was great to ride with a strong ride with no strong attitude again and the highlight came when he mentioned Aki. It immediately took me back 15 years, lost, tired and very hungry in some nameless city in Belgium. Oui yoi yoi...

Aki said...

anon - ironic that you met hob, and I don't know if you regaled (sp?) him with stories of Belgium.

Ian said...

hey man,

i only just came upon your blog after my dad pointed me to it. i love it. it's so thoughtful and gets to what great about cycling from a POV about as close to mine as could be.

will now be a regular reader.

Ian B.