Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Training - Pushing Through

Sweat dripped onto the stem.


I could taste the salt in it just by looking at it.

The sweat drop joined its brethren, the dots mixed up into a random puddle.

Well, not a puddle. Before any liquid could build up, it'd trickle down the side.

The drops fell rapidly, maybe just one here and there, then a couple in a row.

I moved my head to the side to try and keep the corrosive sweat off the precious stem. The aluminum, anodized, would be okay, but the bolts, the cable housing underneath, the sweat would work its acidic way through them.

I looked up, adjusting my trajectory just a bit.

The TV wasn't here, and my headphone cable wasn't wrapped around my neck (to keep it from getting snagged on the stem). I wasn't on the trainer.

No, I was outside. Going slow enough for sweat to drip onto the stem.

The group had long passed me by, leaving me in my own little world of struggle. I could maintain this pace for a while, even though every pedal stroke felt like the last one available. 230, 240 watts, lifting one leg, pushing down on the other.

A pause as my legs worked through the dead spots at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke.

Then another surge, each leg doing the opposite of what it just did.

I'd been playing a big bluff, working hard to stay on everyone's wheels, working hard to close the gaps at the top of each little hill, soft pedaling on the flats, coasting on the short descents. I'd managed to make it through a bunch of hills like this, but on a never-ending climb, I couldn't respond to a minor surge.

300 watts. Okay, I can do it. Just for 30 seconds, then I could ease.

The guys had stood, one guy really pushing.

450 watts?

My legs protested, the muscles unable to press down with enough force.

And the gap opened up.

I'd arrived at the ride a bit drained. The night before, after the race, I'd had just a salad. A bad toothache discouraged me from eating pretty much anything else, and it kept me from eating too much in the morning. A little bit of pasta, some coffee, and then, for lunch, a couple bowls of cereal.

Three or four hours later, after working hard in the yard outside, I was running on empty. I brought along some bars and gels in the car, meaning to eat them as we started the ride. But, distracted, I forgot them, and when I went reaching for a precious bar, all I found was my phone. My wallet. And my car key.

I struggled in my bottom gear on the first climb, turning over a 39x25 like I'd been climbing for hours already. The group waited for stragglers (like me) at the top, and I thought of turning around and going back to the car.

The next climb repeated the procedure, and, again, I thought about turning around and going home.

I thought of Greg Lemond, in the 1982 Worlds, his first major goal of his fledgling career. He felt good before the race, so good he flew his parents to Europe to watch him race. Then, to his horror, he felt horrible as the race started. He struggled on, pushing the whole time, hoping for his legs to come back.

Then, as the race started winding down, it was like someone threw a switch in his legs. He felt good. He started riding like he was going to win the race. And although he ultimately came in second, he'd proved his potential as a pro racer.

Now, I'm no Greg Lemond, but I can take his story and apply it to my own experience. He had bad legs. I had bad legs. His legs got better. My legs...

Well, I hadn't turned around. I wasn't the last guy from the group on the road. And I hoped that my body would suddenly remember how to convert fat into energy, and I'd get my second wind.

Ideally this would happen before I bonked.

Then, a savior. Tom rolled up to me, one of the guys on the ride. When I explained to him I was running on empty, he offered me his Fig Newtons. I took two of his four squares, worked on eating them (it was all I could do to hold them in my teeth for the first 30 seconds), washed them down with some water, and waited.

And waited.

Nothing happened. I didn't feel better. In fact, my stomach felt a bit crampy. My legs were still tired, still weak, and I still struggled at 200 or so watts.

We regrouped again. I wiped some of the sweat off my head, knowing it'd return as soon as I made an effort. I tried to use my gloves to wipe my face, but the soaking gloves didn't help. My sleeves felt heavy with sweat too.

Somewhere in this little bit of riding unpleasantness I realized something.

I must be well hydrated.

Because I'd been sweating for a good hour, not just sweating, pouring sweat in buckets.

We started going. At some point we faced a short wall, a perfect big ring power climb. I decided to bluff and lead up the climb. If I blew, I'd be able to drag myself over the top, hopefully still in contact with the group.

I stood on the pedals.

My legs responded.

Easily. Fluidly.

They still felt sore, yes, but they suddenly had some power. I shifted up, taking advantage of the return of my legs, and flew up that power climb.

I used the descent to bridge up to a particularly aggressive rider, then prepared for the next hill.

He slowed so I slowed, wondering if maybe we were turning at this upcoming road.

No, he went past it. He just wanted to gear down for the hill.

Screw that.

I went again, scampering up the climb.

My legs worked.

Again and again.

Eventually, on a monster of a hill (8 minutes if slow, 6 if fast), I bluffed and exploded. I tried to chase back on but my legs finally betrayed me, twinging under effort. I managed to bridge to the four riders ahead of me, some desperate pedaling letting me get across the final gap.

We rolled back to the cars.

My legs had come around. I felt reasonably okay. Not frisky, but manageable.

If this were a Tour stage, I'd have hoped for a transition stage. If it were the mountains, I'd have gotten shelled early on.

So, like a leader suffering through a transition stage in the Tour, I sat on the wheels and rolled through the final fast section without ever attacking, not even lifting the pace.

I thought about the hopelessness I'd felt on the first few climbs, the temptation simply to let the guys know that I'm cooked and I'm rolling back to the car.

But I pushed through, struggled, and kept going.

And, ultimately, it ended up a good ride. Tomorrow the dentist.

And then? Who knows.

1 comment:

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