Training, racing, gear, facial hair styles and thoughts from my push to become an elite cyclist.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Message

 Last fall, I decided that I was going to make the effort to get my elite racing license.  On paper, I race in one category below the elite riders.  Although it seems like a small step, in reality it's a huge difference.

After I made the decision, I  told a handful of friends and family members about it.  Everyone was supportive and enthusiastic, but I think few people really knew how hard it would be.  I'm not even sure that I knew myself. 

One of my friends who did know was John.  In college he put a massive amount of energy into his racing career, first on the mountain bike, and later on the road.  Through his own mix of analysis, determination and work ethic he worked his way up through the ranks and won some big regional events. 

A few years and several new responsibilities later John is still riding, but not actively competing beyond an occasional cyclosportif.  When I visited him earlier this year there were some very obvious ironies, primarily that  John had the fitness while I had the goals.  When we rode together, John was always stronger, especially on the uphills. 

It wasn't that I was terribly out of shape, as I'd spent the winter skiing.  All things considered I felt pretty strong, but in early March I clearly didn't have much mileage under my belt, and certainly not outdoor mileage. 

During my two-week trip we did a ton of riding, roughly 300 miles with over twenty thousand feet of vertical gain.  I've posted many pictures from those rides and I'll remember them for years, but what the pictures don't show is what really happened during that trip. 

Whether knowingly or not, John pulled me along for most of those rides.  I never bailed or gave up, but I certainly didn't set the world on fire.  He'd ride ahead, and I'd push myself to keep up.  The power files reveal that the pace wasn't entirely above what I was capable of, but it was a stretch, and that was the point.  If I wanted to get faster I had to push it and ride at a pace above what I thought I could handle. 

I didn't put it all together until I'd gotten home and had a few days of rest before getting out for a ride on familiar roads.  More than anything else I felt fast, and I felt purposeful. 

The feeling of being "in form" is hard to articulate to non-cyclists, but it's basically  the difference between having everything go right compared to feeling like you can't get out of your own way.  You don't feel invincible, and you don't even necessarily ride that much faster than normal, but inside your head there's the incredible feeling that things have fallen into place and you're being rewarded for all of your hard work. 

This past Thursday I did one of my normal mid-week training loops.  My original intent was to do the loop at a reasonable pace and make it home before dark.  As the miles slipped by I realized that at I was flying along while staying within my predetermined pace and within striking distance of my PR for the loop. 

By my calculations I took over a minute off of the mark I'd made six years ago when I was arguably in the best shape of my life.  I've had other good days on the bike and have set other benchmarks, but when I think back on that ride it always seems like it was a fluke.  One hour and twenty-seven minutes were possible for a mostly flat 28-mile loop, and it meant an average speed over 19 miles an hour, solo, on a standard road bike with no aero equipment.  That's not Herculean, nor barely average for any self-respecting middle category road racer.  For me it's a big deal, and a step in the right direction as I slowly prepare to compete this spring. 

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, John's message was clear--you can do this, but you need to work and you need to push yourself.  All at once it was encouraging and supportive, but delivered with an honesty that I'd shielded myself from when I looked in the mirror.  More than anything else, it was what I needed, and it's not something I will soon forget. 


  1. And from the looks of it you could even take a photo.

    Great ride today.

  2. It was a great ride. I'm thinking next weekend I'll want to do 3-4 hours, possibly with at least 1 big climb. Maybe the 2/100/17 over App Gap through Huntington loop?