26 May 2016

You just go faster

The challenges I've been facing so far in my preparation for Taupo have been physical and, to a point, intellectual. Hills that never end. Headwinds that suck your soul and then demand more. Fridges that never hold enough food. Things that can be solved by observing our honourable Rule 5. I've also had to research into everything from bike fits, to components, to nutrition; filtering through endless opinions, points of views, advertising and, when it comes to nutrition; pop-science - debunked or otherwise. It's relatively hard gaff, can be frustrating, but it's doable - you can kinda train yourself for this type of thing and bite it off in chunks; plus it doesn't matter too much if you get it wrong because unless you are doing something really really wrong it's hard not to get a second shot at what you have for breakfast.

All this is pretty normal now, but recently I've been blind-sided by the Mental Game.

When I started on this crazy journey I was all of the opinion that 'it's only 320km' - it's a couple of long rides thrown together - I've got plenty of time to train and all the support I need to do everything necessary. It didn't seem that hard, certainly not on paper, and that fire burnt hot for a long time, slowly getting me into this whole fine mess.

But in the last few weeks my optimism started to slip.

It wasn't anything in particular - it just slowly ebbed away, piece by piece, until half way up Sweetacres Drive in Belmont the other day and I found myself lagging, grinding, hurting everywhere. I felt like I wasn't moving, and I was so frustrated I got to the point where I was considering just tossing my bike over the fence, and walking home.

It's been lots of little things chipping away at my gleeful bike riding. Some of these I might be giving more weight to than they're worth, and some which I might not have fully realised the importance of - this in itself, knowing what is upsetting my game, is something of an art-form that I'm still learning - just in life in general.

My woes are endless... let me tell you of them...

My bike still hurts to ride - I went through the process of getting a fit done and I've ended up with a severe pain in one leg that is fleeting but almost debilitating when it strikes. I can't tell if it is a fit thing or something else I've done and broken, but with my fitter based in Christchurch, and my fit measurements having been written down seemingly incorrectly after the last fit, it's proving hard for us to work out what the problem could be - if it is even specifically related to my bike fit. Moral of this story is probably to use someone local...

My overall enthusiasm isn't helped by a few unsavoury experiences I've had on the road with other road users behaving badly. It's to be expected to a point - especially if you're doing several hundred kms on the road each week - that you'll run into something less than ordinary at some point. New Zealand is slowly evolving to be cycling friendly, and for the most part people are good regardless, but when they're not it's positively perilous. I followed this one up with a post on Facebook after I had about 6 run-ins in one night, but it feels like I'm pissing in the wind a bit - and it's effectively impossible to avoid traffic if you're a road rider.

It is also the onset of winter at the moment, so it's dark and cold /all the the time/, and the weather for the last few weeks has been simply /breathtaking/; solid headwinds in every direction; cold damp and slippery on all the riads; crazy windy rain... thunderstorms and lightening - the lightening was so frequent I actually thought I'd get fried if I took myself out on that day. Some mornings I just want to stay in bed rather than get up and go for that 80km hill ride, even though I do go for the ride in the end.

My weight is annoying me - basically because it isn't going down, which means I'm carrying all this extra... stuff... around everywhere I go. When I think about myself from a logical perspective and compare myself to other people I know - I'm think I'm doing all right, and size isn't everything, really. 300km and up to 15 hours each week on the bike, decent average speeds, lots of hill climbing... I'm mostly able to keep up with The Tester and The Engineer; and the measurements say that I'm loosing fat and theoretically gaining muscle even though my weight isn't changing all that much.

I was decently overweight when I started riding - around 100kgs - and had managed to get back to that weight when I came out of a tasty pie and wine-laden Christmas. Upon deciding I was going to do this enduro event I wasn't the lightest cookie. More specifically, though, my belly gets in the way when I'm riding. I have trouble physically getting into the drops because of my 'spare tyre', and combining that with a bikefit that doesn't seem right... it's antagonising. It's not just a physical problem - logically I know that will go away - especially if I keep up this madness - but this is barrier that I can't get around. If it was a hill I could climb it, if it was cold fingers I could get some new gloves - losing fat isn't anywhere as easy to quantify or control, so I'm relegated to watching the scales get slowly lower and the pants get slowly looser. I did have to buy new shorts recently, but on the other hand my next-size-down jeans don't fit because my thighs are too bloody big.

This is what it is like in my head - it's like listening to a big constant despairing whinge, and I have to say that I'm not terribly proud of it, but it is something that is, well... happening. These things play on my mind and affect my performance simply because my mind isn't able to cope. A bike fit that doesn't work is a disincentive to ride simply because it is going to hurt - bad drivers are a reason to avoid being on the road... or at least a distraction from putting in effort because I'm too busy looking over my shoulder, and the weather... can't do anything about winter but it has an effect on people, and even if those people aren't me it can still have an impact - if the kids are under the weather I'm not about to dump them on B and leave them to it while I go out for the day.

It all contributes to the Mental Game, and the largest part of that, for me is the perception of something resembling progress.

This is a classic in cycling, and luckily there's plenty of commentary about it. It is quite simply the problem that resulted in the following quote:

"It never gets easier, you just go faster" - Greg Lemond

Damnit Mr Lemond, you're right.

When I'm riding, the level of effort I'm putting out is - usually - directly proportional to how long I think I will ride for. In the case of hills it's usually the minimum possible effort required to go up the damn thing and not fall off the bike - but it amounts to the same thing; that I'm outputting as much as I have at any given point in time. Because I'm always going flat-stick and going as hard as I can, I'm always giving it everything I have, and it always feels the same to me, regardless of what the actual speeds are - and so it never gets easier.

So how does one track improvement? Personal records are about the only tool I have to hand to see how well I am doing, and they are based on time, and therefore speed, alone - the amount of time it takes to smash out that climb, or how long it takes me to get to work in the morning - but these records are fickle beasts as they don't take into account fitness, freshness, adverse weather (including those pesky headwinds).

When I break it down, at the end of the day; it is always just as hard as it was last time. And so I get to the point where I was at the top of Sweetacres Drive; driving into an unforgiving headwind, in complete dispair and ready to throw the bike into the sea...

And it turns out I'd actually set a Personal Record that was nearly 12.5% faster than my previous record, which I set back in 2014, and over 20% better than anything I've set this year.

You just go faster

In the time since this fateful ride I've had to think about this more than anything else. I know I am getting fitter, and I can see that I'm getting faster. My bibs don't fit like they used to... Getting to know these signs and heavily reading between the lines, and remembering that I'm here for the endurance game - this isn't always about going fast; it's also about how long I can go for.

I also have to give big ups to The Tester, The Colleague, The Engineer, and B; for listening to me talk through it and giving me all the support. Thanks for dragging me up the hills guys.

My next long ride will be my longest since I started 'officially' training this year - 120km. Not long by any stretch of the imagination; but still the longest so far. And the proof of me actually progressing?

It isn't going to seem that far.

80kms is practically nothing now - I get back from an 80km ride feeling refreshed and ready to get on with the day, 120 will just be a bit longer - like 80kms used to be. This month, so far, I've ridden 1250 kms, and I've still got a few days to go. This is by far the longest month I've ever ridden. Now, some of this will be the good grace of the weather, health, and family - but I reckon it's still a pretty decent distance for a guy who still has a relatively normal life.

Again, 1250kms isn't a lot if you measure me up against any number of other riders out there, but it's progress. I can almost imagine upcoming months where I'll be doing nearly 2000kms, and the same rule will apply...

It won't get easier!
~~ ~~

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