Sunday, February 26, 2012

Redefining Sunday Mornings

Ride Studio Cafe, Sunday Ride
Apologies for the over-abundance of road themed posts lately, but I need to write this down before the details fade, or before I get too embarrassed. This morning, instead of sleeping in like normal people I woke up at 7am to get ready for the Sunday Morning Ride at the Ride Studio Cafe. I have done their Women's Rides, but never the mixed gender Sunday rides. While some have tried to lure me to join, others warned that these rides are faster and more difficult than described. Especially after reading this, I was inclined to believe the latter and sensibly steered clear. So why now? Well, I need to train for the Hell's Gate Hundred and time is running out. And also these people convinced me that I could do it. With a straight face they said: "Oh you can definitely do it." And I believed them - figuring that since they were designated to lead the ride this weekend, they ought to know. 

So, could I do it? That really depends of your definition of that concept. I mean,  I finished the ride. I didn't crash. I didn't walk uphill. I didn't throw up or cry (though I came close). So in that sense I guess I did it. But it was such a humiliating struggle, that I can hardly think of it as an accomplishment. It was worse even than my first paceline ride last May, when I showed up on a touring bike and everybody else rode racing bikes. Only this time I did not have the "slow bike" excuse - it was all me. At least now I know where I stand.

When I left the house this morning it was 25°F outside with a brutal headwind. Of all the mild Sundays we've had this winter, I just had to choose this one. As I pedaled the 10 miles to the ride's start my eyes were watering and my lungs were burning; doing this was beginning to seem like a terrible idea. But I'd already told people I was coming and didn't want to back out.

As cyclists arrived bundled up and in good spirits, I felt more relaxed. By the time we got ready to ride, it warmed up to 30°F and the sunny morning made me optimistic. "This will be just like the Women's Rides," I told myself, "only with men." There were only 4 of us in the slower group; this was going to be fun and social.

Trying to analyse it in retrospect, I am not sure what exactly made this ride so difficult for me. It was probably a little bit of everything. The speed in itself would have been fine, if it weren't for the headwinds we were continuously assaulted with. The hills would have been fine, if there weren't so many of them. It was also difficult to breathe the cold air while already struggling to breathe from exertion. 

We rode 34 miles through the towns of Lexington, Weston, Wayland, Sudbury and Lincoln. We climbed two substantial hills, with lots of littler hills in between. I was without a doubt the weakest member of our group, and on hills this was especially apparent. I wheezed. I whimpered. I swore out loud. I almost fainted from pushing myself to try and keep up. And still I lagged behind. My legs felt like lead. Flats and downhills did not offer much respite, since I had to work harder than everyone else to keep up the pace. My face was bright red from shame and effort.

I employed various coping techniques to get through the ride. At one point, I mentally talked myself through it. "It's okay... Pedal, don't think... Look at the pretty trees... Focus on the wheel in front of you... What doesn't kill you makes you stronger..." After that stopped working, I began to play Bach in my head until the repetitive harpsichord pieces started to feel like a seizure. Then I tried to separate my mind from the physicality of what I was doing, as if it were happening to somebody else. Some time after that delirium set in and I don't remember anymore. 

At some point - I think this must have been closer to the beginning - something really cool happened. The faster group caught up with us and "swallowed us" before speeding away. I have never experienced this before and it wasn't the same as merely riding in a group. Suddenly, the faster cyclists were ...everywhere. On my right, on my left, in front, behind - some seemingly no more than an inch away. I felt carried along, swept away - it was scary and exciting at the same time. "Like a school of fish" said a rider in our group later. Is this a taste of what racing is like?

When we finished the ride I could hardly walk. I vaguely recall being hugged and given high-fives as I rapidly chewed a croissant. I had done a Sunday Morning Ride. It was hard, and it was embarrassing, and I will do it again. I rode 55 miles total by the time I got home. Sunday mornings will never be the same.  

54 comments:

  1. Well done! It's both a thrilling and humbling experience, isn't it?

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  2. Reading of your Sunday Morning Ride made me recall your 21st February posting; "Shadow of My Former Self". At the risk of sounding a bit sarcastic, I guess that's why they call it "training". Though I'm not a racer, group rider, or anything even close (we don't have that sort of thing in my community), I understand that muscle tone and bulk will increase with repetitive use thus improving endurance and performance. In order to maintain or improve upon that level of physical ability, one must be consistent in their training. In other words, hang in there, it will get better. Also, if you're not already doing so, it would probably help to do other forms of exercise to increase strength and cardiovascular fitness. Just some words of encouragement. My hat goes off to you for having the drive and courage to swim with the big fish.

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    1. Yup. I've put in 100 miles since that post and naively thought I was back in the game. I guess not yet! But a few more rides like this one and I just might be.

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    2. I look forward to reading of your progress.

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  3. I can totally relate. I did a Saturday shop ride in my area, and thought it was quite easy, so I figured the Sunday ride would be a little more challenging. It was a lot more challenging. It seemed as if everyone was already warmed up right from the start. I was not, and never caught up. I tried in vain to draft off a couple of people, and was eventually dropped so far behind that when I got to the designated stops, they were ready to go, so I never got any rest. I also thought I was going to throw up somewhere along the ride, but I didn't.

    I would love to actually work a good paceline-- I'm going to have to keep training.

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  4. Sounds like a perfect ride. You are well on your way.

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  5. Well, you're the real deal; we know it, that's why we like you so.
    Jim Duncan

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  6. I have never been all that interested in taking up “Atheletic” cycling. After reading your post I feel inspired to give it a try.

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  7. That fresh-in-the-mind excitement with which you describe feelings I know so well, and often take for granted, brings a smile to my face. Don't concern yourself with your inevitable transitions in this wacky little cycling world alienating your readers, your journey always makes for a good read.

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  8. You did fine. Don't beat yourself up- just work harder and be smart about it. You have it in you.
    Mindset can take you places you never imagined.

    I went on a memorial ride for a fallen friend this AM with about 40 other riders.


    I got utterly wasted by a headwind over a three mile stretch. I was smoked up the climbs by several 70-year-olds. All of them smoked me on the descents. And I hit 38 mph on one.

    I intend to beat a few of them at some point- after all, I am 25-30 years younger!

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    1. "I was smoked up the climbs by several 70-year-olds. All of them smoked me on the descents. And I hit 38 mph on one."

      We have cyclists here in their 80s and 90s doing the long distance rides, beating everyone! It is encouraging for someone just starting out who thinks they are too old. "What, you're only 60? Youngster!"

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  9. You will be faster later but get the distance up. Have you tried the Audax rides: http://www.audax-uaf.com/cyclo/pages/cyclo.htm ?

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    1. I am working up to it. This was my first week back on a roadbike, and I did 12 miles, then 20, then 35, then 55 in rapid succession. On Tuesday will try to do 80. There are plenty of rides to choose from, we are spoiled here.

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    2. Sunday 55 miles - until you can hardly walk.
      Tuesday 80 miles
      135 miles all in the cold.

      Does this thing have brakes on it?
      On a sustained basis riders with dayjobs train 150-200 miles a week in season. The guy who consistently trains much more than that will be found to have special circumstances and arrangements that permit the obsession. We all look for ways to do more miles. Doing the miles without adequate rest invariably leads to illness or injury.

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    3. True, injuries is something to watch out for.

      I was doing 100-150 miles a week until I took a few weeks off, so hopefully this won't be a huge leap for me.

      As for riders doing 150-200 miles a week in season, it depends what they are training for. Racing, sure. But for endurance events I doubt that is enough. I do know cyclists with 9-5 dayjobs who get plenty of miles in by doing super early am rides every weekday and then a century or double-century over the weekend. 150 miles a week is probably the sweet spot for me though.

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  10. Sounds like you did great! You get better at something when you have to push yourself really hard (especially true for body strength and stamina), that's what you did and you psyche (and body) held for it. If you keep riding with these people I am sure you'll get even stronger. Just remember that recovery is part of training too.

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    1. I am trying to figure out how best to recover, especially without resorting to supplements. After I got home from this ride I had a fever for the rest of the day and this morning still feel like I've been run over by a train!

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    2. Do you think your fever is from the ride? I have been asking around to see if anyone else gets mild fevers after training and most people look at me funny. Do you know more about it and what might prevent it?

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    3. I always get fevers after hard rides, it's not unusual with some people. No idea how to prevent it though!

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    4. Why eschew supplements? A _simple_ regimen of basic Vitamins and minerals can be a great help. I don't go for all the herbs and all that - especially all the time! - but a balanced supplement taken consistently can speed recoveries. Is your system particularly sensitive to them?

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    5. I meant recovery drinks and pills and powders; there is an entire industry of cycling-specific supplements.

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    6. For a recovery drink, I like tea with a little lemon and honey.
      Hot and strong on a cold day, cold and weak on a hot day.
      Whatever kind I want.
      Simple. The industry can go ahead and fan the flames of delusion all they want... I'm not deluding myself that I'm in a TdF stage race where seconds matter.

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    7. Eat plenty of fruit, they have antioxidants to cure your muscles of the lactic acid burn. Get lots of vitamin C.

      Also try doing a short very slow easy very low gear spin ride on your road bike the next day to flush out the lactic acid and keep your muscles loose.

      Also most important of all, be sure and stretch all your muscles after every athletic bicycling ride. When your muscles get worked and get stronger they also get tighter. Muscle tightness is a bad thing in the long run thus you need to be sure and stretch always after any sort of workout.

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    8. The body needs lots of vitamin C to recover from hard workouts. Maybe you get the fever after hard rides due to your body needing more C then it is getting at that time.

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  11. Congrats! Next time is going to be much easyer!

    I have decided to build up a light bike and go on longer rides on my own (without dog, bf, son) after reading about your improvements.
    badmother.

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  12. Well, maybe these Sunday rides are your chance to try out a few road bikes ?

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  13. How did this compare to the NEBC Women's rides last summer?

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    1. As far as speed alone it was like the intermediate group at the NEBC Women's rides. But the route was 10 miles longer and much more hilly, and it was winter.

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  14. Riding in a pack fast IS fun, except for getting to the "fast" part.

    You might try: be sure to have some food in you before you go -- not so much that you barf on the hills, but more than just running on empty. How good is your wheel-sucking? Following at 6 feet is not nearly as good as following at 2. When you rest, you want it to pay off. You have to get good at looking past the guy in front of you; peripheral vision is good enough for tracking his wheel, figure if he steers around obstacles, following him will steer you around obstacles, too. You just don't want to get surprised by a sudden stop.

    Training (decades ago), we used to do "intervals", riding in the boonies this meant riding hard for a certain number of telephone poles, then slacking off, and so on. Recent article in the NYT suggesting that this can be a very effective way to get stronger pretty quickly, for not much time invested: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/how-1-minute-intervals-can-improve-our-health/ And for them, "intervals" is a minute-on, minute-off thing, repeated ten times, 2-3 times per week. So maybe you do all your mosey-around cycling, plus pick a small hill to pound your way up 10 times in a row, just as hard as you can stand. And for "small" I think definitely under 100 feet. For example, there's a bunch of steep roads in Arlington off Mass Ave just west of Arlington Center; you could go up to Gray on one, jog over a block, down, jog over a block, and so on (start at the west end, you can use right turns on Mass Ave for that jog).

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    1. Prospect Hill Park in Waltham is great training hill too, and the view at the top is nice reward.

      V - Things worth doing are often challenging. Good for you!

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    2. I've been there, very beautiful.

      I would love to find a place close to home where I can ride up/down hills on days when I have little time, but there is too much traffic in Somerville. Once I get a little stronger, I was thinking of riding to Arlington Heights and just doing the 1 mile hill on Park Ave over and over.

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    3. That hill is too big for one go, according to the usual definition of intervals. You want to go like hell for a minute, rest for a bit (if you're still rolling uphill, do it in first gear and seriously take it easy), then go like hell for another minute. I experimentally timed myself this morning coming up the other side (which breaks it up relatively naturally into 3 climbs separated by 2 kinda-flats, if you do it right), and even 1/3 of that hill took well more than a minute.

      Going that hard on the bike really sucks; you want to be smart and strategic about it, and get the maximum improvement for a given amount of suck.

      And honest-to-gosh, it works. I get noticeably stronger after doing this for just a few weeks. And this is not repeats, this is just up it once, plus a few little dinky hills in Burlington at the end of my commute.

      Slightly closer than the big hill, is Jason St, just past Arlington Center. Take a left off the path onto Mill St. (where all the new construction is), cross Mass Ave, and pound your way up a smaller chunk of hill.

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  15. After a ride that hard, especially one in the cold, think about the recovery.

    Simple protocol: Lie down after the ride. Elevate your legs. Lightly massage calves, then thighs, always stroking towards the heart. No need to get much involved in details of massage as you will start napping quickly. As soon as the massage gets waste products and lactic in your bloodstream you'll meet Morpheus in waves.

    Probably you want your second breakfast before the nap. Definitely after the sort of effort you describe you should quickly eat 100g carbohydrates. And you've earned anything else you want.

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  16. Congrats, and realize that the next time you do something like this, and there will be a next time, it will be easier. And you'll keep challenging yourself, each time thinking there's no way you can do this, but each time you'll advance your fitness and desire to compete, until everyone thinks of you as a racer -- even if you still don't think of yourself that way.

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  17. Its fascinating to read your post. Part of me really gets it and part of me thinks "Wait a sec, isn't the fundamental power of everything bike rooted in a sensation of fun and pleasure?" I can see that maybe this painful experience is really the groundwork for a great experience later.

    I'm flirting with doing a Fleche ride in late April (240 miles over 24 hours) and I am both terrified and strangely transfixed by the idea. It feels way beyond my abilities, and yet that is where the potential joy lies too. I fear doing it and I fear not doing it.

    I've always eschewed the whole "racer" aesthetic and I tend to distain the idea of training because it all seems like shoving cycling into some corporate achievement vibe that makes cycling seem to the rest of the world like anti-fun.

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    1. I guess for me, the fun and pleasure are not incompatible with what I described here. The sensation of straining to do something that is beyond my current physical capacity, while going really fast, on a bike, is kind of cool, even transcendent. There is a high to be derived from it.

      Last night the ride leader sent me an email after reading this post, pointing out that I was smiling the whole time during the ride. I guess I was! Despite the difficulty, I was very happy to be there.

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  18. I find myself not being interested in whether you think you succeeded or not, but selfishly enjoying your description of the event.

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  19. "The faster group caught up with us and "swallowed us" before speeding away... Is this a taste of what racing is like?"

    Yes, if you are bad at it ;)

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  20. I loved reading every word of this because I know this experience so well. It is (more than) slightly humiliating to lag on the hills, but eventually those hills that felt like a big deal in the beginning go by really quickly.

    That experience happened to me Saturday. I walked a bit (no shame, NO SHAME) because I just couldn't pull myself all the way up a f*cker of a loooooong hill. My friend came back down to get me, which was sweet. And amazingly the last hill from Sausalito up towards the GG bridge, which has always kicked my ass, was over in a flash. That's when I knew it had gotten easier.

    I'm trying to figure out the nutrition part. Currently I'm trying out the different carb powders for fuel, it's helping.

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  21. Great read you had me lol!!!!there's no reason to apologize for roadie post and to hear you were smiling the whole time that's even more hilarious!! If you get a chance to ride in LA check out the Glendora mt. road up towards Mt Baldy it starts in San Dimas its a beautiful area to ride and train. Glenn in the NW

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  22. I bet you feel great this morning. A ride where I push myself greatly always has me feeling like a champ the next day.

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    1. I feel not as bad as I thought. Trying to rest so that I can do another ride tomorrow.

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  23. I know you don't want to focus too much on road cycling, but I think it would be really helpful if you posted links to these ride reports in chronological order. Maybe on the sidebar?

    Amy

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  24. This is a great read and it's very inspiring to follow your journey to fitness, and hopefully success in competition too.

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  25. Good job! Each time will get easier.

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  26. You can use a foam roller to help massage some of the soreness out of your leg muscles.

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  27. Well done,my friend!!! :D

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  28. Any ride longer than 30 miles you should eat something with carbs during the ride to keep your energy levels up. If your energy runs low during a ride your mood will crash and you will loose all will to keep going.

    I recommend Luna Bars or Clif Bars. Both are yummy and provide good sustained energy. They are easy to take along in your jersey pockets. They also have stuff that help your muscles recover.

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    1. On weekend shop rides that are likely to have newer riders, I have taken up the practice of carrying a few extra gels for folks who haven't learned this bit yet...and somebody needs one every 2 or 3 weeks. Recently had someone show up with just tea in a bottle, and they completely ran out of gas.

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  29. Probably everyone who has ever raced smiled when reading this--what you've described is pretty much the norm when going from normal riding to the type of riding done by competitive cyclists.

    As unlikely as it may seem, in another six months, you'll probably be riding with the faster group. Progress comes quickly once started.

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  30. ..."Is this a taste of what racing is like?"

    yep, you pretty much got it right there.

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  31. The RSC Sunday rides are notorious, I am amazed you went ahead with it in that headwind. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is just about right!

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