29 January 2013

Head Games


My goal was to work up to 60 miles by January so I would know whether it would be wise to risk throwing my hat in the Ride the Rockies lottery this weekend.

I didn't get to ride after December 1, and I had not been able to pedal more than 40 miles before this long break. Typically, long breaks do me in. I have to start over from scratch.

I had long planned to at least attempt 60 miles on Martin Luther King Day. I had the day off. As the day got closer, the forecast was extremely favorable. It was the very day I began my 60-mile-day-once-a-month streak back in 2011. It would be the perfect day to begin the streak all over again.

But then I got sick. Head colds and congestion were being passed around at work, and even though I tried not to stand in line for my fair share, the germ knocked me off my feet for three days leading up to my big ride.

Nevertheless, I had to try.

I left at about noon after eating a tuna fish sandwich. I equipped the bike with two water bottles so I would not have to carry my pack, thinking that would give me a better chance at success. I did not take my headlamp because I didn't realistically think I could do 60, but mostly because I have to spend this whole next four months focusing on building a little more speed and power so I don't have to do any more 12.5- or 14.5-hour days. I would have to do better than 10 mph, even if I did do 60, so I would get home before dark.

I wore two layers of everything – two pairs of socks, padded shorts beneath tights, a thermal jersey beneath my treasured Fat Cyclist jersey. I was not warm for the first six miles or so, while the temperature was still in the 40s. When I started really working, I wasn't chilled anymore.

I started out with a couple of intervals because that's how you build speed and power. I can make it about a quarter of the way up the short but steep hills on my S-curves route doing full speed, as fast as I can go, standing on the pedals, before I run out of steam. My job this spring will be to try to make it to the top of each little hill at my best speed.

I made it all the way up the first hill and halfway up the second hill. I couldn't go harder on the third hill than I normally do because my bad knee was beginning to hurt already. I knew not to even try. It's a booger just to get up that particular hill, so that's all I focused on. I made it up. But then I started having attitude challenges.

I seriously hit the wall at about 16 miles. I was coughing. I had to blow my nose about every two minutes. I did not drink enough; I have trouble remembering to drink when I'm not hot. I was tired, and my knee hurt. I was trying to remember not to arch my back. I was trying to keep my tummy tucked. I can't remember if it was still chilly then. I just wanted to go home. I was done.

I almost did go back home.

I tried to talk myself into making the effort, but I wasn't having much success. Myself was being very obstinate. I told myself I might not get another chance at 60 this month. There are no weather guaranties in January.

"I don't care about any stupid streak! I don't even know why I want to do this. It's stupid. I have better things to do. This is not fun. I just want to go home!"

I told myself I could take the shortcut home if I made it to the end of the first S-curve. That would give me close to 25 miles. Not bad for no real riding since December 1. It would be a worthwhile training ride, even if I didn't accomplish my goal.

Myself agreed to that. Mostly because myself knew home was less than a couple of miles that way, and I would avoid five big hills if I went home that way.

Then I found just the right medicine.

I asked myself what I learned from Pikes Peak and the two long, hard Ride the Rockies days. I asked myself what those lessons were for if I wasn't going to apply them.

Why did I bother to push myself beyond fatigue if I wasn't going to draw upon that strength in other times of weakness? Why did I suffer so much, particularly on the Ouray to Durango day, if success that day wasn't going to help me in the future?

The pep talk seemed to work like a charm.

When I hit the end of the S-curve, I didn't want to go home anymore. I turned around to do the next repeat. I wanted to see if I could do 60 miles.

And that's all I needed to keep going the rest of the day.

Well, plus, I knew The Lizard would be happy if I made it. He doesn't get Martin Luther King Day off, so he couldn't coach me for this ride. But he knew I was trying. He knew I would give it my best shot. He did not expect me to be a quitter.

Initially I worried a little about the repetition of four trips through the S-curves, which is what I would need to pedal in order to reach 60 miles, but by staying close to home, I wouldn't be inhaling the metro brown cloud while I was already having enough sinus problems. I would be able to bail easily if needed. The S-curves are not as busy with traffic this time of year, a definite improvement over navigating the metro bike path, which likely would be full of pedestrians, dog-walkers, rollerbladers, children, fishermen, family bike rides and ice beneath the underpasses. Not that I mind sharing the bike path, but I wouldn't be able to work on speed on the bike path. The bike path actually has a speed limit! I could work on speed on the S-curves.

The S-curves are completely surrounded by feeding grounds for winged creatures, so I entertained myself by playing Dodge the Goose Poop and then ultimately Connect the Turds. I had to check behind me each time I blew my nose to make sure I wasn't showering other riders. At one point, I imagined a certain yellow-jerseyed rider coming up behind me, and I did my best Farmer John Blow. I would never do that in real life, but it was fun to visualize for just that split second.

The wind picked up at about 29 miles, and I had trouble staying above 8 mph while battling the head wind. The wind, however, served as strong motivation to work harder.

"Wind makes us strong. Wind makes us strong. Wind makes us strong," I would chant.

Three years ago while training for the 2010 Ride the Rockies, which is the hardest ride and continuously most difficult weeklong ride I've ever done, I would cry when I woke up in the pre-dawn morning with the wind battering the side of our house because I knew I had to ride in the wind even though I didn't want to. I was so tired of riding in the wind! And then we had ridiculously strong head winds six of the seven days of Ride the Rockies. And then again on Pikes Peak a few months later, the wind battered the heck out of me.

Nevertheless, I had trained in the wind. It was discouraging, and sometimes it was downright dangerous, but I had ridden in the wind enough to build up a little bit of strength. That year I realized Colorado has wind. If you don't want to ride in the wind, you shouldn't live in Colorado.

On this day, I rode in the wind, and it didn't drag my enthusiasm down.

At mile 42, the wind changed direction. At least the ride wasn't boring. Suddenly, at mile 49ish, the wind died down! I was expecting a brutal headwind all the way home!

My back began bothering me at about 50 miles, but I knew I was a mere ten miles from home. I knew I could make it.

I hit the longest of the five hills I have to climb to get home at mile 52.80. That was pretty significant to me because Denver's altitude is 5,280. I was roughly 700 feet higher than that, and I had about 200 feet of climbing to do before I got home. Made me feel kind of high. The good kind of high, that is.

At mile 58, the sun had hidden behind the foothills, I was riding in shadows, and my toes were freezing. But I had only two miles to go. I had made it. I would finish. I had accomplished my goal.

The 60-mile-day streak is off and running again. If I can get in a 60-mile day in February, I have it made. I can do it the rest of the year. It may require a couple of trips to Moab next Thanksgiving and Christmas, but Moab's never a bad thing to need.

The Lizard was home from work when I arrived. He got to hear my phone announce in computer voice fashion, "End of ride, average speed 12.39 mph, ride time 4:52, total distance 60.45 miles" when the Cycle Meter acknowledged the end of my forward progress. The Lizard gave me the best hug!

High fives around!

Do you know what this means?

I can ride Elephant Rock, Ride the Rockies and the MS-150!

climbin' fool!


  1. Wooooooo-hooooooooo! A congratulatory hug has been sent from Wisconsin - can you feel it? :)

    "Connect the Turds" is hilarious - but sounds dreadful. Goose poop is so unnerving - it looks just like the dog variety. And as long as I'm on a crass roll here, let me just say I sympathise with the nose-blowing issues. It took me YEARS just to learn to spit cleanly and decisively while riding (and I've still not managed to shed the feeling that I'm doing something unladylake and inappropriate). As for the farmer blow, would you believe I really only mastered it last season? (Have never visualised spraying anyone in particular though....)

    Seriously, congratulations on winning out against such a nasty trio of discouraging factors - sinus congestion, back pain, and that despairing sense of pointlessness. (Can identify with that last one too.) AND on tackling the wind! Definitely an exercise in perseverance.

    Glad you have a course near home that you can ride - I was just telling Mr. M the other day that when I get out on the road again, I'm going to make my long training rides on a 15-mile circuit that starts right in front of the house - that way I'll never be more than 7 or 8 miles from home at any point, even on a 60-mile ride. (The scenic rides can wait until Sundays.)

    I'm very excited for you - you'll be in great shape for MS-150 (and RtR). :)

    P.S. I think you're faster than I am.

    1. I can pedal slower, Sue. :) I promise!

      Connect the Turds was gross at first, but then it started getting fun. Does that mean I was bonking???

      I hope both of us will be in great shape for the MS-150!!!

  2. Keep healing. Keep getting stronger.

    1. Thanks, Stratoz! I'm giving it my very best shot!

  3. Way to go! I play similar mind games about the wind. I always tell myself to pedal patiently - it might be slow going but I am still moving forward. Your line about "if you don't want to ride in the wind, don't live in Colorado" made me chuckle.

    Most of all - congrats on pushing yourself beyond what you thought was possible.

    I did that by accident today. I bonked with only about 5 miles to go. I stuffed myself with food but I nearly reached a standstill on the last few hills. Tough! We are crazy women, aren't we? :)

    1. Thanks, KB. Every time I overcome a trial, I gain more strength for the next one. I just have to remember to call upon that strength. And then be a little crazy to boot...


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