I generally don’t like going this long without posting – stuff starts getting backed up, and before long I almost don’t know where to start. We had the Tour of Missouri, and I’ve got some photos from the last stage in Kansas City to share – but not yet. I’ve also finally found resolution to a long-standing mechanical issue that makes a nice story to share – but not tonight. Nope, no pretty pictures of pedals or Cavendish – for now it’s just me and my thoughts.
I admit it, I’ve been grumpy this year. I don’t even want to go back and count how many posts since the beginning of summer in which I’ve bemoaned my advancing age and declining abilities. I’ve tried to deal with it, tried to tell myself it’s just part of life, tried to convince myself I can ride slow and still be happy. It didn’t work – it was really pissing me off. Not that it mattered too much in this, my first year as an ex-racer. I don’t really need to go fast, don’t have to train, don’t have any important race on the calender (actually, I do now, but that’s another post). All I really need to do is just ride and have fun. But when I can’t ride fast, I don’t have fun. It started at the beginning of summer – I felt good for the most part, just not great. I resurrected the Marquette Ride on Thursday nights – dormant since 2007, and for the first time since my “breakout” year (2004) I couldn’t hang with the leaders. As summer progressed, things got worse. Each week I was getting dropped earlier in the ride, and during the rest of the week I just felt horrible. I couldn’t breathe, and I felt like I had nothing in the tank. I told myself it was the heat – an after effect of the heat exhaustion I suffered at last year’s State Time Trial. Every now and then I would have a day where I actually felt pretty good, but for the most part it didn’t matter if I tried to ride fast or slow – I struggled. By the early part of August, I wasn’t even making it the first climb with the group on the Marquette ride – getting dropped and shortcutting the route became a Thursday evening ritual. I began to wonder if something was seriously wrong with me – a hole in the heart, I don’t know? It just didn’t make sense that my abilities would crash so precipitously and I would feel so horrible all the time. I tried pedaling a faster cadence – that didn’t work. I switched out my 11-23 cassette for a 12-25 – that didn’t work either. I started to get depressed.
The answer came about quite by accident about four weeks ago, and I feel a little silly – almost stupid – to not have thought of it before I did. I do a lot of writing and reading (bug stuff), and the demands of job and family leave me precious little time to do this in a normal 24-hour day. I had gotten into the habit of doing this at night after the family went to bed. If I didn’t get enough done, I would just keep at it until I did. I started staying up until midnight. I started staying up until 1AM. I would even stay up until 2AM (or later) if I really was on a roll. Mornings were tough, but I was shaking it off and functioning normal the next day, so no problem (well, not counting my increased catnapping). It continued even during the weekends – since I could get up later, I stayed up later. And all the while, I never made the connection that the decline in my cycling was precisely coincident with my decreased sleep.
On Friday, August 21st, I was about to get out the computer when I paused, and then told my wife, “I’m exhausted – I’m just gonna go to bed.” It was “only” 10:30PM. The ten hours of sleep I got that night was almost twice what I had averaged each night for the past several months, and it felt great! We got up the next morning and packed the car for a weekend at Innsbrook, and as always I brought my bike. I was itching to ride the whole way, and I felt good as soon as I got onto the bike. I did the shorter of several routes I have out there – only 35 miles, but I knew right away I was into a special ride. The deeper I got into the ride, the stronger I felt and the harder I rode, finishing in a blistering 1:47 (lots of hills out that way). “Hmm”, I thought! I decided to get another good night’s sleep, and after sleeping 8 hours I went out Sunday and did 38 miles in an equally blazing 1:56.
That should’ve been enough to make me change my ways, but old habits die hard, and the following week I got right back into my routine of burning the candle at both ends. I got dropped after 15 minutes on the Marquette ride, and no matter how easy I tried to pedal on Friday, my sleep-deprived body could barely turn the pedals. So once again I decided to give myself a day of rest and two good nights of sleep. The ride that followed on Sunday, August 30th was all the proof that I needed. I hadn’t done my own BugMan™ route since last winter, and at almost 60 miles and some 2750-3600 feet of climbing (depending on which variant I used) it would be the ultimate test. I finished in 3:03, but more importantly I felt great. I made a commitment then and there that I needed to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night – no exceptions. I have kept that commitment, and in the past 23 days I’ve ridden 665 miles with 40,000 feet of ascent and never felt better. I showed up at Marquette the week before last to see if it was real, but I was the only one there. I rode it anyway and felt incredible. I showed up again last week and rode with one other rider – a fairly strong rider who usually stays with the leaders until the last climb. I dropped him and waited on the first several climbs before striking off on my own after cresting Doberman. In all fairness, he’d been off the bike a bit recently and may not have been feeling up to snuff. Nevertheless, I can hardly describe how different I felt – I was standing forward on the bike while climbing, my lungs felt like they filled my whole chest, I was using the full range of motion in my legs – everything “hurt so good!” All of my rides these past few weeks have felt like that – alternating hard or fast rides with easy recovery rides has left me feeling fresh every day.
Like I said, I almost feel stupid for not figuring this out earlier, but I’m willing to withstand a little embarrassment because it’s a good lesson. It might be too soon to conclusively declare that “I’m back”, but I’m certainly on my way. Pity that so many others are now ending their riding for awhile, but for the first time in almost a year I can’t wait for the new season. I’ll do another off-season like I’ve always done – lunchtime rides during the week and a brutal BugMan™ ride each weekend to build base and strength. Next season, I’ll not only look forward to riding strong and fast, but maybe even hitting the gold medal time at l’Etape du Tour!
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009