Been eating a lot lately due to wicked stress – closing on a house right now among other things, with some demanding buyers and a contract that’s only good for 30 days. Yikes. So I’ve been completely out of sorts, and not riding enough to boot. After a crummy breakfast and a big fat BLT for lunch, I needed to punish myself a bit. So I took off for a 30 mile ride in the wind and cold, belching and farting acidic BLT grease the whole way. Bumped into fellow Coppi Seph Coates along the way, and chatted for a bit. Nice guy, good ‘cross racer, like most of the Coppis really amicable. I noticed it’s easy to ride pretty quickly if you have somebody to chat with. As he turned off near Shirlington, I kept going straight on 4 Mile Run and immediately lost 5 MPH. Maybe I was suddenly in a headwind, maybe it was just the loss of motivation. Can’t say. What is clear is my exertion level stayed the same, solid in zone 2 (roughly 65% - 75% of Max Hr) while I lost major speed. As my Hr climbed up a bit, I decided it was time to just downshift and spin and keep it solidly in zone 2. That way the aerobic system gets built up. So I did that and tooled along at 15 MPH until I got onto the shielded portion of the W&OD Trail heading toward Roslyn. You see, if you keep the effort level in zone 2, you wont feel like you are working out, you will go impossibly slow, but when you finish the long ride, your legs will be shaky as all hell, and you’ll wonder who stuck the knives in your thighs. That’s the pain from your legs realizing that just pedaling you around isn’t enough, they need to grow some new little blood vessels in order to more efficiently supply your muscles with oxygen-rich blood.
There are wonderful things associated with building an aerobic base. First of all, you get faster in races. Well, not exactly. You get faster in that you can go faster for a longer period of time. Actual getting faster involves riding really hard in short to very short intervals; aerobic base just lets you ride at a pace close to your top end for a longer period of time. Second of all, aerobic rides are sort of fun. They are long and slow, but if you can put your ego away, and let yourself get passed by every Phred in the world, you can just chill and enjoy riding your bike and being eight years old for a couple hours. Third, and maybe most wonderfully, the training load from zone 2 rides is really low. Training load is the accumulated wear and tear on your legs, and it builds up over the course of a day, week, season, year. You need to spend time off those busy legs to unload them a bit, use different muscles like the running muscles or the laying-on-your-back-on-the-floor-with-your-legs-on-the-sofa-for-a-week muscles in order to let the legs unload. Aerobic load accumulates slowly – Joe Friel, probably the premier basic trainer for cyclists – believes that riding at tempo pace, usually just a dozen or so heartbeats per minute more strenuously, basically just starting to breath hard – builds up a load on your legs at roughly twice the rate of aerobic paced riding. So if you really want to do some aerobic basebuilding rides, you can do a lot of them back to back. And did I mention this is actually kind of fun riding? Guys talk about how you have to do a lot of brutal workouts and fill up your "Pain Bank" to be a good racer, but the vast majority of your riding should be this kind of riding, even when you are doing very hard intervals, like VO2 Max hill repeats, kilos, and other famously brutal workouts. In between, ride aerobic. And then have whole days of long rides that are just aerobic. Nope, it doesn't fill the Pain Bank at all, but I have noticed that the Enthusiasm Money Market Account earns a lot of interest when I do these kinds of rides. Yeah, this is the stuff I think about when my head is down and I'm spinning along...
Eventually I crossed back into Georgetown on the Key Bridge, circled around and down Wisconsin and then K Street, and then started up the Capitol Crescent. Along the way I spun past some commuters on mountain bikes. One guy in what looked like an old Brooklyn Cycling
jersey under a windbreaker picked up the pace as I went by, but he was pretty quickly dropped. Going uphill, shielded from the headwind that tortured me on the W&OD, I was able to spin, keep my Hr in a reasonable aerobic range, and move at a decent clip, 16-17 uphill toward Bethesda. Towards the top of the hill I slowed down to cough up some chunks of lung – gotta love long rides in cold weather combined with asthma – and the guy in the Brooklyn jersey came huffing by, elbows on his flat bar in full MTB TT mode. I spun up the bridge just behind him, and as he crested he stopped, coughed a bit, pulled out his bottle, and tried to swig between gasping in gulps of air. Keeping my Hr steady at around 138, I snicked the bike up three gears and rolled at a high rate of speed down the other side of the bridge and up the false flat toward the tunnel. He was completely spent and looked like he was going to tip off the bike, so he was riding backwards pretty quickly. Normally I joke about telling people who pass me that I’m just riding low zone 2 / recovery, but today I actually was and didn’t have the heart to tell the guy he’d just beaten somebody who was working exceedingly hard to stick to his training plan and go slow…
And that’s a good feeling. In spite of the stress, the shitty eating habits, putting on a few pounds since August and feeling generally bloated, cranky and slow, I’ve maintained some form and the progress since last year is enormous. I wouldn’t have been that guy on the mountain bike last year, I was too slow and fat to have been that guy last year. Thing is, he was riding reasonably fast by rec or commuter standards, and did pretty good to keep with me, a racer who climbs badly. So good for him, and good for me, the worst climbing roadracer in the world. I t feels nice to see that level of progress - racing forces improvement. It feels better to know I’m learning to keep my ego in the bag and just stick to my training. That’s a real David Carradine / Kung Fu Grasshoppa sort of moment.
Did it make up for the abuse I’ve been doling out on my body the last couple months, or for all the rides I’ve missed due to major life hassles? Naaah. But I don’t really care about that stuff as much after a nice ride like this. I feel pretty good right now - ongoing bacon burps & farts notwithstanding.
Besides, I’m taking tomorrow off and I’m going to put in three or four hours of the same kind of riding. Should be fun.