Either the pressure level in my life is going down, or I'm learning to cope with it. Either way, three rides in a row hit the sweet spot this week. It felt good, like the train got back on the track and started to chug along...
My threshold intervals on Tuesday were... well, nice isn't the way to describe threshold intervals. They were efficiently done. I got power up to threshold, and held it there. For a while, I wasn't even breathing too hard. This is probably due to my training absolutely sucking for the last few weeks, so my legs were super fresh. Did the workout though, rode the chart, and it felt absolutely wonderful. No, it didn't feel wonderful physically, threshold intervals don't, but it felt wonderful to finally have my head in the game enough to maintain concentration to be able to keep it at threshold level power for the prescribed interval. The mind is where good racing starts, so it's the keystone, the foundation. It's been lacking for a few weeks, good to have it back.
Wednesday, we had a good 'cross practice. A few non-Coppis joined in, and that made it interesting. The total crew was about 15, which made for some good group start action and a little bit of traffic here and there. I took it easy on the first two lap set, trying to warm up. On the second two laps I went moderately hard, trying to get some work in. On the third set, I decided to go fairly hard at the start, not all out, but then to try to hurt a bit going into the second lap and really nail it on that lap. Nothing really noteworthy happened until that final lap. I went into it gasping, a bit heavy legged. That sounds bad, but it's good. That's how you should be working 'cross intervals, and it showed I had done serious work on the first lap. I really pounded down the pavement on the second lap and started to catch up to Mike, who had gapped me considerably at the start of lap 1. I used him as a rabbit and began closing. He stepped it up too. So I stepped it up again. Coming down off the runup, he had a big lead - really steep runups are total kryptonite to me. But I worked the downhill super hard, did a really lurid two-wheeled powerslide in the grass, and started to catch him on the long grass straight. Up the hill, I was standing, and then got within about 8 feet of his wheel. I caught my rhythm, and that's when it happened - my face went really, really numb.
Sounds sick but that's how I know that I was working it properly. It was just a minute or two of that feeling, the total dizziness you get from VO2 efforts, but it was there. It means my mind is in it enough to maybe put together a decent race season. I can still go hard enough to race well - that numb face is what I get for maybe 25 minutes of any cross race where I work really hard. After the last month or so, I was happy to be able to hit that sweet spot, the point where I'm going all-out.
In fact I was so happy, I did a standing effort through the second-to-last section of off-camber in a desparate attempt to bridge the last few feet of gap up to Mike, and rolled a tubular. Dang! It wasn't that unhappy of an event; better to do that in practice and discover the weakness, than to do it in a race. Plus nothing was going to erase my happyness at having gotten it into the zone properly for the first time this year.
The final sweet spot ride was my recovery ride at Rosaryville this afternoon. I needed to do about 40 minutes with no significant hard efforts. I've been missing the woods, so I headed out on the single speed 29'er. The new front wheel - a Salsa Delgado to replace the whippy and taco'ed WTB - totally changes the handling. It's much more solid up front, more planted, partly a function of the Delgado's weight (it's stout...) and partly a function of Jon's solid build. Not like I was pushing myself or that wheel at all though. I took it real easy on the hills, and focused on not touching the brakes. Going into the last 20 minutes of the lap, I got into a groove in this one section of basically rolling, very smooth single track. I kept telling myself not to hit the brake, and keep looking ahead.
Then all of a sudden, I just dropped into a sort of trance-like state. Five or ten minutes just passed by, flowing. I don't remember thinking anything, just rode along, with a totally blank mind, not a stupid form of empty mind, just a relaxed mind. The weather was nice and I recall how good the breeze felt, how I felt every bump in the trail but nothing took the bike off track, leaning and swaying to get through narrow gaps in trees with my wide On One Mary bars... but not a conscious thought in my head. I must have been turning the pedals because there were some little rises in the trail, but the sensation wasn't memorable enough for me to retain it. After a while, it occurred to me that I need to pay attention, don't crash, people rely on me to have a functioning bonce, watch that turn, etc. I started thinking about riding, and slowed down right away. But for 10 minutes, I was somewhere else, just totally in the moment. It was mentally refreshing enough and so hedonistic that I hated ending the ride and coming home, at least for a few minutes.
Charm City 'Cross is coming up on Sunday. It marks the start of the Mid-Atlantic 'Cross season. I know there's a race the day before, but Charm City has become the traditional kickoff. Go register for it here. Even if you don't race, please do come out and spectate and help the rest of us have a good time. It's very well-attended, situated in a nice, huge park, and it really embodies a lot of the good features of the local 'cross scene. Along with two or three other really classy events in MABRA and MAC, Charm City is what's best about 'cross. See you there.
And, in honor of racin' in the grass, let's have a little Southern Culture on the Skids, let's have a "Dirt Track Date."