First, get thee to The Service Course where friend & teammate of the Rouleur Ryan Newill posts an excerpt of his 2002 feature from The Velo News about what it's like to attend the Ghent Six Days, a track festival that is one of the most traditional, hard core, and tradition-drenched bike races in the world. Is it the track equivalent of the TdF (Tour of Flanders, of course) or Paris-Roubaix? Yeah, maybe, that but completely different. It sounds magical to go as a spectator. Not sure if I'd like to do the race though... holy crap it sounds brutal. (Whether you're racing for six nights in a row, or partying for six).
Second, I've been on a bit of radio silence this week. Sorry, I'm a bit worn out and I'm facing 'cross ennui. It always happens after about two months of steady racing each weekend, and making the routine of rest rest rest RACE rest rest PRACTICE rest rest rest RACE etc. I've been keeping it a bit fresh by mountain biking with Jon and the Family Bikes crew, but almost all of my rides have been short and slow easy commutes, or going fairly hard (even on "80% pace" cross practice days) with nothing really in between. There were some interval days early on, though they've been replaced by even more mundane "10 minutes at tempo, 5 minutes off for an hour" type of grinds. Bleh! Too much focuse! Right now I have a couple weekends off from racing since I'm not down with bigtime travel (Charlottesville, or a weekend in Jersey) this year, and this break falls just prior to the final push of the season, Tacchino Cross, MABRA Champs, and the MAC Finale at Lake Reston. so I'm concentrating on getting in some base training right now. The thing about base training is it's what I truly love about road riding - it can be touring riding with friends, or just quiet solo rides by yourself away from it all, or a spin to go visit a good coffee shop, 90 minutes away. A couple long rides are planned for the weekend, and I got out this week on my fixie for a 2.5 hour base ride, just using an Hr monitor to make sure I stayed more or less in zone 2, and just spun out. (I rock about 65 gear inches, which is 17-19 MPH on flats, and this keeps me just inside the bottom ledge of zone 2. Hills are a little tougher - sometimes it's a slow cadence standing effort in an attempt to keep the Hr and the exertion level down, or ridiculous 160 RPM spins on the downhills, but 44:18 is a good all-around training gear. I like the fixer on a really emotional level because it has a refreshing simplicity. The Zen appeal people talk about stems, I think, from the layer of conscious thought in your mind that just doesn't have to occur on one of these dinosaurs - "upshift to keep your effort level steady, downshift on this steep hill... what, there's no more gears?" In place of this cluttered internal monologue and doubts about your ability to climb or descend at a certain pace is an emptiness, a stillness. There's no derailer click and no chain rub, just a barely audible drivetrain hum, and the hiss of the tires is much louder than that. With many fewer sensory inputs coming from the bike, and less to consider, the physical and psychological stillness within the bicycle/rider system leaves a lot of room for contemplating the scenery, or for mulling over other stuff going on in my life or for just mentally resting, shutting down the brain and just riding on mental autopilot. There are days on the fixed gear where I will just keep spinning and somewhere mid-ride forget where I am. I will cover 20 or 30 miles, on my appointed course, but not remember where I've been or what I've seen, just totally zoned out. Sure, I seem to react appropriately to traffic and road signs, and I don't crash when I'm in this zone, but there's just no conscious thought going on. Those are the best rides. Yet even on the days where I'm mentally busy during the ride, I come back mentally refreshed, even though my legs are probably 50% more tired than they would be had I done the same distance on a geared bike. Thursday's off-training-plan-spin was no exception. My takeaway from Thursday's ride is that if you're getting stale but don't want to walk away from the bike entirely, just plain ride and have fun. Perhaps try to keep it in recovery or an easy zone 2 basebuilding pace so you don't destroy your ability to go hard in the next race or scheduled interval session, but compliment it - but remember to just go have fun. On the MTB, maybe hit Rosaryville for a couple easy laps. Whatever. Just try to remember why it is that you ride, and go enjoy yourself, and you may find yourself refreshed. It may not make you faster at your next race, but you'll probably find it easier to ride up to your potential if you aren't looking at your 'cross bike on Friday evening with a certain level of dread.