Friday, December 25, 2009

Some successful rides, and one really unsuccessful one

Since I began this blog with the inaugural posting more than four weeks ago, I have done a fair amount of riding. I successfully completed a good (but cold!) ten-hour ride that started in the snow in Varnell, GA, and finished in the dark in Atlanta. It totaled about 165 miles. I've also done a few other solid rides of over 100 miles, including riding from my home to my in-laws' house a couple of days ago. I'll repeat this ride--in reverse--tomorrow when I return home.

In the process, I've learned a few important things. For example, I probably need a new saddle. For another, more important example, I tend to avoid eating and drinking whenever I am (1) in traffic; and/or (2) feeling particularly good or bad. I have to force myself to eat and drink while riding anyway, but during these times, I need to be especially vigilant.

My most instructive ride of late was hardly a ride at all. Rather, it was a failed attempt to do a twelve-hour training ride this past Monday. In the two weeks previous to this week--the two weeks between my successful ten-hour ride on 12/5 and the twelve-hour ride scheduled for 12/21--I've struggled to ride my bike. In the first week, I was consumed by work responsibilities. I should have made time to ride, but I got up before 5:00 a.m. literally every day, and I got home well after dark each night. The second week, my bike was in the shop--first for a new chain, then for a new front derailleur and front chainring when it refused to shift. Thus, in the sixteen days between 12/5 and 12/21, I only rode four times. Three of those four were easy Zone 1 rides, and only one of them (a 90-miler with a lot of climbing) was more than a couple of hours. In short, I hadn't done the necessary work to progress from a ten-hour ride to a twelve-hour ride in my training. Yet, on Monday morning, I set out to ride as far as I've ever ridden.

It was a gigantic mistake, which I realized fairly early. In addition to being very, very cold, I could tell that my fitness--both mental and physical--had slipped in the two off-weeks. Within an hour, I was questioning the entire ultracycling endeavor. By the time I got home--three ugly hours after I started--I was convinced that I was going to pull out of the 500-miler and I was going to focus solely on doing the twelve-hour race in Sebring. My wife, fortunately, told me that I could not make such a decision right then. (She was right.) Rather, we chalked up the twelve-hour debacle as learning experience, went on a shopping trip for some more warm cycling clothes, and enjoyed spending time together on a day when we had expected to be apart.

We also spent a lot of time talking about what went wrong and why I had such a catastrophic meltdown. It was very unsettling for me; I am normally the guy who holds it together when others fall apart (which is one of the reasons that I decided that I might be a good ultracyclist in the first place). There were two big things I learned. First, I learned that it is better to be smart than proud in my training. I had no business getting on the bike for more than a few hours on Monday. I worried, though, that telling my coach that I was not really prepared to do a twelve-hour ride was tantamount to quitting, and I didn't want to be a quitter. My self-concept involves being a hard-working, mentally tough, holy-crap-did-he-really-do-that type of athlete. It's not that I don't train smart or that I'm "old-school" (well, maybe a little bit), but more that as an athlete, I carry a mindset that feeds on extremism. Among other things, this means that I have a certain brand of blind stubbornness that defies my otherwise thoughtful approach to life. I believe that it's important for me to continue to consider the causes and effects of this way of thinking; it could get me in trouble if I'm not careful. (But how do I square that with my desire to push beyond my limits and accomplish more than I thought I could??)

Second, I learned that I'm not mentally inclined toward long solo training rides. Recently, I watched a movie documenting the fifty marathons that Dean Karnazies ran in fifty days in fifty states. It was interesting. When the feat was done, he actually packed a bunch of supplies into a baby stroller and ran halfway across the country, logging upwards of 50 miles a day. In other words, his recovery from doing a marathon every day for almost two months was to do almost two weeks of ultrarunning. For him, though, it was a psychological necessity. Dean, it seems, is quite an introvert, and having spent eight weeks on the road--constantly surrounded by people, holding press conferences, making speeches, and being filmed--was more than his mind could take. He had to spend some alone time. His propensity for introversion--his ability to derive great satisfaction solely from within--is one of the main reasons he has become a successful ultrarunner. I am the opposite. I am an extrovert. I leave big crowds feeling energized, not drained, and after several hours solo on the bike, I find myself wanting for company. This isn't a dealbreaker,but it is something that I need to address. It is also something that I'll continue to ponder.

I have also learned other small things that are just as important. My shoe covers kinda suck at keeping my feet warm. I need to cover the sides of my face when it's below 35 degrees. I have to take a more active role in my own training. (While my coach is great, I need to be a bit more assertive in what I can do and what I want to do.) I should update my blog more than once a month.

I've rallied this week, having done about 60 miles on Tuesday after Monday's horrific 45. I did 115 to get here on Wednesday, and I'll do another 115 to get home tomorrow. I did an easy 39 yesterday, and I took today, Christmas day, off. I'll miss training on Sunday because my wife and I will be driving to Texas, but in the end, I'll have almost 360 miles for the week--a new personal record. I'm going to ride some while on vacation in Austin, and then try the twelve-hour ride again on Monday, 1/4. I have a feeling that things will go much better that day. I'll be sure to write about it.

Friday, November 27, 2009


This is the first entry in my blog, "The Most Pleasant Exhaustion." Its name is based on a quotation from the great Czech runner Emil Zatopek, after he won the Helsinki Olympic Marathon: "I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me. But it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known." Although I'll never win a gold medal (or four, like Zatopek did), I believe that I understand his sentiment. I have spent much of my life in search of this "most pleasant exhaustion," and I have, at times, felt it.

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my efforts to become an ultra-cyclist. In February, eleven weeks from tomorrow, I'll be competing in my first ultra race, the Sebring 24-Hour. It is a step toward my major goal of the spring, the Heart of the South 500 in early April.

This is not to say, though, that I have not yet begun. Rather, I'm a former runner who began cycling seriously about two years ago. I did several races, but after a rather severe injury in March, I decided that aggressive pack racing was not for me. Because I am someone who likes training and being fit, and because I need a goal to focus my efforts, and because I have an endlessly supportive wife, I decided to give ultra-cycling a try. I trained for a double century in October and completed it successfully in 11:08. Only a flat tire in the last fifty miles kept me from my goal of sub-11:00, even though I flew through the second century. I decided then that I should give ultra-cycling races a try. Since October, I have completed several long rides, including 118 miles two weeks ago and 150 miles last weekend. This is a down week, but I'll be doing a ride of roughly 170 miles next Saturday.

I had once considered being an ultra-runner, but repeated stress injuries always interrupted my training. I tend to perform better as the distances grow longer. Thus, I feel as if I can be competitive at the ultra distances, provided that I can do the training. I'm hoping that this blog will be one of many things that will keep me on track. Further, I am hoping that can use this space to record all that I learn along the way. I expect that there is much I will discover.