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.

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