Sunday, February 5, 2012

Perfectly Awful ...

Not every ride ends in a smile

As cyclists, most of us subscribe to the axiom "a day with a ride is a good day." That doesn't mean every day needs to include a ride, but, generally speaking, we're happier when we get the chance to do what we love.

But that doesn't mean every ride turns out to be that ideal day in the saddle we'd like to imagine they'll all be. Bikes can break down. Legs can feel heavy. Weather or course conditions can really suck sometimes. Sometimes, these kind of days can really kill any fun that comes out of riding and when that happens, a lot of riders will wisely choose to cut it short and head home before the experience poisons the whole idea of riding. Who knows how many potential cyclists have been cut down when an early bad experience killed the fun of riding altogether? Indeed, the idea of riding in adverse conditions -- whether it's because of weather or an uncooperative body, or whatever -- can really put a damper on the joy of riding a bike, and that's true whether you prefer to ride on the road, on the trail, or anywhere in between. And it's times like these when it can be really easy to start thinking about putting the bike on a hook in the garage and going to the movies instead.

However, for those of us who like to race or otherwise feel something compelling us to become better at this thing called cycling, sometimes that's just not an option. Sometimes, days when things just aren't clicking for whatever reason are just days we have to dig a little deeper to find the motivation to keep moving ahead. These are what I'd call "training days."

Training days are days when something steps up and turns a potentially great day of riding into a Sisyphean struggle, and yet we don't stop because our ride that day isn't about enjoying idyllic flow, or effortlessly spinning perfect circles. It's about preparing - getting better, faster, stronger. All of the above. And so we don't stop when it's easier to stop. We keep riding. Or we ride anyway. Does this ride make us stronger or faster? Maybe not. But a whole bunch of them strung together will. And just like a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, we believe that taking a day off in the middle of our training because the conditions aren't ideal puts all those other training days in jeopardy. And besides, if you happen to race, lots of times that race is going to happen in less than ideal circumstances, and knowing you can go anyway because you've done it again and again and again when there wasn't a finish line at the end of the day is reason enough to train in the worst circumstances. And anyone who's ever lined up in a driving rain or a snowstorm or on a course covered in peanut butter mud knows exactly what I mean.

Today was a training day for me.

Some of the greasy mess that made today perfectly awful ...

I planned all week to go out for some big miles today. I have a few longer races earlier int he calendar this year and I wanted to be sure I took advantage of the unseasonably warmer winter we've been enjoying and get out for a good long training ride in my favorite big mile location, Blue Marsh Lake in Bernville. Because of a loaner wheel I got from a friend, I was able to ride my singlespeed as of Thursday night, so things were looking good for some solid training today. I love riding at Blue Marsh, too, and since it hasn't rained in quite a few days here, it was setting up to be a perfect day. The plan was to go for two full laps - about 60 miles.

But five minutes after I started, I knew I'd be dealing with a training day. The problem was that I forgot to account for the fact that, since it's quite a bit further north than Lansdale, Blue Marsh tends to freeze over night, which means when the temperatures are in the 40's during the day, the top layer of mud thaws and the whole place turns into a giant Slip 'n Slide. It was almost impossible to get traction, and the mud kept packing up into my tires and drivetrain, so even when I could get out of the muck, my wheels were carrying the slip with them.

I'd love to say that I just grit my teeth and fought through and finished the day with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. But that's not how training days are. I did stick it out for over 40 miles (I didn't have the daylight for a 60 mile day given the pace I was able to keep in the mud), but the only overwhelming sense I cam away with today was an overwhelming sense of relief that I could finally go home. It was truly awful to be riding in that crap today, and even now knowing what it did to my bike just makes me shake my head.

My bike may never forgive me for today ...

There was no enjoyment in sliding all over that crap today. And that's what ultimately turned it into a training day -- I finished the 29 1/2 mile lap in about 3 hours and 30 minutes. And while it would have been easy to turn around after just one mile and bagged the whole day before it really got as bad as I knew it would, it would have been even easier to stop after that first lap. And I wanted to. But I knew that if I kept going, at least a little bit further, then maybe ... well, anyway, I decided to go back out.

And the last 13 miles were possibly the worst of the day. It was a horrible, greasy mess -- even worse than it had been early in the first lap. But I rode it out and finished covered in mud with my bottom bracket squeaking like crazy. It was a yeomen's effort start to finish and I will never look at today's ride as a good time. But it was a training day, and maybe, just maybe, it'll lead to better days later on.

Because for all of us who ride to get better, not every ride needs to be perfect. Sometimes it's okay if they're perfectly awful.

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