Monday, January 21, 2013

Back at it ...


So far, this winter has been very different than last year, and I don't mean just the weather itself. Last year, we were spoiled in that department with unseasonably high temperatures pretty much all the way through. This year it's been colder, but also wetter. Between the two, I don't mind the cold, but I can't stand the wet. Anyway, that's not what I was referring to. For me, this winter has been light on focused training. I'd like to say it's been heavy on "constant movement" - my typical day involves commuting by bike, a gym workout and lap swimming before work, followed by yoga or mountain bike rides after work - but without the specific training goals from last year, I have to admit that sometimes I feel like I'm unfocused, without discipline. I suppose that's always been the great benefit of racing a full schedule every year - it keeps you locked into the routine of training so you never get complacent or lazy. Your "normal" involves long, hard rides with a specific goal in mind to be ready to go on race day. Without that focus - well, I can only speak for myself, but there is kind of the feeling of being untethered. I can still do a hard workout, but without the goal in mind, it feels more like just a hard workout, which can be a challenge to psyche oneself up for day in and day out. Moreover, it's also hard to think in terms of progress when there isn't something specific to progress to.

This past week, I recovered a bit of "normalcy". Last Sunday, I signed up for the Leesburg Bakers Dozen, a 13 hour race on a farm in west of DC in mid-April.


As endurance races go, some professional advice told me it's not a really tough course (although it can be tough in bad weather.) But thirteen hours on a bike is never easy, and this is the earliest in the season I've ever done that kind of distance. And so just like that, I have a goal to train for. And that feels pretty good.

Maybe it's just this time of year and I'm fighting the inclination to sit on my ass and do nothing, but I know myself well enough to know I don't operate well when I don't do something active. When I was in my first year of grad school, I was working on average 16-18 hours a day on my schoolwork and teaching and had no time at all to exercise. I went that way for the whole first year I was there and almost had a complete mental breakdown by the end of the summer before my second year. Kind of an unhappy time. But I made some changes the second year, found some balance. Well, it seems all I really needed for balance was the catharsis and the stress relief that only came from beating the living shit out myself in the gym on a regular basis. So, since then, I've tried to make it a fairly regular part of my everyday life.

Anyway, most of my workouts are outside anymore, and I prefer it that way. And in the winter time, when sensible thoughts conspire to keep me indoors riding the couch, having a little motivation like 13 hours in the saddle to look forward to can be just the thing I need to keep me honest.

To get 25 miles at Wiss on yesterday's ride, I had to do a few climbs like this one twice.

Yesterday, I got back in the saddle for a long training ride in Philly. I did a ride I call the "Wissahickon-Belmont Double".  It's a ride that links together Wissahickon and the Belmont Plateau in one ride. The way I do it adds up to a little over 50 miles and a whole lot of climbing.

Belmont Trail along Rte 76
Yesterday, the trails were a little soft by the time I got to Belmont, mainly because it was around 35 or so when I started and up over 50 by the time I was done. I hadn't done a ride like that in a while, so I was pretty wiped out when I finished, but all in all it was an awesome day out on the bike, and a good day of training. I was tired, but felt good all day.

As I said a few weeks ago, I've got a few races I won't miss this year, and others I won't be lining up for. The ones that I am really psyched for are spread out across the season for a good reason --  they force me to stay honest when I ride all year. Some rides are just for fun, sure, but others? They're still for training, and with just enough races on the calendar to keep me working, I'll still have to be willing to suffer a few times a week. And honestly, I love that idea. I love the training, even when it sucks. At least I'm always happy when I finish! I've worked out a pretty good ride schedule for the next few months. Some will be ice cold night rides and I'll finish numb and exhausted. Just the way it should be ... Good to be back at it.

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