Starting over...again. It's been nearly a year since I've visited my experience on the bike. Last time I blogged, I was playing in the French Alps - my last stop Valloire, where I tested my legs and mind to the limits on the infamous Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier.
Fast forward 11 months and here we are, at the beginning. After shelving my bike for the season last August and with very limited riding preparation for a quick, week long trip to Spain in April, I found myself throwing my leg back over the top tube after yet, another long mid-season break.
There's nothing fun about starting over. Your body knows the pain and suffering but it goes into shock when pushed for the first few times after a lengthy break. Today was no exception, heart rate at the max, lower back screaming and my body looking for an instant shot of glucose during the latter part of the ride. In short, complete and utter torture to reproduce the kind of watts, speed and form I had displayed in France, Italy last August.
Having ridden hard since the age of 12, racing intermittently from 17 onward, I'm no stranger to the emotions and pain that has become synonymous with cycling. I've been thrown around by dogs and cars, I've hit the asphalt at 50km/h during road races and, I've managed to find roots, rocks and trees during mountain bike races. Cycling makes you hard, tough and mentally challenges you to be better, stronger and to never give up. Battling the elements; completing in cyclocross races in November when it's snowing, facing hot temperatures during summer road races and then there's spring training in the bitter cold. Thank you, Canada.
Nearly 25 years later, life throws even more obstacles into the mix. As a teenager, life seemed very simple: go to school, clean and service the bike and ride it as long and far as possible. Fast forward a couple decades and, we are met with increased responsibilities and life pressure; work, kids, time and financial constraints.
Enter modern day technology. We are able to use such training tools as powermetres, heart rate monitors and even lighter, stronger bikes all designed to make us better cyclists. With the proliferation of technology, I find myself using (and relying) less and less, instead favouring the subjectivity of going by 'feel'.
One of the advantages of knowing (and really understanding) your body, your thresholds and the limits that you can play with is that you can train less and get stronger, faster. When I was young, I logged 400-500km a week. This is impossible for most 30 somethings with a day job, instead the focus shifts and becomes quality training rather than quantity. Surprisingly, you can train as few as 12-15 hours a week and still produce quality race results.
Think you never forget how to ride a bike? Well, in theory, you don't. However your body needs a good reminder so it can produce the same quality output as the previous season.
Enter your first hard training ride of the season...
Metabolically, your body goes through a bit of shock, a very rapid adaptation phase where your body's ability to use oxygen accelerates and becomes more efficient, your muscles, tendons and ligaments get stronger and become familiar with the stresses you're placing on them and then there's your mind which re-learns the movement pattern of pedaling in perfect circles as you apply pressure during 360 degrees with each stroke.
Fortunately, I've dialed in a personal recipe for getting back into reasonable shape quickly. After years of starting over, my mind and body has accepted the torturous feeling of training the first 3-4 weeks (after a break) and later celebrates the pleasure of riding effortlessly when I'm fit. After having done something so long, admittedly, I do take my body, my skills and, my time on the bike for granted. I've become confident that my fitness will always come back after a month of consistent hard training. One day, I know my priorities will shift and my ideal weekend won't look like 8-10 hours on the bike, rather a stroll around the city and brunching with friends. Is it possible to have both? Short answer, no. You can't burn the candle at both ends. When you ride at a very high level and you are passionate about being your best, it's very hard to settle for anything less. This is why so many pro riders end up shelving their bikes (for good) when they retire. So until that time comes, I'll continue riding each ride as if it were my last: heart beating out of my chest and tongue hanging out while gasping for oxygen with legs on fire as I pursue that euphoria feeling of being 'fit'-when my bike becomes an extension of me as I dance effortlessly on the pedals.