I love my bike. It is a 2002 Lemond Victoire. Here’s a pic:
(Actually this is a pic from fordphoto.blogspot.com so technically, it is not ‘my’ Victoire. Cut me some slack on my pic skills.)
A friend of mine who races bikes a lot (he is a cat. 1 racer in Iowa) once told me that if you want to become a stronger biker, you need to ride on the windiest days, the coldest days, the rainiest days. Well, in Iowa, there are plenty of these sorts of days. Friday, April 24th, 2009 was one of them. The wind was straight from the south at 25-30 mph. But it was also the warmest day of the year: 85 degrees. From my house on the east side of Iowa City I have a great deal of fine farm roads to the south. So, I went out for a small spin, my usual one-hour-plus ride from Sycamore Street to Route 22. My usual out-and-back. It’s exactly 22 miles from my house to the stop sign and back. By the way, I do not race any more and I was never a cat. 1 racer—which is just below professional. But sometimes I get to ride with people who are cat. 1 racers—until I get dropped and have to ride home alone, broken, beaten, and just a little satisfied.
Right now my fitness is way off; teaching two brand new courses is hammering me. As of this week I’ve read, prepped, and taught 18 novels. More about that later. But right now, I’m on my bike trying to keep the rubber side down, the flesh side up, and enjoy life… and try not to fall as the gusts of wind smack me around.
Once out on Sand Road, I spot some bikers with their heads down, grinding into the wind a hundred meters behind me. Two people are on hybrids and one guy, well behind them, is on a time trial rig—probably a triathlete. I love company, so I go slow and see if anybody catches me. After a few minutes, the triathlete catches me and I stay with him as we trudge along at about 17 mph. This is a painful 17 by the way. I come alongside him and ask if I can hang with him. He says yes and we scream at each other in the wind:
“Where you going?”
“To 22 and back.”
“Wonderful isn’t it?”
Bikers are a humorous lot. We wear very strange athletic equipment regardless of body type, we go too fast on dangerous roads, we always look like we are in pain. But we also love the glory of going fast on tiny machines. I guess triathletes are also into this sort of fun, but they know how to swim—which is not fun at all. Anyway, we are going slow, but I am at my limit because (1) I am talking too much and this takes away from breathing (2) my new friend Tim is very strong and is going a little bit faster that I can really go. Tim is training for an Ironman so that he can qualify for Kona. That’s crazy, but hey, I love crazy events. I tell him about the Birkebiener and he thinks that’s crazy.
We reach 22 and turn around. Our average up this point is about 15 mph. Heading north, we are going around 27. Nice. Except that this speed–going faster than 20–makes (or rather forces) us to go faster, like we are seeking revenge on the wind. This effort to take revenge on the wind is hard to understand for non-bikers I’ve heard. We start exchanging pulls. I can barely hang on. I consider that I have nothing to prove, and that Tim is indeed really training for a real event. I also consider that this is the most pain I’ve been in since mid-February. But this is the way to increase fitness right?
Another friend of mine, Brian, has some good ideas about how fitness works. He says that fitness is always increasing or decreasing. It is a myth to think that you can “maintain” fitness. This is probably true, but it is also very depressing. During a ride (or run, or workout) you are increasing; and during the essential recovery period you are increasing fitness; then there is a tricky period between productive recovery and being a sloth when you start losing fitness. I find myself always taking measurements on my fitness (today is Sunday, so I’m at negative one. If I ride today, I’ll be at plus one. At some point this morning I passed through zero).
Tim pushed me harder that I could have every pushed myself, and so I thank him for that. He has his own blog: http://www.triathlontim.blogspot.com/. Once I got home I was happy to see my average was a bit over 18mph for the total ride. Not bad. Why is this speed important? It is not. But I have to compare myself to myself because we are comparing machines—humans that is.
The problem is that I “over rode” –a funny double-entendre that connects road with rode and soreness. When I ride too hard, I feel an uncomfortable type of pain. Yes, I know that I am probably dehydrated and that I need to cool down, stretch, etc. But I like this soreness because it is like a receipt for the workout. I hold onto the receipt for about a day, then I forget. We cannot remember pain. But we can remember the event that contains the pain, like two cupped hands holding water that is slowly trickling out. Pain is the sound of the poetic rhyme and the event becomes the words and meaning and stanza.
Today is the Iowa City Criterium. Check it out at: http://www.oldcapcrit.com/ I raced this race two times. I fell off the back and got lapped and then the officials pulled me from the race. It is the sweetest, hardest, most devilish race in these parts. Someday I want to finish it. Certainly not today, but someday I will enter it. And I can’t wait to count my receipts and look at my fitness numbers…’cause we are all crazy in some way.
Peace and Bike Chain Grease.