Ahhhhh, Pain, Sweet Pain!

I was at a wedding with our good friend Rob Jensen, of LGBRC, and mentioned to him that I was going to skip the wine so I could be at 100% for my 40-minute maximum-effort workout ride the next day. He, in contrast, went on a beautiful, 75-mile long, medium-paced ride over the hills and out to the coast with fellow club members. He thinks I am crazy for doing hard rides in the off season, because I will be burned out by the time the regular season rolls around.

He has a good point, and I have worried about overtraining. Last fall I was doing the exact same type of rides Rob is now doing, for that very reason, but my training for the 2008 season is quite different. My friend Mark Edwards, the unofficial coach of Team Bicycle Trip and a USCF-certified coach, has some newer training concepts for us to follow. Rather than lose the fitness we worked so hard to achieve for the 2007 season by taking time off, riding slow, cross-training etc., he advises us to continue to build our fitness year-round for longer efforts; the kind of fitness that can take years to build up. He's not alone in advocating this; many experts now recommend this approach.

The 2x20-minute intervals I rode up Page Mill Road last week, and the 19:50-minute TT up Old La Honda before that, were the beginning of this new training for me. I think I will probably just do one 40-minute interval instead of 2x20's because I always feel sluggish after the break, and the effort level seems to be the same for any interval longer than about 8 minutes, I feel. I stopped doing the 6x4-minute hill repeats I did during the regular season. Instead I will do these long intervals twice a week during the fall and winter, and perhaps once a week during the regular season. As the regular season approaches I will add the shorter intervals back in. I still need to work out the details with Mark.

Yesterday I fitted that 40-minute interval into a nearly 3-hour ride up HWY1 to Davenport and up to the top of Swanton Road... it was awesome! I first rode through town at an easy pace and up HWY1. Then, at Wilder Ranch, I went as hard as I knew could manage for the duration of the interval. The constant headwind promised to crush my soul, even as it provided the perfect resistance needed to bring out my maximum effort. Yes, I first had to suffer through the burning legs and gasping breath, convinced Rob was right and there was no way I'd be able to ride like this year-round without getting to hate cycling. But I persevered, and when I reached the top of the hill on Swanton Road with its gorgeous view of the ocean, some 40 minutes after I started my interval, I quickly forgot all about that and revelled in the sense of accomplishment I felt. On the long return trip I even had that tailwind to push me along and make me feel strong. Since I added the hard part of the ride into the beginning of a longer ride, I was able to ride all-out at first, then use the return trip as a gentle, pleasant, zen-like, calorie-burning weight-control ride. What a perfect workout!

I also learned how important it is to be well-rested for these types of workouts. You can hardly pick up a training book without it telling you to eat and rest adequately, but it takes time to appreciate how hard that is to fully practice, and how beneficial it is when you actually manage it. I always thought I followed that advice, but I now realize that I didn't practice it to the full extent. Because I ride so many "junk miles" I find it very hard to be fully rested, no matter how slow I ride on the easy days. By the time I do my hard workout rides I'm usually too low on glycogen (muscle energy) to give it the effort it demands. I end up either cutting the session short or riding slower. That's not the way to get faster!

For this particular workout ride, I had two days off of my bike, plus two pigout dinners, so I was pretty close to 100%. I also made sure to fill both of my water bottles with energy drink, which I rarely did in the past. Just because I don't bonk on a hard ride doesn't mean I'm operating at 100%, so it's important to refuel during a hard ride like this instead of trying to use energy depletion for weight control. Another lesson I'm learning.

When the cold, gloomy days of winter overwhelm me and threaten to derail my training plan, I will try to remember how good I felt on this ride and let that inspire me... and remind myself how to stay focused.