Lately, temperatures here have varied from 24 in the a.m. to 65 in the p.m. (that’s fahrenheit to you foreigners), and I’ve been swamped. I recently took a position in my church working with older teenage guys—a pursuit that is both fun and difficult. To top it off, the wife is playing in the local symphony orchestra. Oh, and there’s a full-time job on top of that.
So, for whatever reason, I haven’t had a lot of spare time lately. Until yesterday. We finally got our magazine cranked out for the month, which meant I suddenly had some spare time on my hands. I left work at 3:30—something I haven’t done in a long time.
When I got home, I quickly talked my wife into letting me spend some time on the bike (about 90 minutes to be precise). I recently figured out my position with the aero bars, so riding the bike just got a lot more fun. I decided to ride to a teeny tiny dairy farmer town that is 15 miles away from home and then turn around and ride home. My plan was to keep moving the whole time—no coasting—so I left my speedometer behind and rode with only a heart rate monitor.
On the way out, it seemed like I had a headwind, but I felt so good. That should’ve been a sign. You don’t feel good riding into headwinds. At the same time, I had no idea what my pace was because, like I said, I left the bike computer at home. It was fun, though, winding my way through those empty country roads, the foothills in the distance and only a little bit of traffic on the way. I got to the town in about 40 minutes and felt incredibly fresh.
Then I turned around.
Don’t ask why I’m even bothering to write about this. Truth is, this exact same scenario has happened to me a million times—I’m riding along thinking I have a headwind only to discover that it was really a tailwind and I just didn’t realize it. That’s precisely what happened yesterday. While I’d felt zippy and vibrant on the way to Ririe, I suddenly felt as though I was crawling on the way back. Still, though, it’s these headwind moments that I live for. That’s where the strength comes from.
I didn’t know for certain how I was going, but I was having a hard time keeping my heart rate in the target zone. The wind seemed to swallow me up and press me and my bike against the pavement beneath me. I found myself constantly shifting out of and into my power position on the saddle.
In 2007, when I really had my first breakout year on the bike, I could munch through a 90-minute ride like it was angel food cake, but this year I’ve specifically noticed my endurance waning. No wonder since I haven’t managed to do more than an hour ride in months. Sure enough, by the time the 60-minute mark rolled by, my legs were feeling it. I could sense there’s still something wrong about one of my cleat positions (I believe it’s the left one), and that was starting to really grate on my nerves. I was convinced by my times as I passed the landmarks that I’d never make it home by the 90-minute mark.
Then I rode right into a blessing in disguise. I have to cross one major highway twice on this particular ride, and as I approached it on the way back, I discovered that traffic was at a standstill. I pulled up next to the car at the intersection and waited as the minutes ticked by. All in all, it was probably just one minute, but it felt like forever. Whatever the amount, it was long enough for my legs to regain a little strength. By the time I crossed the highway I was motoring again—still in my target heart rate—with only 2.5 or 3 miles left.
The last mile before home is a tree-lined corridor of smooth, flat road. I don’t know if my speed actually increased, but I felt smoother through there. And, sure enough, as I got to the stop sign that marks the end of my timed ride, my clock read just over 91 minutes. For all I know, I might’ve made it by 90 minutes had I not run into traffic. Still, if I’d made it back before 90 minutes, I probably would’ve forced myself to ride another half mile just to make the time.
I got off my bike feeling tight, tired, and maybe a little defeated. Fitness doesn’t stick around when you don’t use it—particular not endurance fitness. I’m thinking I need to squeeze in a few more 90-minute rides in the future. I rarely do a race that lasts 90 minutes, but I’ve learned that if I don’t have the 90-minute fitness mark, I don’t have the endurance to keep my speed up for the 25-, 45-, or even 60-minute races. Hey, but at least I know where I’m lacking and what I need to do about it, right?