This was meant to be a 1 hr workout with 30 minutes of ‘big gear’ in zone 3 or so, but I was hungry for a couple of climbs and was pretty amped up about being on my new bike. I followed the first couple of intervals but it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do that for the whole ride; not because I couldn’t hit the zones, but because I was in zone 3 for most of the ride. Slowing down on purpose on a climb isn’t normally in my nature and was even more unthinkable today.
The bike feels very light (because it is) and it’s really motivating to crank it up the hills. There’s a climb right near my house that I have been using as kind of a benchmark of strength progress. In May of this year, it took me about 6 minutes to do the segment. Today, I smashed my most recent PR by 9 seconds, making the climb in just over 4 minutes. That felt really good.
I know that for the long term, I need to learn to slow down — not just in terms of relative speed, but mentally. I’ll never finish a 70.3 riding amped up like this. But on a day when the point is to build strength, it’s pretty fun to hammer. Especially on a shiny new bike.
I don’t quite have enough evidence yet to fully substantiate this with data, but anecdotally I feel like I always have a really good training week after I do a race. This week, for certain, was pretty huge.
I took the day after the race off, then swam for 18 minutes the next day, which was a longer swim time for me at that point. Then the next day I ran 4 miles, much farther than I had been doing on most of my other runs. I hadn’t run that far in about 9 weeks. When I finished, I felt like it wasn’t enough.
The next day I still felt fired up, so I went out to tackle a ride I’d been eyeing for a long time, wondering if I’d actually be able to do it with any measure of performance. It was about 32 miles, and according to Strava included 3 category 4 climbs and one category 3 climb. I was feeling really good about my climbing legs, particularly after the second triathlon, so I decided to give it a go.
The biggest climb came early, starting at about mile 4. I cranked my way up, feeling the heat and sun but not getting beaten down by it. I wasn’t going fast but I wasn’t slowing down, either.
I was grinding it out about a mile from the summit when I realized that I was in my middle ring on the front, despite thinking for a long time at that point that I was in my small ring. That was frustrating. I could have been spinning a lot easier and using a lot less energy for nearly the same speed, had I only been paying attention to my riding. On the other hand, it was also a relief. I had gears I didn’t know I still had, and the rest of the climb was made significantly easier.
The extra effort I put in by grinding the bigger gears ended up taking a lot out of me. When I got to the final set of climbs near the end of the ride, I was pretty pooped. I wasn’t down for the count, though, and finished out the ride feeling pretty good about it overall.
There’s nothing quite like a good climb to teach you some lessons.
It was a day to learn a lesson about mental focus, and also a day to learn about my own capabilities on a climb. I really hadn’t had a lot of confidence I could do the climb at all; as it turned out, I could do it with more effort than was even necessary.
On a gorgeous summer day recently, I joined a group ride for a trek on class-4 roads, rail trails and asphalt, journeying to a local strawberry festival at a farm up in the hills of a nearby town. I rode my MTB for this one.
This was an eventful ride right from the start, and not at all in a good way. On the way out of town, we passed by a house that was situated close to the road. A dog came sprinting out of nowhere, barking at one of our group. Suddenly, from up ahead around a blind corner, a car appeared. The result was a collision that ended in the dog’s death, right in front of us.
The owners were understandably shaken and mortified. A few of our group helped move the dog’s body off the road. I stood up ahead to signal cars while they did that and did their best to console the heartbroken owners. Eventually, we moved on. A couple of our riders returned the next day with flowers.
It took a while to shake that off, but exercise is good for such things. We journeyed onward, putting miles behind us and looking forward.
The pace of the group was pretty slow, overall, with a lot of stops. At one point we hit asphalt and I couldn’t help myself; I had to drop the hammer and stretch out for a bit. One other guy came with me. We burned up a couple of miles and then pulled off to wait for the rest, next to a morbidly appropriate roadside cemetery.
That effort would eventually catch up with me, as the ride finished on a legit Category 4 climb, which I ultimately had very little left in the tank for. I did eventually make it up, but it was brutal.
Luckily there were strawberries, hamburgers and live music waiting for us at the festival. A pleasant end to a tumultuous ride.
Where I live, it’s not easy finding places to ride that are not mountainous. Especially in the early stages of getting myself back in cycling shape, this makes things even more difficult than they already are. I have always liked climbing, but it’s very difficult to do when you’re out of shape, so being surrounded by endless hills becomes another obstacle to getting out on the bike or run in order to do a workout. Because it’s just so hard.
On this day, I found a flat ride. It was one of the first times I really put Strava’s route creator to use, and looked at the elevation on a road that I knew would be comfortable to ride on. I had to drive a few minutes to get there but it was worth it to go out on a ride that didn’t feature an ominous, looming mountain climb for once.
Ultimately, I think climbing is a great training tool because it packs a lot more effort into the same amount of distance, which makes it more efficient. And I’m learning that efficiency is what it’s all about when it comes to triathlon training.