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2010-06-30 10:18 PM
Some other title besides "600K"
Mile 218 can be an awkward location for a sleep stop along a 373-mile brevet because it's near the halfway point, which some randonneurs find too early. They want a 400K, a rest, and then a 200K, not two big old unwieldy back-to-back 300s. But there's also been a counter-argument floating around that says when it's over 90° and high humidity, you want to rest during the hottest part of the day, and a lot of riders will be arriving at that house between noon and sundown.
Me—it doesn't matter to me either way. I don't have a philosophy. I try to avoid them until I have a clue what I'm talking about. 2010 is only my second year riding brevets, and this 600K was the longest one I've attempted. Hubris is only cute in your 20s, when you haven't had the chance to accumulate any knowledge the hard way yet, so you can be forgiven for assuming your metric tons of mental self-conception reflect reality. After all, at that point, they're all you've got.
At 44, I'd rather have a few grams of legitimately earned confidence. It takes a while to earn, but you can't lose it as easily.
Anyway, at the beginning of a brevet this long, you can hand a "drop bag" to a volunteer and it'll be transported ahead of you to the sleep controle. Fresh shorts, replacement batteries, extra tubes, whatever. This being my first experience, I overpacked mine. Better overprepared than overmacho. I'm not sure I need to prove anything in the macho department when I'm riding a bike 373 miles in 40 hours.
One of the things in my drop bag was my rolling pin, which I use to massage my iliotibial band, a fibrous cord that runs from my hip down to my knee and stabilizes my kneecap. It's not a muscle, more sort of a mooring line.
For about an hour before reaching the house, I was mentally rehearsing what I'd do when I got there. I didn't have as much time cushion as I'd intended, partly due to traveling slightly more slowly than I wanted with some guys I met and liked. So I'd need to shower as immediately and quickly as possible, then sleep as long as possible, then grab food on the way out if possible. Shower, sleep, food. In that order. Shower, sleep, food. And get out fast.
Yes, I repeated that to myself for about an hour. It had been 20 hours and 200 miles, and it was HOT. And I've done just enough of these now that I was determined to leverage my core competencies and maximize return on investment. Shower, sleep, food.
I didn't even touch the hot water spigot in the shower. Cold, cold, oh my lovely, lovely nonexistent God, glorious COLD! Force the core temperature down, slather aloe gel where there was previously sunscreen, brush the teeth, insert earplugs, arrange limbs on cot, wonder if I can actually go to—
And in one hour and fifteen minutes, somebody woke me up.
As requested. So my companions and I could be on the road again by 9 P.M.
Ninety minutes is the generally accepted figure for the length of a complete sleep cycle, so randonneurs tend to try to get even multiples of that: Ninety minutes or three hours. I don't know if I'd have fared better if I hadn't truncated those last fifteen minutes, but mentally, I just wasn't there. Lots of fumbling around, trying to figure out what to do with whatever was in my hand. Lots of worrying about holding my companions back. Got the bottles filled, got the HEED mixed, managed to make a turkey sandwich and get it down my throat, slathered insect repellant where there was previously aloe, communicated clearly and with careful enunciation that I would be useless as a navigation collaborator for the next half-hour (five minutes for the tea bags to steep in the water bottle, five more to drink the bottle, twenty for the theophylline to crystallize some spark of my consciousness), and we clipped in and rode into the second night.
Notice I didn't mention the rolling pin in that paragraph.
The knee pain started...well, I don't remember when it started. I just knew what it was, and knew what I shouldn't do in response. Last year when it happened on the 400K, I didn't know what it was and got worried, so I geared down and spun more, thinking that would reduce the load on whatever muscle was hurting. But the IT band isn't a muscle; it's that mooring line. Gearing down and spinning means you're just rubbing it against your lateral femoral epicondyle five times more often and hastening the increase of pain and inflammation. It's the repetitive motion that does it, not the amount of load on the muscles.
My companions hadn't slept, and they needed to spin little gears fast.
Because of my ITB problem, I needed to push big gears slow--and I was ready to make the decision to be in a lot of pain if necessary. This was probably my only shot at a 600K this year.
After considerable discussion of the type extremely sleep-deprived people have (especially polite sleep-deprived people who are trying to be deferential to each other), we agreed to part ways at the next controle, a Wawa market, the only thing open at weird hours in rural New Jersey.
It didn't go that way. By the time I'd had a sandwich, a lot of tea, and I forget what else, and was securing the saddlebag and preparing to clip in, my companions were mounting up after a 20-minute power nap on the concrete walkway at the side of the building. So we left together.
And that controle was now closed, which meant we had no time cushion left.
I didn't know the etiquette. How do you say "I want to go faster than you guys right now?" Don't know. There was a certain mental deficit going, and I'm not always the most socially smooth guy to start with, genetically speaking. But I fumbled together something along the lines of "I'm feeling my legs since that last controle—think I'm going to push ahead harder." Which had the additional benefit of being true.
But just before that, I'd needed to make that decision to push and go and ignore the pain. A couple of things were in my head at that point. (Besides songs.) One was the knowledge that it wasn't a muscle that was hurting, and that no matter how bad it got, I knew how to treat it when I got home. The other was an article I read recently about how the guys who win the Tour de France are the ones who can endure the most suffering.
Uh, yes? you say. And..?
Well, I, um...okay, I hadn't known that. I'd never thought about it. I guess I thought the guy with the best genetics, best training, most determination, maybe a small amount of luck, that guy would be the winner. I knew they pushed themselves to the edge of what human beings can do, but it never occurred to me that they suffer.
So I'll endure. It's an endurance event, after all, and if people do that, I can. I'm a person.
I regained an hour and a half of cushion by the time I got to the next controle—and during that leg of the event, I was doing 17 and 18 miles an hour, consistently, down in the drops and going hard. I regained enough time and got into so good a mood that I started calling good morning to the frogs and birds and taking enjoyable little breaks, stopping along the way to put pictures of the day's unveiling on Twitter.
It's not a race, after all. It's also about enjoying a bike ride.
Around that time, with my mood and energy going and my legs feeling unstoppable, this sentence appeared, clear and complete:
when you're resolved
to ignore pain.
That's you are resolved, not you have resolved.
When I manage to recognize a small, concrete lesson, I try to extend it into the greater metaphor of my life (I pay attention to song lyrics I find myself humming obsessively, too), and this one zinged out in several different directions.
Decisions are hard to make sometimes because we try to fold the avoidance of pain into them. But that's trying to serve two masters, or split your focus, or do too many things at once, or have your cake and eat it too. However you want to say it. I can do the thing, or I can avoid some pain. I can't do both. Not without failing to excel at either.
And if I can excel at one or the other, it should probably be the thing, not the avoidance of pain.
Around that same time is when it started feeling really good. Oh-dark-hundred in the morning, going on 75 minutes of sleep and 300 miles since Thursday night, fog all around, and pretty soon the legs didn't just feel like they'd been unstoppable pistons for an hour; the speedometer confirmed it, and they weren't slowing. The knee hurt, but not as much as if I'd coddled it, the hands were bruised, and the neck ached, but the time cushion was building back up handily and I was going like I was some other guy with some actual athleticism in him.
Imagine if I did a whole event this way.
It's the kind of lesson that rings clearly at four-thirty in the morning, approaching mile 300, and then isn't so audible in bed a few days later with a bowl of ginger snaps and a knee you have to stay off for at least another week.
But I have a good memory for sound.
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