"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


The Race to Suplesse

"I'm fascinated by the sprinters. They suffer so much during the race just to get to the finish, they hang on for dear life in the climbs, but then in the final kilometers they are transformed and do amazing things. It's not their force, per se, that impresses me, but rather the renaissance they experience. Seeing them suffer throughout the race only to be reborn in the final is something for fascination." -- Miguel Indurain

My very first bike race is this weekend in Milwaukee.

I'm kinda nervous I guess, but more than anything, just anxious to get it out of the way and hope I don't finish last.

I feel like I have been getting outclassed at my team's sprint practices for the last four weeks. Well, maybe I'm being a bit hard on myself. The whole racing thing is very new to me, as I've previously stated. But I do have a ton of base miles logged already due to my daily commuting and my weekend and extra miles - probably about 9 hours a week. Add to that my Certified Personal Training experience and my general fitness level is pretty decent. It's just that cycling training is so damn...well, cycling specific.

What I mean is, your running threshold pace or lifting weights for endurance will only get you so far. Confidence and suplesse (a pretty French word for cycling form that really means a lot more) both figure so much more into the equation.

Trying to build your confidence and hold form on a bike is one thing. It's a completely different experience as you try desperately to hold onto the wheel of a guy 10 years younger who has a maximal heart rate you haven't seen since you were 14 as he accelerates past 25 miles an hour into a head wind. Now, while you're at it, really dig deep: shoot off his hip and try to sprint past, even as your legs begin to feel like lead slugs and the pain moves from dull to a scream and slowly climbs throughout your body.

Such were the 4-man sprint drills in yesterday's final sprint clinic. Riders A, B, C, and D would shoot around the final turn and, at no more than a wheel's length apart, quickly accelerate into a simulated sprint to the finish line. The idea is that A leads everyone into the wind. As he tires, B-man, fresh from A's draft, keeps the train moving and still accelerating, then giving way to C. And so until D-man, continually accelerating in the draft the whole time, is literally slung forward with about 10 seconds to go toward the finish line. Sprinting, balls-out, eye-bulging, teeth gritting. Wide. Fucking. Open.

There is nothing like the final sprint.

A newbie searching for his suplesse in this environment is like trying to catch the fly with chopsticks as Mr. Miyagi waxes on and off, up-down, side to side, in your face.

I realized as I rode home yesterday that I missed really crossing over the threshold into that all out effort. It's very hard, I've heard. Randy, our coach, said before we started that we could expect some vomiting as our bodies adjusted to the chemical imbalances that can come with pushing yourself so hard for the first time. I didn't get that far. I mentally just could not push myself into that realm. The data confirmed it, too. My heart rate only made it 177 at it's highest point that night. Yet, in my fitness-check time trial last month, I did 10 miles in 29 minutes in very windy conditions and maintained a heart rate of 163 the entire time. If that was my threshold, my max should be somewhere around 186. But when I thought about standing up on the pedals at that point in the last sprint, I felt as if I would just veer to the right, and crash into the pavement. My legs were cement.

I have found my suplesse before. I also believe it is the French word for cycling Zen and I have written about it before. From my now-defunct myspace.com blog:

The Zen Ride. Oooooh, the ZEN ride! Let's go for a ride on my thoughts.

I went out looking for a little toughness, following no particular form or path, and ended up finding the perfect circle. A little uncertain at first, I quickly relaxed in the feel of things end felt the stress begin to melt away. Then the low buzz-of quiet self-confidence took over as I noticed the eggshell light of the sun meeting the charcoal rain clouds at the horizon. And as the wind whipped into my face, I saw an abyss and the End of the World.

Millions died right in front of me. I could see them, up on the hills miles away, dying like insects. Like fleas. Unable to escape the paralyzing rain, the pounding winds, and rolling walls of water that came unrelenting. In the end, we could no longer keep it bay. My last memory is of the door, unable to keep the growing wind out, slapping open violently, and blowing out our last match.

Then I saw an angry little red and squeezed gently, slowing well-ahead of the danger, and then rolled around the thoughtless manuveur.

Things came to me much sooner and it was a little like playing chess with myself. And what should've been a painful and aggravating experience was actually kinda like the feeling you get when you find $20 in your pocket. It's easy. You just take something you're really good at and love, and twist it, bend it. Or just hold it in a way you normally wouldn't. Don't think too much...wait...

Now let the bottom fall out.

But you stay exactly where you were. You didn't change. But at the same time your entire composition is different just by that one element being taken away. And with it gone, how can you possibly dwell upon anything else, but whats in front your 6 senses RIGHT NOW.

That was a great ride. It was a casual ride, with a very good friend, in the pouring rain and blinding wind. We were "doping" obviously, but more along the lines of Willy Nelson than Willy Voet. The weather was absolute shit, yet you couldn't have punched the smile off of my face. It was my singular focus on being out and feeling fine that made the weather move beyond inconsequential and into the realm of poetry.

The next step is then to take the lesson learned on singular focus and apply it to every ride (sans Willy, that's the point). To quiet the analytical self - always criticizing and nagging - and focus only on moving like the wind and the water you have learned to love.

That will be my focus on Saturday. My attention to speed and heart rate will be only at the periphery. I will only try to keep up, find a wheel to hang onto, and enjoy every second of the ride. I will ride until I puke.

"There's a feeling that you can get only from racing and finishing - the feeling of pushing yourself beyond what you're capable in training." -- Ned Overend
"Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand." -- Jim Burlant

1 comment:

sophie said...

Good luck at your race this weekend, Brian! Don't be nervous; you'll do fine.