"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


Through a snowy daze, the Devil awaits

First, allow me the obligatory apology for going so long without a really substantive bicycling post. Although, substantive is pretty relative, so even yet, you may remain disappointed...if you even care.

Today was a productive one for staying at home in the snow. Early work done, via telecommuting, a lunch time session on the trainer (my single-leg drills are up to 2'30" on each side now), and I just got back from Target with about $40 worth of Clif Bars for my upcoming riding vacation to Georgia on Thursday. Of course, there was time for play, too:

(dig the line of drool on his chin!)

Winter is quickly running its course and I almost can't believe I'll be starting my first race in six weeks. New Year's Day I was far from confident I'd be ready when the time came. Time to ride in the shadows of the pros along the shaded and damp mountainous routes of the now departed Tour of Georgia. To see how the previous six weeks of training have changed my body, given me strength, improved my mettle to hang with eight others; stronger, lighter, faster guys than I. To hear only my own ragged breathing, to keep pushing though the heavy scent of the wet pines in the February air.

But I am ready. I am much faster than I was at this point last year, and I am able to work much harder as well.

For example, when I first looked at how my training plan was to progress over the coming weeks, I dreaded the tempo workouts. Tempo is high-end endurance pace, the most amount of work you can put out for a sustained period. Any higher, and your body can't intake any more oxygen, and thus starts pulling energy stores from your muscles, which is why they begin to hurt. This is known as your anaerobic threshold.

While actual maximal oxygen uptake is physiologically set almost in stone, training can increase your relative threshold in large amounts, that is, the amount of discomfort you can tolerate during any sustained effort. Not that it means anything to most of you, but my average watts per workout are much increased it seems over last year. Three and four hour rides that at one time would've seen averages of 180 or 190 watts are now coming in at 210 or 220 watts. And my recent tempo workouts, which I have really never done before, have consistently been in the 260-270 watt range at 90 minutes apiece. This is about a 3.18 ratio of watts/kg, if you're keeping track. Not world class by any means, but not bad in February for an hour and half, the whole time just below the edge of pain.

As much as the recent work has contributed to my current fitness, I believe I am finally beginning to see the fruits of my long term commitment to the bike, firmly at this level since mid-2007. Last year I raced more and harder than I ever have and took part in cyclocross for the first time. This sport is cumulative, meaning the hours training over your life count for much more than the hours over the last month. You must be incredibly patient. And while I still gained my customary 15 pounds during November and December, it has quickly come off and dropping further still, not only from the bike, but because of the work I've done in the weight room, as well.

I hired one of the personal trainers at my work's gym to give me lifting programs for December and January, and will do so again once back from Georgia. The initial sessions to show me the workout, as well as subsequently on my own, have been brutal. The other members watch warily as I throw myself around the gym from station to station, drenched in sweat while contorting and hopping about with dumbbells and machines, not stopping for more than 30 seconds over an entire hour. Its been ridiculously hard, but results are results and the final push to the beginning of the racing season will be worth it.

A few of the guys I'll be riding with this weekend train with a coach who adds a lot more intensity much earlier in the year. As such, I expect the initial pace up the climbs to be fast and painful. Mentally it will be hard not to crack early and lose contact. However, I know I have the solid base miles on which to recover, and the added tempo of this winter has given me the confidence to push further and hang on longer. Possibly, I'll just make it through the worst of it and stay with them for a glorious ride to the top.

It will be a great way to top off the winter, and finally stick some knives in my legs. My coach's training philosophy is more old school, adding intensity later in the year after many base miles, and racing into full speed by summer. It is ideal for me this year, as I'd like to avoid the burnout that plagued me after racing so much this past May and June, and to be flying for the championships in August and September.

I've realized that in order to have fun at this sport, you can't think too much, and finally getting the Cat 4 monkey off my back has showed me this. You simply ride lots of miles, and read and watch lots of cycling. Then come Race Day, have fun, and leave as many calories as you can and all your regrets in front of the finish line. Results are relative. Get the most out of them with your preparation.

The view from house where we'll be staying in Lake Burton, GA, just north of the Chattahoochee National Forest:

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