Now It Begins [published 1/16/10]

A week of Jamaican lassitude behind me, figuratively and probably literally on my behind, I’m on the starting line.  Today begins my 2010 cycling season.  There’s no use in even thinking about the upcoming year until after our January getaway.  Yes, I fought a good rear-guard action between Christmas and New Year’s, and even between New Year’s and our departure.  But now I’m back for good, and determined to lose the “winter weight” as well as regain top-level (for me) conditioning.

“Winter weight” is a basic cold-climate phenomenon, apparently.  We humans are biologically inclined to fatten up a bit before the hardships of winter destroy our physical reserves.  Granted we are no longer living in hovels constructed from the ribs and tusks of mastodons and the skins of furred animals, but we retain the instinct to lay on a bit of extra body fat just in case.  We also exercise less.  It’s a rare athlete who can work up as much intensity and focus for as long a time on machines as he or she can outdoors.  And regardless of that, indoor exercise on gym machines does not do the same job as outdoor work with the same equipment and context as the sport itself requires.

Right now I have about 12-14 pounds of winter weight to lose.  I will ditch about 1/3 of that in the next week—those are the easy pounds, the ones I put on while eating and drinking to glorious excess in the tropical sun.  After that, it’s harder going, but I am going to do it.

The trick is not to do too much too fast.  It’s a matter of a steady, gradual buildup of conditioning, to strengthen the body and not injure it by going too hard too soon.  So consistency is the name of the game.  I will ride outdoors any time I can, and work indoors the rest of the time.  Let’s hope the blizzard of December ’09 is behind us, and we won’t get another crippling storm that will keep me inside for a couple of weeks in a row.

So today I took the Trek out for a modest ride over a familiar route, a total of 23.5 miles to Herndon and back, mostly on the W&OD trail, but also up Hunter Station Road’s big hill and two or three more miles back to the trail.  I had not ridden in eight days, and stiffness and atrophy were settling in.  Air at 50˚ and no wind is like spring compared to 35˚ with wind, so I went along at a steady pace and didn’t try to push it.  No strain and no pain were what I wanted.  Except that I always want to ride as hard as I can on my bike.  I can sense about how much energy I can squander over any one-mile stretch, based on my destination and the elements.  And today I felt surprisingly good—strong, with some stamina.  That stamina waned over the last three miles or so, but I figured it pretty close.  So I did push it (bring on the strain, pain, and gain), and I did test my (somewhat weakened) conditioning.  It’s so easy not to ease up.  Especially when one of my thrills in cycling is (in highly technical terms) going fast.  But now I am ready to bring it up another notch.  Except I think it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so all my work will be on my indoor equipment.  Yet a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and today was my first step of many.

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