The weather this week has been downright Californian on occasion, a great inducement to my working back into shape. it’s interesting how elusive “shape” is on many levels, but how precisely the cyclist can sense the exact degree of its presence on the bike. Today for the first time, for example, I started out without my lungs initially reacting to the sudden extra effort they were making by eliciting a few involuntary coughs. They felt really “normal” again. For my legs, however, not entirely so. After I speed downhill and hang a left at the bottom of the street, i have to climb a gentle hill up to the right-of-way onto the W&OD Trail. The grade’s just enough to challenge me to (a) be in the right gear and (b) to ride without my yet-unadjusted system straining just a bit on the uphill. My legs were emphatically telling me they’d had quite a workout doing home maintenance yesterday and weren’t quite over it yet.
Once rolling, however, they perked up a little, and I went all the way out to Sterling and back, a ride of just about 30 miles. I noted with some dismay that that’s the longest I have ridden since April, thanks to my trips, the weather, and my illness. Along the way today I was able to ratchet up my riding a small notch or two, powering over a few rises, committing extra energy to gain momentum, doing all those little things that you can do when you’ve got some reserve energy and power. The return to that level is part of what “shape” means; the rider can do more than just move along at a moderate pace. “What’s wrong with a moderate pace?” you might ask. Nothing, except that I think the rider who settles for that level is not asking as much as he or she could from the body, not challenging his or her system to get to its best level. The trick is not to overdo it, to be a cautious optimist about the capacity of one’s body, and push it gradually without ever breaking it down by overdoing it through too much exertion, too little nutrition and/or liquid, and/or unwise decisions about one’s limits. The advice to cyclists of advanced years about caution is valid: when in doubt don’t do the extra 6 miles, the extra time in hot, humid weather, etc. But I’d add: be honest about your doubt threshold, don’t sell yourself short. It takes a patient, objective ear to listen wisely to what your body is saying.
My mind was screaming “onward” today, a la Tom Simpson. And Tom wasn’t listening very well on Mont Ventoux on July 13, 1967. So I listened to the body instead, and did not go past Sterling to Ashburn, a measly 3½ miles farther on. Contrary to my own initial sensation, and the official wind-direction report I observed later, I had been getting the benefits of a weak quartering tailwind most of the way out. So I had to battle a weak quartering headwind going home. About 3½ miles (that distance again!) out my legs really began to feel dead on the grinding false flat across the marshes and fields from Hunter Mill Road into Vienna. Just didn’t have much push there at all. Inexplicably they recovered on the climb over the little rise between Vienna and Academy Street (perhaps because that stretch is sheltered a bit from the south wind, perhaps just because my body had a little left to give). But the changes were very discernible.
An interesting and successful ride. I have a way to go to be “full gas,” but I’m better than I’ve been since early May. And my weight is the lowest of the season, almost where I want it to be.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.