The day started out early at the crack of 9, dripping with anticipation like the sweat that would soon be dripping from my forehead, mixing with sunscreen and accumulated salt and road grime encrusted to my face, dribbling its way down into my eyes and searing them with anger. My eyes, though now burning, had not enough pain receptors firing in them to notice, since every ounce of attention was being diverted to my legs, lungs, and other internal organs that groaned in agony for me to stop pressing on the pedals, for their bursting point was near and they wouldn’t think twice about leaving me lying dead on the road bleeding out my ears, mouth, and ass. My mind refused to obey my organs. The pain I was in was far superior to anal bleeding.
But forget about that for a second and let me get back to the morning and breakfast, which as everyone knows is the most important meal before noon. I turned on the stove, where my pre-cooked pot of oats was waiting where I’d left it the night before. Half cup day. Normally I have a third cup but today was a big day. Half cup day. In I poured 15o calories of coconut milk, a chopped banana, cinnamon, salt, a few precious blueberries that were on sale from Argentina. I wished for walnuts and cranberries but I keep none in the house because they’d cost me a fortune in money and calories. With my measly 640 calorie breakfast, I consumed over a liter of water and a little under a liter of coffee with almond milk. Today was a half cup of oats day and a three mug coffee day. If you’d been watching my breakfast from the window, you’d have known, without me telling you, that the ride was going to be a biggun.
Dressed for a rare warm day, somewhere between 60-and-38 degree, my pockets bulged with goodies and my heart bulged with blood, because if my heart bulged with anything other than blood that would be a serious medical issue that I’d need to check out before riding hard. With me I carried seven, 150-calorie banana breads, individually wrapped in tinfoil. In one water bottle resided a lip-smacking concoction of coconut milk/coffee/white sugar/more white sugar/ and cinnamon for a total of 650 calories. In my bike bag resided three dollars in loose change for a gas station burrito/cappuccino machine combo–the best mid ride bike fuel known to man, assuming you have a strong stomach (the deep fried burrito that is). (Aside from Hammer Nutrition products, which I am currently out of right now and have to rely on other sources of food).
I’d rested the past two days for this ride. No riding on Friday and only a 1.75 hr spin on Saturday. The Shaky ride, as my wise guru coach Sam Johnson calls it, is to be done only once or twice a month: “Come home shaky.” Here’s how they go: 5 to 5.5 hours total with the first 3 hours of high zone 2 or low zone 3. 1x 20-40 minute threshold effort. Then the final hour you attempt to hold the same wattage you held in the first hour. If you do it right, you can’t hold that wattage and you end up coming home shaking with fatigue, or something like that. Or maybe you come home shaking your head in wonder of why you put yourself through something like that when the rest of America is sitting down on a nice soft couch watching a Sunday football game while eating a big bag of chips in a heated house with the curtains drawn, roasting their toes next to a fire, waiting for the pizza delivery guy to ring the doorbell, and getting a back rub from their girlfriend, who for some reason in this fantasy enjoys watching football and giving back rubs to lazy overweight slobs who don’t do anything other than watch TV and eat pizza all day…the American dream.
But the reason you do end up going on a shaky ride instead of that is because when you really think about it, that normal life would suck. It has no pain. And without pain their is no reason to live, because those comfortable times are quickly discarded from a memory that’s intent on recording only the best, worst, hardest, craziest days. The neural pathways created during a day of slothing in front of the TV are weak and will vanish before the show is even over. Conquering pain and creating memories is why I ride. That, and to inflict pain in others. Those two reasons. If this doesn’t make sense to you, just imagine cyclists as those religious fanatics who whip themselves on the back for Christ. It just feels good to suffer for whatever you believe to be a just cause. We’ll leave it at that. Now, onto the suffering!!!
The easy thing about a five or six hour ride is that you don’t really suffer that much at first. If you do, you’re probably not going to make it to five hours. So basically for the first two hours I felt at ease, pumping out a shyte ton of watts. After an hour and a half or riding I’d already covered 40 miles and burned close to 1700 calories. If you remember correctly, I’d only eaten about 650 for breakfast, so at this rate the food I’d brought along would not be enough. An emergency stop at Wendy’s was in order. I picked through my change bag and found the proper amount of shiny circular discs that would warrant me one crispy chicken sandwich (380 calories) and one small coke (filled in my water bottle at 21 ounces and 250 calories). The coke I saved for later. The sandwich I devoured immediately, in pure crispy hydrogenated bliss.
Back on the bike I pumped up the power a bit more in order to make up for the wattage I’d lost during my riding through the city I was currently in, which was somewhere north of Boulder. Though the first three hours of the ride are the easiest, in terms of perceived exertion, they’re the most mentally strenuous for me since those first three hours determine how my ride will go. If I can maintain a good power without killing myself, the last two hours will work out fine and I’ll have a good ride. If the first three hours go poorly, I’m screwed for those last two and I’m doomed to vent and fume over the failed ride for the rest of the week. It’s almost easier for me to do the last two simply because I can say to myself: “Just go all out. Easy as that.” There’s little conservation required at that stage in the ride and even less thinking, other than the mundane thoughts that pass through one’s head while suffering during a workout (these thoughts are actually unknown to humankind because it’s impossible to remember what you were thinking about while you were going hard). The closer you get to the end, the more physically demanding and painful it gets. But at the same time the easier it gets too. When all you have to do is go as hard as you possibly can, your life is pretty simple and pretty easy.
The wind was windy. It slammed against my face and stalled my speed to 13 miles an hour on the flats. I turned a corner and it threw its weight against my side and leaned my bike way over, trying to push me into traffic. I turned another corner and suddenly sped off at 36 miles an hour, soon reaching for gears I didn’t have. But mainly the west wind slammed against my side trying to push me into traffic. The route I took was a big rectangle heading up north, then back south to town where I planned on doing two climbs on Sunshine Road, a steep climb that tops out at 8,000 ft with the last 15 or so minutes of it being a washboard dirt road. It’s my favorite climb in Boulder and I know every turn and every hard section because, although I’ve only been here three months, I’ve done that climb, or at least sections of it, about 40 times.
Three hours in. Average watts are now at 304. Just a warning, I’m going to talk about watts for the rest of the post, so if my un-pro’ness for talking about numbers is to un-pro for you, you’re now warned. As I was saying, today (or yesterday actually) was a good day. I chugged the rest of the bottle of Coke into my unsettled stomach, forcing glycogen preparedness for the hard threshold effort that was soon to come. I made my way through town, cursing the red lights and pedestrians that jumped out in front of me and reduced my average power. I had a goal today. An obsession actually. A power obsession that I’ve had for a long time: 300 watts for five hours. I’ve been close before. Soooo close. I’ve basically done it before, but just a few watts off or a few minutes off. I know I can do it, but just haven’t yet, but I was on track for it today. A ride like this is very hard to have a high average wattage because of the threshold effort, the climbing, and the descending. The descent means you’re at zero watts for a full 16 minutes, the threshold effort, though a high wattage throughout it, means you’ll burn up your energy five times faster than you would if you were just sitting at tempo while doing 300, and the climbing–at least here–means you’ll be going way above 7,000 ft–the altitude where I can see my power take a nose dive. Part of me wanted to turn around and just pump out tempo for another two hours and accomplish my goal once and for all and finally be done with it. But that wasn’t the workout, and the Shaky ride had a purpose that was much sharper than a pure tempo slog. The purpose of the Shaky ride? TO FUCK YOU UP.
I began breathing hard about 11 minutes into the climb. I began wheezing about four minutes later when the road continued steepening past 20%. 18 minutes into the effort and I was averaging 347 watts for the threshold interval, not high at all, but not bad considering the hard riding before hand and the altitude here. I grimaced hard and went into my big ring for the short 30 second descent before the road went upwards again. Suddenly I cracked. I had been good for 19 minutes, then it was all over. I began crouching lower and lower on my bike, jerking my body up and down to try to get some purchase on the pedals. My legs were failing and I tried using the rest of my body to make up for it, frantically lurching to and fro like a Carson Miller (no offense intended, Carson, I’m just trying to paint a picture). I began breathing less and less as the power continued dropping and the glycogen in my legs soon found itself drastically low. Finally, at 42 minutes, I crested the steepest 30% grade dirt switchback and reached the top of the climb and sucked in air raggedly. I was now exactly 4 hours into the ride and sitting at 308 watts. Damn it. Thought I’d be higher after the climb, but I’d blown up early. That was alright though. It was better to go harder for shorter than easier for longer. I drank the rest of my coconut milk and another banana bread, started hacking and coughing like a smoker, and began the cold descent off the patchy-treed mountain, barren in sections due to forest fires. I threw up a little from coughing too much as I descended and let the snot and mucus run all over my face in the wind because I was too tired to care.
At the base of the climb I made a quick U turn in the middle of the road and began heading back up. My legs were barely there. This was going to be a difficult task–getting back up to 300, because after the descent my average was already down to 297. I came upon another cyclist, made up ground on him fast at first, then he must have looked back and seen me because the bastard sped up. My anger swelled and I stood up to catch him. I hate it when people pull this sort of crap and can’t keep the pace up for more than two minutes. If you see me coming and want to have a little race, that’s fine but you better be able to maintain your new speed for more than 300 meters. I got within two bike lengths of him, he looked back at me, stood up and did a half sprint for 20 seconds. Not cool. I decided to quit messing around and pass him. I did it hard and fast, without looking him in the eye or saying a word (that’s what he said?) I was in no mood for these shenanigans. My legs’ furry grew for making me ride harder. I couldn’t slow down now though, since it would look pretty foolish of me to get passed by him after I just cruised by.
Twenty minutes later, the other cyclist long gone by now, I completely blew up. I could stand for only ten seconds at a time, or less, then I’d fall back into my saddle and pull and strain with my entire body to keep going in somewhat of a straight line. As I got closer to the top, time slowed down. I remember thinking I only had 11 minutes to go at one point, and that 11 minutes was not a long time at all. Those 11 minutes must have taken about 17 hours to pass. I hadn’t bonked, but I could not go hard anymore. 280 watts. 273. 260. 240 ALL OUT. If an alien space craft had come down and threatened to blow up the earth if I didn’t increase my watts by 5, there’d have been nothing I could have done. If an investment banker threatened to destroy the economy and send our country and world into a downward spiral so hopelessly deep that we’d never have a chance to see the light of day again if I didn’t increase my wattage by 2, there would have been nothing I could have done because my legs—oh wait that already happened.
I had reached failing point. I almost started zigzagging back and forth across the road once I’d gotten to the dirt section with multiple +20% sections. I refrained somehow. I couldn’t stand for more than four pedal strokes now. I’d plop back into my seat, heavily…defeated. Or maybe I’d defeated the ride. Depends on how you look at it. I wasn’t breathing anymore. There was no need to breath hard during low zone 2. I just grit my teeth and cursed my legs to continue onwards. “Damn ye beasts!! Mush, I say! MUSH!! We must make camp before nightfall for there’s a storm a brewin’ that will take the toes off all but the strongest of ye’! Mush, I say. MUSH!!” My dogs had no bark left in them, only whimpers.
I got to the top, somehow managing to ride up the last 30% switchback at 250 watts without falling over. I wish I had it on video because that was some serious Peterson Grimace Face that got me up it. I ate two more banana breads and began coughing again. My lungs were fried. I put on all my warm clothes for the descent and immediately felt like I’d ridden myself into sickness. If it were possible to ride-induce the flu, I did it. I felt so incredibly achy, nauseous, weak and tired that I began doubting the likelihood that I’d make it to work that evening. But a 5,500 kilojoul ride requires some serious food. And serious food comes from Ras Kassa’s Ethiopian Restaurant, so I hustled down the mountain, did one all out sprint at the base for the hell of it to see what I could do (not much), got home, made a smoothie, showered, ate some oats I’d pre-cooked, and rode to work within 40 minutes of getting home. I got to work 15 minutes late, but at least I got there, which was an accomplishment in itself. The food there was worth slogging through five hours of waiting tables, and I managed to keep my shaky legs from buckling, save for one near fall while carrying a pitcher of water. I slept hard that night.
After the ride. Lookin good, feelin good…