Saturday, April 05, 2008

Training vicariously

Date: April 4 and 5
Mileage: 46.2 and 41
April mileage: 147.3
Temperature: 42 and 45

Just about every time I go out riding these days, I imagine what life will be like for Geoff during the Great Divide Race. Sometimes I feel jealous. But most of the time, I just feel a pained, pre-emptive sort of empathy.

I think a lot of casual fans imagine the challenge of the Great Divide Race is its length. And it is long - 2,500 miles long. But I think the most important route statistic, the one that is overlooked all too often, is the sheer amount of climbing - more than 200,000 feet along the way. And if you have a goal to ride this route in say, 24 days, you are going to be spending a lot of time in your granny gear slumped over your handlebars. 100 miles per day on a mountain bike? That sounds tough. 10,000 feet of climbing per day? That sounds like something that already has been outlawed in most developed nations.

So I think about the sheer audacity of the Great Divide Race and smirk when I set out on a training day like Friday - hill intervals. My goal was not to ride intervals up the hill but to ride the entire hill as an interval, then bomb down it, then up again. Since the "hill" is five miles long and gains about 1,200 feet, I didn't expect to just sprint the whole way up it. But my first run felt strong; I kept a good average up the steep stretches and didn't let up on the more gradual portions. I was a spin master, conqueror of hills.

I swallowed a lot of goo and gravel running 40 mph downhill without a front fender over my fat mountain bike tires, but I made the U-turn feeling awesome and thinking "this hill thing isn't so hard after all." Then, about halfway up the second climb, I started to unravel. I began to feel ill from all the acid gushing through my legs. I started hallucinating big sparkly snowflakes near the top, though I'm not sure it was even raining. I made the run back down and returned for a third and final climb, locked into the small ring before the end of the first mile, my quads transformed into tenderized meat mash by the top. I felt cooked, toasted ... which is good. It's what I was going for. But when I looked at my GPS for the day's totals, it told me I had climbed 4,183 feet. And all I could think about was multiplying that by 50.

Today Geoff logged his weekly "tempo run" by racing a 10K out in the Valley. He briefly urged me to sign up for the race and I briefly considered it. After all, I'm in ideal shape to go out and ride eight-hour days whenever I want - why not go out and pound out some easy nine-minute miles? But then I thought more about pounding my legs on pavement for six miles, and the fact that I haven't done any running, at all, since like ... well, let's just say I don't run much. I did a 45-minute 8K about two years ago and it completely wrecked me. All that impact left me sore and limping for two days. Not to mention what running does to my knees. It made me think about something I read in an article about the CrossFit trend. It made the point that in the modern world, people become so specialized in their fitness that nearly everyone, even the most "in shape" among us, is in actuality "unfit." All of the evolutionary skills our bodies are set up to master become lost as we cultivate useless pastimes and untested muscles. I need little machines to work my body? I can't run a 10K to save my life? If these were cavemen times, I would be the first to be eaten by a saber-toothed bear. Or so the CrossFit cult tells me.

Anyway, I did ride my bicycle out to the race to act as a roving spectator, and I had a lot of fun. I pedaled along the course and took pictures of Geoff and shouted encouragement to other racers and friends. I pedaled back to the finish line and watched Geoff finish in second place. As he cooled down, I returned for one final run to the turnaround. I passed the last runner, who was being shadowed by a couple of race sweeps on bicycles. I shot her my biggest grin and a thumbs up. "You're doing awesome," I said. She just lowered her eyes and shook her head. I got the feeling that she was burrowed deep in her pain cave, and didn't want some random chick on a bicycle shining any artificial light through her tunnel. I started to worry that I hadn't sounded genuine in my encouragement. It's tough to be in last place, especially when you have race sweeps hanging right off your rear. I wished there was a way I could turn around and tell her how much I admired her. I wanted to say "Look at you! You're running 10 kilometers and you're succeeding, which is a lot more than I lined up for this morning." But of course I didn't do that. I left her alone on my final pass. But I cheered really loud when she reached the finish line.

It inspired me to think about taking up running.

But first I need to master my distance climbing.