Thursday, March 26, 2009

Getting back in shape is hard

Date: March 25
Mileage: 35.2
March mileage: 179.2
Temperature upon departure: 33

Yeah, I'm ultra-busy at work right now and, OK, I still have frostbite on my toes, but I really have to get this bike thing going again. No more sitting at my computer with my foot up. No more sleeping until 9 a.m. If I am going to work myself up to the best biking shape of my life, I am going to have to trim the fat ... in more ways than one.

I was in pretty good bike shape a month ago. OK, I let it slide a little after that January trip to Hawaii, and in February I did a lot more hiking and swimming through waist-deep snow to prepare for the pushathon I was expecting the Iditarod Trail Invitational to be (I was right about the pushathon; I just happened to miss the bulk of the race.) But then came the frostbite, the downtime that followed, the somewhat conservative venture back to activity, and finally, less than a week ago, getting back on the bike.

I've been doing lots of interval sessions on the elliptical trainer at the gym ... good, high-heart-rate stuff. I thought my fitness was at least late-November level. Maybe even December. I actually had an entire morning available to ride before I had to be at work today, so I planned my most ambitious ride since the pseudo-comback ... 25 miles of tempo riding with a five mile, 1,200-foot climb thrown in.

I wrapped up my bad foot in its requisite 16 layers and put the legs into high gear, rolling north. I knew I was in trouble when four miles in, with a strong wind at my back, I already felt like vomiting. I took it down a notch, but still, the pedaling felt hard. Much harder than this same stretch of road felt the 100 or so times I rode it last season. "I'm really not in very good shape," I thought as I sucked down gulps of cold air. And why would I be? It's been four weeks of crutching and limping and 90-minute elliptical spins in a 70-degree gym and chocolate chip cookies (mental health first, I always say.)

It didn't bode well for the rest of my ride, but I made it to North Douglas and turned into the wind. It really was blowing hard. Bummer. Head down, churning, feet toasty warm but hands half-frozen and locked in place (the coming of spring always makes me stop thinking about mittens until it matters), it was time to fix my blank stare on the glowing circle at the end of cave and suffer.

But I had time. I still had time. I can't afford to waste the time I have, so I turned right at Fish Creek Road, and commenced the climb. I was really hoping I was at least still a good climber. I was a good climber in Hawaii. I am not a good climber right now. At least, I wasn't today. Halfway up I had to stop for water. The effort called for something more, something energizing yet mindless, like 90s pop punk. I pulled out my iPod, flipped through the artist list until I found the Suicide Machines. When I was in 12th grade, I would listen to the Suicide Machines while I stayed up all night churning out uninspired drawings so I could fill up my portfolio with the minimum required to earn my AP Art credit. Come to think of it, my life is not so different now.

I mounted my bike again and smiled at the rush of purple noise.

"I tell you that the world's a scary place
And you tell me we're caught up in the same race
Everybody's worried that they'll never get their share
I got left behind cause I wasn't even there."

Thirty seconds later, I was well out of the pain cave, gazing at a sunlit strip of fog stretched over the mountains and singing out loud, "All my dreams were just islands in the sky! All my dreams were just islands in the sky ..."

It was a strange boost out of nowhere. My hands warmed back up. I climbed hard and shot down the hill, spraying snow and slush at 40 mph. I felt much stronger and even rode a bit faster fighting the headwind home than I had felt coasting with it on the way out. I had spent most of the morning believing I was doomed for this coming summer, but the climb reminded me that success in cycling is still, for me at least, mostly a mental battle.

But I still have a lot of work to do.