Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Another long day in the sun

Beat had an "off site" with his Google team this week, and one of his co-workers, Jeff, convinced Beat and Liehann that they should ride to the retreat in Big Sur, a distance of about 120 miles. Liehann, who is still trying to regain fitness after recovering from his broken leg, decided he'd be more comfortable with half the mileage, so I was recruited to ride with the group and then drive Liehann's car back from the meeting point. I'll never turn down an opportunity for a long ride, but I was admittedly not quite feeling it. Saturday's 31-mile run took a lot out of me, more than usual because of the day-long heat exposure. Early in the season, when I'm not yet adapted, long days in the sun seem to suck the life force out of me. Although I finished the Ohlone run feeling energized, by Sunday morning I felt ragged and my lips were raw. Despite my best efforts to apply sunscreen, I had a patchy sunburn; and despite two-plus gallons of water consumed during the run, I had a throbbing headache that had yet to subside after 36 hours. Monday morning brought much of the same, and wondered if I'd even have the 50 miles to Watsonville in my achy quads.

But here's where I draw inspiration from my now-far away experience in the Tour Divide. I had so many mornings when I woke up feeling like I was about to collapse in utter exhaustion, and then I got on my bike and pedaled into a new day. There was always something there, some spark of life, and it's this something that I am forever searching for. That life spark was not readily apparent in this ride, with its 6:30 a.m. start, and the company of Jeff and Beat, who are both so much stronger than me. We began the gradual climb into the Santa Cruz mountains and rolled along the summit ridge as I struggled to keep up and often fell behind. "I'm doing the best I can," I wheezed, but Beat wouldn't accept this excuse. It's a fair assessment, I suppose, because I know it's not my "best." But then again I don't even know where to find my low-end "best." My legs were empty and my head was still throbbing, and I was openly hoping the boys would decide to drop me for good.

But then the earliness of the too-warm morning finally drained away, and we launched into the long descent into Watsonville. With speed tears streaming down my cheeks, I started to remember how fun it is to spend entire days riding bikes. With the addition of Liehann to the group, I thought we'd settle into a friendlier pace. Maybe I could hang on a bit longer. South we went, along the rolling sand dunes of Monterey, with a stiff ocean wind pushing at our sides. It was a strange sensation because the air was still warm but the wind was noticeably cold — like standing in front of an air conditioner on a hot day. We enjoyed lunch at a little sandwich shop on the shoreline and then I talked myself into a jaunt around the peninsula on 17-Mile Drive, reasoning that I've lived in California for two years and I've never even been to Pebble Beach.

Fog moved in as we fought a fierce headwind, and I lagged behind too much to draw any help from the small paceline. We reached Carmel at mile 93. The boys had less than thirty more miles to their destination, but I was becoming concerned about my own timing with sunset — while night itself doesn't bother me, I have little desire to ride on roads after dark. I reluctantly turned around and rode the quartering tailwind at a nearly effortless 25 mph.

By Monterey the tailwind turned back to crosswind again, and my legs finally started to feel strong. It only took a hundred miles.

I finished up in Watsonville with 145 miles behind me — a few more than I anticipated. I've ridden farther in one day on a mountain bike, but this qualifies as my longest road ride yet. And now, a day later, I feel so much better than I did on Sunday. The knots in my quads worked themselves out; and despite fewer hours in the saddle these days, my iron butt seems to have held up and there's no lingering aches or sores. Many applications of spray-on SPF 30 prevented my sunburn from getting worse. And thanks to flat pedals, my feet are as happy as ever. (I should probably address the platforms, because I know they look ridiculous on a carbon road bike. My issue is that I haven't found a pair of bike shoes that don't cause me excruciating toe pain after more than four hours in the saddle. I blame nerve damage from frostbite four years ago, but the truth is this happens on both feet. I like to wear comfy shoes and I like to move my feet around as I ride. The consistent switching between toe and mid-foot helps me ward off knee pain during long rides. And the difference in power transfer falls somewhere between negligible to nonexistent for me. I suspect I'm simply conditioned to riding platforms and don't "pull" on the upstroke regardless of what I'm pedaling.)

But I think the lesson here is, if you feel a bit burnt and sore from a long run, the best course of action is to go for a long ride. Sometimes that spark of life takes a while to light up, but it's wonderful when you discover that it's still there, and has been, all along.