Thursday, September 26, 2013

Back in the saddle again

I watched Leah disappear up the Bobcat Trail on another cross-training interval and felt my own spike of determination. "Okay, legs, we can do this!" Middle ring, head down, brow furrowed, mash mash mash. Within seconds every muscle fiber in my legs seemed to be quivering, as though they'd never pedaled a bike before. Lactic acid flushed in and I stood out of the saddle, spinning chunks of gravel into the air. Big effort. No results. Leah floated up the hill and I floundered like a beached walrus. "Remember how I was complaining in August about losing my top end fitness?" I'd told her earlier. "Well, I'm pretty sure I don't even have a middle ring right now."

I still tried to ride hard. Being out of shape is not so bad, especially if you are riding bikes. It was just over a week ago that I ended a long mountain biking drought, and ever since it's been like being a new cyclist again — slow, awkward, and having the time of my life. After a three-hour ride in the Marin Headlands chasing my cyclocross-racing friend Leah and her big-ring fitness, my legs are as sore as if I'd run a 50K, but the smile on my face is sincere. I missed bikes.

For our evening San Francisco/Marin outing, I took my old Surly Karate Monkey out for her first dirt spin in many months. I've felt guilt that my trusty Tour Divide bike now does little more than languish on the porch, but I've been reluctant to get rid of her. My sister mentioned she was interested in getting a bike, and I offered to bring "Kim" out to live with her in Utah — that way she's is still in the family, and if Lisa ever wants to get rid of the bike, I'll just take her back. I just can't part with this bike. Wednesday's ride was a reminder why. While Kim has been through a number of makeovers since she was first built in early 2008, Beat has reclaimed some of her newer parts to build up newer bikes. In his latest effort to bring her back to functioning order, Beat re-installed many of her original parts — the ancient Reba fork that I purchased used and that has been rebuilt three times, the well-used Shimano XT and XTR derailleurs, the good ol' BB7 mechanical disc brakes, the classic WTB Nanoraptor tires that I'm pretty sure you can sell as a collector's item in some circles these days, and that 29-inch wheel set that I purchased before I knew anything about quality bike parts because it was the cheapest wheel set on eBay, and was only $60, and that I rode through the Tour Divide and all the many, many miles before and since, and those wheels still work. Heavy, but solid.

After every floundering climb in the Headlands yesterday, there was a blissful and grin-inducing descent that reminded me all the ways I still love this bike. Kim's steel frame handles like a dream; nimble and smooth, and the geometry fits me like a glove. If I wasn't so in love with my Moots I would probably put her rigid fork back on and turn Kim into a touring bike, but I'm still partial to the Moots even above my love for my rusty old Karate Monkey. Plus, the wheels are like round bricks. Solid, but heavy.

Fitness, at least my own fitness, seems to fall on a bell curve. On one low end is couch-sitting, and on the opposite low end is extreme overtraining or post-race fatigue. The farther I venture over the ideal "peak" of my own curve, the closer I get to possessing the physical prowess of a couch sitter, at least in terms of power (endurance usually remains solid no matter how weak I feel.) Currently, I'm feeling some pressure from what has become one of my favorite fall traditions, the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow in Hurricane, Utah. It's just over a month away now, which means I've pretty much burnt up all of the post-PTL recovery time I can possibly afford and still do any kind of training for a 25-hour mountain bike race.

The problem is I don't feel anywhere near recovered from PTL — mainly on an emotional level. Even my "little ring fitness" is likely more mental than physical, because I feel so averse to any kind of physical suffering right now. It's hard to admit, but I probably don't have the heart for an all-day-all-night bike effort, and I'm not sure whether I'll get that back in a month's time. But I have good friends planning to make the trip to Utah, and Frog Hollow always promises good times, so I'm torn. Do I go to Frog Hollow and just plan to pleasure cruise, probably riding five or six laps before hunkering down next to the bonfire? Or do I keep my sights on my goal, which is to finally put in a consistent effort and ride more than 13 laps? I know I'll be disappointed in myself if I pick the first option, and also if I go with the second option and crap out mid-way because I lost heart. But I certainly don't want to "DNS" Frog Hollow because it's so much fun and I'm looking forward to seeing good friends. It's a bit of a dilemma.

There are some residual physical effects from PTL as well. I do feel day-to-day fatigue and not all of it can be mental. I also continue to have strange and disconcerting problems with my eyes, including light sensitivity and difficulty focusing. I finally visited an optometrist on Monday. He performed a bunch of tests and concluded that I was probably experiencing effects of excessive eye strain, resulting in fatigue and possible damage to the extraocular muscles. My eyes checked out as otherwise healthy, so he prescribed a pair of reading glasses to reduce strain when working on my computer, with the hope that lessening daily strain will help any damage heal on its own. The optometrist was surprised that my vision issues have lasted this long if eye strain during PTL was really the cause, but he did acknowledge that sleep deprivation sometimes has strange effects on the brain, which can extend to brain activity required for eye-muscle coordination and proper focusing.

I will say that one body part I never expected to injure running is my eyes. I pick up the reading glasses on Friday and I hope they help.

But I am happy to be back in California, riding bikes and spending quiet afternoons working on projects again. Travel is amazing, but it's nice to have a comfortable, familiar space to come home to.