It’s early and sleep eludes me. I lie in bed, my little boy snoring softly beside me. It’s still dark, and the moon’s cheshire grin dares me to get up. The world is quiet, stars twinkle soundlessly, and I sit up, feeling the contraction of my muscles creak as they bring my torso forward. I look at the sleeping child beside me, kiss his forehead, and pad silently out of the room.
It is a haze of getting on tight fitting cycling shorts, a sports bra, pulling up the hair into a messy top knot. A swish of water in my mouth so I need not breathe in my own foul morning breath when the going gets tough.
I step into my cycling shoes, click into pedals, and start moving.
Ah, that burn from yesterday’s single leg squats flushes through. It is hard, moving these pedals, and my half-awake brain entertains the idea of simply crawling back into bed. But no.
What is my Why?
I ask myself again, louder this time, and the voice in my head is fierce, determined.
WHAT IS IT?!
Faster. Stronger. Better.
I keep my butt firmly on my bike. Each pedal stroke is powerful, liberating.
I’ve registered for two enduro races so far this spring, one at the end of April, and the other at the end of May. I am only nervous for the first one, as it will be technical riding, with steep climbs and the need to keep my head about me, even when all I will want to do is shut off and cruise. There will be a good handful of pros racing the course, but I, little ol’ slowpoke me, will be riding in the Master’s category, because being 41 has its perks, you know, like not racing against 25-year-olds.
The legs are moving freely now, that initial burn now dissipated. I think about how ultra marathon training is all about running on tired legs, and I extrapolate the idea that long bike rides are trained for on tired legs.
I’m warm, and the sweat beads up in prolific half moons all over my shoulders.
Today is an interval day of high wattage and slow cadence efforts. Soon, I am fighting to keep the legs turning for the last ten seconds of each minute, working hard after the effort still to get my full minute of recovery. I am dripping, rivulets running down my arms, as I try to steady my breathing. Last week, I did a session with two, nine-minute over/under efforts. Over/under efforts kill me, and I struggle to keep my cadence, struggle to keep my breathing under control, and by the end of the sets, I’m gasping, face twisted in anguish, with every muscle in my legs on fire and still wholly incapable of making them move faster to only barely meet cadence targets. Sometimes, if I force my brain to pretend it’s no big deal, I get through the set and surprise myself. It’s the forcing my brain to pretend that’s the hard part.
There is no television on, no podcast, no background. Just my breathing, my bike, and the steady whir of the fan. Workouts like this interval one require focus and concentration.
It is as much mental as it is physical.
An hour has passed before I know it, and there is a small puddle of sweat beneath my bike. I feel like I ought to melt off my bike and sink into it. I am awake now, at least.
So many cyclists hate indoor training sessions, and it’s because there is no distraction. There’s no wind. There is no scenery. No peloton or draft or conversation.
Just you and your bike and your brain and your body.
A pain cave. The gain cave.
This conversation from a few weeks ago plays through my head.
Push those limits. I dare you. Go find out just what you’re capable of.