After a couple relaxing days of lazily riding around the city, I could no longer shut out that nagging voice in the back of my head. "You must get stronger," it said. "Train harder. Go faster." It was right. I wasn't sore at all, despite my near-constant state of dehydration and poor nutrition. My legs were not the thing limiting me in the race. My lungs were. And that could only mean one thing: I had to do cardio. Ugh. I hate cardio. Can't I just drill skills instead and then do a long lazy loop around the north side? So with that in mind, I linked up with the wonderful folks from MOX Multisport for their Wednesday evening training in a small field on the lakefront just a few blocks from my work. It doesn't get more convenient than that! Troy set out some stakes, ribbons, and a few barriers of varying height to make a small course and we ran some gentle warm-up laps to get our legs going and mark out the course so I could stop getting lost.
The barriers were tricky, because they were nothing like the barriers at Hopkins Park (which were the only other barriers I'd ever encountered. Those were on a steep hill that was run at very low speed. These were both on long straightaways and were to be taken at high speed. One barrier was high - 16" - and required a quick dismount, jump, and remount. The other was low - 4" - and was easily dispatched with a bunny hop. I was just starting to get the feel for remounting at speed and dismounting very close to the barrier when Troy stopped us. "We're going to do standing starts now."
And so we did starts. Long starts. 3-2-1-go and it's a dead spring over the approach, up the hill, and through the trees. Hard on the brakes at the top so you don't end up on the outer drive and an easy coast down. Lather rinse repeat. A quick break, another set. My legs are doing OK because I'm out of lungs and gasping for air every time I reach the top of the hill, and I';m relieved to take a break. And then it's hot laps.
We do sets of four laps. From a standing start, it's Troy and Nick out in front of me, and Barry ushering me ahead since he's on a single-speed. My goal is to stay on Troy's wheel so I don't lose the course, but it quickly becomes apparent that's not going to happen. I change my goal to staying in front of Barry, which is also a tall order. We sprint up the hill, wind through the trees and turn downhill to pick up speed before slamming through a really technical series of turns, then it's back on the gas along the hill, bunny hop the short barrier, down the rest of the hill, and turn by the shack at the bottom. Troy and Nick have done a very thorough job of dropping me and I can hear Barry's freewheel humming somewhere nearby behind me. I lower my expectations further and make my new goal staying on course. Whip around into hardpack dirt and take another technical section through the bushes. Nearly get within sight of Troy and get dropped on the climb. Forget where the top of the course is and overshoot before turning back downhill and bombing through the trees. Nick is passing me going the other way yelling "no brakes!" I let off the brakes and my front tire immediately washes out. Shoulda let some air out. Back on the brakes, weight on the wheel, and it bites in again. Finish the descent, hairpin around sprint to the barrier. Off the bike, over the barrier, on the bike, miss the pedals, flail. Find the pedals, sprint up the hill.
That's one lap.
We do three more and take a break.
"How was it," Troy asks. "Great," I lie, "I feel good!" My legs do feel good, but my lungs are burning and I forgot water. I focus on my breathing and manage to recover before we go to do one more set. This time I hang on to Troy and Nick for the better part of the first lap by really focusing to making my corners clean, but they're gone again on the climb. Oh well. Time to settle in and knock these out. Meditate on the corners, push the apex earlier and earlier until I'm about to wash out. Get on the power early so the front wheel is just barely hanging on during the exit. Slow in, fast out. Just like a car. Fast in fast out will come later. I change my bunny hop technique and gain some speed there by keeping my rear wheel on the ground longer. More time to get power down. My dismounts are actually getting OK! I'm getting off my bike at the last possible second and transitioning immediately into the jump over the barrier. The remounts are OK too, but I can almost never get the pedals on the first try and it's costing me.
And then our four laps are done. We rest, Nick takes off, and the rest of us do one more set. It's only two laps this time, but it's dark and I keep getting hit in the face with branches. The laps pass, and my legs are feeling it too now. I guess that means it was a good workout.
The ride home is a good cooldown, and food beckons. Over dinner, I reflect on more lessons learned:
Cardio is key. I already learned this lesson at Hopkins Park, but I get the feeling this is going to be the hardest thing for me this season. I'm coming i with good base strength but terrible base cardio fitness. Doing more training in zone 4 with efforts in zone 5 will help, but it's just going to hurt.
Keep calm in the corners. It's just like driving. If I can keep calm and nail my lines, I go way faster even though it feels slower. Cornering on a bike feels really different, and it's going to take time to get used to. But for now I have to relax so I can feel what the bike is doing.
Remember to shift. Since I had all my bikes except my commuter stolen this year, more or less all my miles have been fixed-gear. It's been good for my strength, but I often find myself mashing up a hill on my cross bike when I could be spinning. If I remember to shift before the going gets steep, I get to the top faster and with less effort. Likewise, I can make up a lot of speed on descents by dropping onto a small cog and powering downhill.
This morning I couldn't find my speed on my ride to work, and so I know I made progress last night. I just have to keep spinning so my legs recover and I'll be as ready as I'm gonna be for Sunday. I hear the course is steep and technical, so it should be interesting. Regardless, it'll be fun.