Saturday, February 23, 2008

An Early Season Training Day

Today is one of those days when everything goes right.

The day dawns with heavy cloud cover from an overnight storm, but within hours the sky begins to clear, and pieces of bright blue New Mexican sky, so much the norm here, begin to show and bring promise of a perfect training day.

Its one of those days that leaves you feeling tired, but refreshed by your own accomplishments.

One of those days where you find yourself breathing in a little bit deeper--just so you can sense that worked-out, expanded lung feeling that comes with taking yourself further than your body is accustomed to.

One of those days where you persevere--
--and then you lay on the couch and eat ice cream

This morning we took a 9 mile run from the door step of our house. It was a somewhat early morning run. We bundled up against the winter-thin air and bright, cool sunlight in tights, thermal tops, gloves, and sun screen. The run was familiar--a route used during the winter for short runs squeezed in after work, hurriedly running out the door with the temperature dropping and the skin freezing on our faces.

Today we started on the same route, but kept on going, cornering smoothly on carless roads, picking the best line from the entire width of the street, ups and downs with brief rests at intersections, breathing hard, pounding a tempo to promote leg turnover.

"Go," I'd tell myself, "go."

"Pick up those legs."

"In a race, you can't go slow. Feel it."

Most of our long runs are done in other locations. We eat a good breakfast and drive. Once we get to where we're going, I can almost feel myself sinking into that long distance, tired legs torpor, even before we begin. When we start, I go slow, gasping for air while my body adjusts to oxygen debt and elevation, taking miles to warm up, barely moving uphill, unable to pick up speed on the downhill.

Today, however, we're running on familiar ground--familiar for running hard and quick--and our pace picks up from long slow distance to tempo, pounding rough, gray pavement underfoot, breathing hard, eating up the distance instead of barely slogging through. What we're doing here is modeling. In this place, we run fast. That's the model. So, today, even though it's a long run, fast it is. In the end, we're running a negative split. We finish happy, out of breath, and tired, flopping into the house for calories and the couch. Our lungs feel used and a little stretched out.

We take the break, gather ourselves, and head out for a long distance swim. It takes a little convincing to ourselves, but we end up at the pool. The water feels good, and it feels great to float prone, rather than standing on our feet. We start easy, feeling good in the water, but end (again) with a negative split. Midway through, after warming up for a good half mile, we feel strong enough to stretch out and pull hard--then hunger appears and our pace picks up for another reason. In the end, we're pulling hard and breathing hard, panting when we stop at the end of the pool. By the time we're done, we're ready for lunch, and more time on the couch.

Ice cream, it is.

As I said, today is one of those days when everything goes just right.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Little Ingenuity

You've been doing race events for several years now.

After a 4 month break, it's time for the first race of a new season.

So you mark the date on your calendar, send in some money, and make a hotel reservation.

When the date arrives, you pull out your race kit from the previous year and pack up the truck.

You savor the familiar feel and routine of getting ready, while at the same time feeling the unfamiliar--it's been awhile.

Each year, the first race of the year is held at White Sands Missile Range. This year the race runs into some glitches. You end up leaving your truck outside of the base gate, and riding in with your race gear on your back. The delay at the gate means there is less time for pre-race prep.

So with minutes to spare you hurriedly rack your bike.


You pull out your racing flats.

As your shoe leaves the cloth storage bag that it's been in since the last race of last year, you suddenly get that sinking deja vu, "oh yeah, didn't I use that shoe lace for something?" feeling... and your left shoe makes it's appearance--naked and incomplete.

Then you remember: That sudden stop on the I-25 on-ramp when 3 dogs decided to cross just as you were starting to accelerate to merge onto the highway. You avoided hitting the dogs, but the person behind you made a remarkable dent in your rear bumper (fortunately, no injuries), and you tied on your broken and bent license plate with... your shoe lace.

Now, the race is about to start.

So you dig out two plastic zip ties (one white and one black) and attempt to close the shoe gap.

Then, your girlfriend donates the shoe-string-like lanyard from her key ring.

The result looks like this:

The system is adequate, but loose.

So, you dig one more time into your race bag.

And you end up with this:

The race goes as well as can be expected after a 4 month hiatus.

You don't even notice the duct tape and plastic on your left shoe.

It's your RIGHT shoe that becomes untied, which requires a stop to re-tie.

Still, you enjoy the competition and finish 5th place overall.

There's something to be said for a roll of duct tape


a little ingenuity.

Saturday, February 2, 2008 which I receive THE Wave...

Waving during a cycling ride, that sometimes imperceptable acknowledgment, meted through the nod of a head, the lift of a finger, or an actual wave of the wrist, has sometimes been a question mark for me. In Hawaii, I waved at just about everyone I saw--and knew just about everyone I saw. It was small town cycling on limited roads in limited time frames. The sun set at almost the same time year round, and in order to get that 20-miler in after work, everyone had to leave at the same time. There just wasn't much leeway. The main body of cyclists in the part of town where I lived started from the same point, rode the same road, and we all waved hello--even across 4 or 6 lanes of traffic.

Waving in Albuquerque has been a little different. Here, I'm waving at strangers. There's a larger variety of cyclists. On the bike path I see families, recreational cyclists, mountain bikers, commuters, and dedicated racers. A lot of people don't wave back. Instead of the larger hand-off-the-handle-bar wave, I've recently settled into a flick of my fingers, an acknowledgment of the "we're all in this together," without the actual commitment of a true wave--which, on some days, can be ignored a lot.

On this morning, a beautiful, sunny, leisurely day, perfect for the bike path, I resolved to wave to everybody, rain or shine so to speak, regardless of make, model, or apparent creed. The wave, of course, would be the 4-finger flick--acknowledgment without commitment. Perfect for me.

The ride started slow. New Mexico wind gusts and riding into a head wind made spinning difficult. I couldn't get moving. After what seemed like a long warm up, I gave up on feeling good about my ride performance, and settled into a slightly less than acceptable pace--only to be taken over by a tandem pair, singing "hello-o-o" as they went by. The pass went like this: female voice first, pause as I see the woman pull up along side, than the baritone of a man singing out, pause as I realize it's a tandem, then the man passes by.
For some reason, it seemed like a long pass.
And for some reason,
probably the length of the pass,
it got under my skin.

Even though I was supposed to be riding light--
Even though I knew that a 2-person engine is stronger than my single pair of winter legs--
Even though 1/2 of the pair on the bike was a solid looking male with strong leg muscles--
I subtly turned up the pace a notch--almost trying to hide it even from myself--for a steady, gradual chase.
The tandem blocked the wind, and I came up from behind in no time.
Then I noticed the male, the stoker in the back, turning his head form side to side, ostensibly sightseeing, but I guessed that he was checking me out.
And he was.
The pace increased.
I actually stayed several bike lengths back, and off to the side, knowing that the 2-person engine in front of me had the advantage.
But at one point, unintentionally, I pulled up to the man's rear left. I stayed out to the side, but probably closer than he wanted me to be. In fact, he probably didn't want me to be close at all. But I stayed there--choosing not to pass, because I didn't want to play leapfrog--but not dropping back either.
And I waited.
To see if I'd hear it.
And I did.
The "click" of the shift as he moved into another gear.

Now it gets harder.
We've been going for several miles like this
I haven't been able to breath well, ever since we went to sea level on vacation, and I can really feel it.
But I keep trying to hang on and minimize the "damage" which, as defined by me, is not letting him get too far away.
I've been riding the hoods the entire time, but now decide to get to business, and drop down into a TT position. I'm feeling on pace, getting aero, breathing hard. The tandem has opened up a gap, but it's not too far out, although I'm essentially on my own. I'm as low as I can go and feel like a little gnat trying to mimic a racer.

Throughout all of this, I've forgotten to wave.

Coming towards me is a man in a blue kit.
He's lean and pale.
I don't see much except for paleness.
He looks at me.
And he waves.
He takes his hand off the handle bars and gives me a wave. A real one. Hand in the air. It's the biggest gesture I've seen all day.
He see's what I'm doing, and he gets it.
From one cyclist to another.

I don't catch up with the tandem, partially because a family shows up in front of me, and I slow down to keep the kids safe.

Mark catches up with me on the return trip.
"Did you see Levi?"
"Huh? What color was he wearing?"
"Baby blue and white?"
"Clear glasses?"
"Pale and white?"
"Yup. He has that red headed complexion."
"Are you sure it was Levi?"
Then I ask him, "Did he wave at you, too?"
"You sure?"
"Nope. He just rode by, and I recognized him"

I wallow in it.
Levi Leipheimer waved at me.
America's other Tour de France rider and last year's third place finisher, winner of last year's Tour of California, now training to defend his title, and the U.S. national road race champion, all rolled into one, waving at me.

Now, he could have waved at me because I was riding so demonically fast.
Or, because I looked cool in my best TT position and he thought I was a fellow pro.
But then I remember the silly, purple bandana I have tied around my neck, and I realize that Levi was probably just acknowledging the odd juxtaposition of a southwest accent on a cycling kit. The wave could just as easily have been a "what the heck is that" gesture.
He waved at me.
And, regardless of the reason, like all good fans, I've suddenly fallen in love.