Monday, August 30, 2010

Going up

                      Insanity needs a structured environment to really flourish.

Not so long ago, I used to think I could ride uphill. No biggie - just stand on the pedals and jam up the shorties or, if the hill was tall enough that you had to tilt you head to see the top, sit and spin your way up - your heart might pound a little bit and you might have to catch your breath on the downhill, but once it was over, it was done. Just find your groove, ride fast on the flat and make up any time lost in the hills. Then I started randonneuring.

I soon discovered that for the Randonneurs, riding 200 km, 300 km or more of flat earth does not sate the cycling appetite, instead the course must challenge the full palate of the rider. The randonnee route planner spices up easily digested miles of quiet pastoral roads with sizeable chunks of muscle warming inclines followed by measured doses of cooling descents. Routes can rise in elevation over 20, 30, 40 miles and do so in a series of mini climbs where each descent is shorter than the climb so that the hard work needed to crest the hill is not fully rewarded with an equal descent.

Then there are those roads that come with warning labels. Caution. Black outlines of trucks angled nose down on yellow diamond backgrounds. Slow moving vehicles - use right lane. Unrelenting climbs measured in miles. Grades of 10% 12% 17% 20% that give a slow hot burn to the thighs. Jagged sawtoothed elevation profiles. The top nowhere in sight. The kind of roads that get names - Jenny Jump, Bear Mountain, Fiddler’s Elbow - that allow riders to speak of them in personal tones to others in the know. Those climbs may have fast descents, but fast descents also mean less time for recovery. Then there is the next climb. After hours of riding, every incline is noticeably  steeper. At the end of such a route, the new randonneur learns that, despite the math, a loop course is not a zero sum game. A ride can be uphill both ways.

This summer, I also learned that my meager diet of short rides with mild inclines left me largely unprepared for such feasts of physicality. I learned the hard way, by completing brevets chewed up and sucked dry. Finishing more by will than by training. Time for that to change.

My recipe for dealing with the hills has been more hills, steeper hills more often. To make the brevets easier, make the training harder.  

The Manayunk Wall is legendary is Philadelphia. An almost mile long climb with a 17% segment that brings out throngs of Philadelphians for the annual summer Pro bike race. The pros climb it 14 times during a 140 mile race. Most folks are happy to get up once.

A few blocks east of the wall is Shurs lane, steep but less so, than the wall. Shurs lane used to be my big challenge. The big hill at the end of a long ride that I celebrated when I first completed without walking. Now it would be a recovery lap.

A simple plan. Climb the Wall, descend on Ridge, climb Shurs Lane, descend on Ridge - repeat. A 6.2 mile lap with two leg burning climbs. Simple - until I tried it. 

On my Surly Long Haul Trucker I carry all the water I carry for brevet, including a camelbak. My handlebar bag has 5 pounds of extra weight. My rear rack another 5 pounds bungeed on. Altogether my sled must be over 40 pounds.

The Wall tests me.Gravity pulls at me.  My heart rate drums in my ears. My pace is pedestrian. At the top, gulp air and water. Don't stop.

The first descents on Ridge avenue exposed my inexperience. Tension gripped the  handlebars. Eyes scan and dart for danger. Reach for the brake too early too often

Shurs Lane keeps the rest period short. I am ascending again. One pedal at time. One leg at a time, Ridge avenue comes again, this time with no celebration.  Ride back to the Wall and go up again.

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