Friday, February 27, 2015

Reflections on training and aging

Well we all do it - age, I mean.

One moment I'm learning to ride my dad's huge old Alcon and the next I've got 3 kids of my own. Let me reflect on this for a moment.

It was too big for me, the Alcon. It had a fixed sprocket on one side of the back wheel and a single freewheel on the other. Once I figured out that the faster you went, the better, I was OK. And this one idea - go faster - has propelled me throughout my cycling career. Go faster. It's better.

It was at Centennial Park that I found my forte. Laps, lots of them. Each one a fresh challenge. Each lap urging me onward, ever faster. Every rider in front of me a target to be caught. And at Heffron Park it was the same - but better. Wait for the last lap, the bell, and then - just go faster! Catch me if you can!

It seemed that "go faster" was indeed the key to it all. And the maxim held true also at Camperdown, bumpy, steep and forbidding that it was, where going slow was to tempt pedal-clipping fate. Going faster was, once again, the way forward.

Inevitably though life has its rough patches. The big fall. The glandular fever. The heart attack. The lay-offs, the come-backs. It's always the same, but always different. You get older and it all takes a little longer.

The falls took their toll both physically and mentally. I'm still paying for that big one at Heffron in '88. I never quite got back on terms with A-grade after that and never again took the "brave route" through the bunch. I lost trust. I backed off when I sensed trouble. I let others have the win. I lost that "animal" urge, perhaps. I mellowed.

And of course the heart attack was a real surprise. How can I ride every day and still get a blocked artery? Well there you go, you can. And the after effects linger. That question hangs over you, floating at the back of your mind - should I push a bit harder, or back off? How's the heart going?

So here I am, 14 months later. Back to 100kms a week. Well I have been here before, even after the heart attack. But I may have rushed my comeback, as you do. And I fell back into a deep hole. It's been over 6 months since I last rode a 100km week. But I've done it. And the sensations are good, again.

Let me run through the process.

Almost 6 months off the bike and I feel breathless, the quads hurt and sundry bits - like tendons, knees and the contact points - complain for days afterwards. But it was better than I expected. Maybe a comeback is possible?

A few rides later and all hope is lost. I'm not improving. I'm puffing, panting, weak and tired. Finishing is a struggle. Perhaps I should stop?

I persist and after a few weeks I notice that I'm going a bit further and occasionally a bit faster. But still I'm at a loss. It wasn't like this when I was 25. (Yes, well, I'm 57 now.) I'm not exactly jumping out of my skin, I lack zip and I'm wasted after every pathetically short ride. But I can't stop now.

Remembering how I over-did it last year I take it steady and build gradually. I don't want to relapse. I start to feel some good sensations when I hit the 80-km-a-week mark. The legs, heart and lungs occasionally work together. Hope springs eternal.

And cautiously I hit 100km-a-week. Finally the legs have some zip and I can maintain a steady, decent pace throughout the ride. I'm not dying at the half-way point and limping home. Instead I'm accelerating almost - almost - at will over the whole ride. OK, I can't attack a hill like "normal" but I don't think that's too far away. I can see the tunnel now and I suspect there's a light at the end of it. We shall see. 

100km in a single week? Here's the proof:
 Oh well, it's (yet another) start.