As January comes to a close, I realized I have already put in over a hundred miles since the new year, with a few more days of predicted sunshine to help add to that total. And while that’s not a huge number of miles on a road bike, the fact that it was accomplished mid winter is cause for me to celebrate.
The training I did for Gran Fondo Hincapie followed by cross racing has brought me to a new level of riding. Sometimes I am amazed it was only 6 months ago that I began this journey. Don’t get me wrong, I have a long ways to go, but I’m feeling like I’m making real progress.
And as the new year unfolds and I begin to work towards my goals, I am learning something new: pace. More importantly, uncomfortable pace. It took me awhile just to get into a comfort zone on my bike, to balance, to descend, to be able to grab my water bottle while riding. It took a lot of spin classes with great instructors to master a correct pedal stroke and form, and many miles to begin to put that into place on the road. It took time and miles in the saddle just to simply become one with my bike, to trust it and to trust my own instincts on it. And now that I have reached that point, it is time to push on past it.
There comes a point with any athletic endeavor where you can stay in your comfort zone and be good, or you can go past the point of comfort to get to the next level. I have plateaued in sports before, sticking to intermediate runs on my snowboard, one pitch climbs on the rock walls, and I am pretty sure my running skills max out at a 1K. But I don’t want to do this with cycling. I have a desire to be better, stronger, faster, to not allow myself to fall into mediocrity. So I began picking up the pace, literally.
First off, let me say that my natural VO2 max is less than great. I do not have the genetic advantage to work with here, I am easily winded. Cardio has always been a struggle for me, and I have often shied away from it because the challenge seemed too great. But I know this is where I have to work if I want to get better.
I started by doing intervals on my trainer, but I have to admit, indoor trainers take away one of the best aspects of riding: the outdoors. But when its below freezing and dark at 5, they definitely are a great asset. Yesterday, I took a great lunch ride and challenged myself. It’s a route I know well, I know the climbs and am familiar with the road. Every time I settled into a comfortable pace on the flats, I made myself kick it up by 5 or so RPMS. On the climbs, I pushed myself out of the saddle on the switchbacks and up the steepest grades. It was made slightly easier by the fact that I knew the road well enough to know when I could go hard and when I needed to pace myself a bit, but it was still a challenge. I made it up the climb with no stops, and with my best time yet, and felt great. As I stood and climbed the last segment and spun my legs through the pain, I knew I had reached a new level. I had gone beyond my comfort zone and made it through. I reached the top with burning lungs and legs, and was completely euphoric!
Sometimes its the little things, sometimes its just mastering one new thing, becoming one increment better, that helps motivate us to continue on. I needed a reminder that I not only needed to improve, but that I am able to improve. I am stronger than I know, and building upon that every time I get on my bike. And I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring for me!