Last night, I had some conversations with myself.
Two hours on the bike, tempo intervals, cool temperatures, moderate humidity, light breeze. Coach’s orders were to keep your butt moving for the entire ride and I complied. And the best way to get yourself moving is to put yourself behind someone faster that will push you the whole ride.
So, I choose Chris.
Being in Chris’ draft isn’t as easy as it sounds. I slip in behind him and he’s blocking the wind but still it’s a fight to stay on his wheel. My heart rate drifts towards moderately high, the speed increases to around 21 mph. What’s work for me is just a warm up for him. And 21 mph during warm up? The rest of this ride could get fast. Really fast.
About an hour goes by and I’m still on his wheel. And on his wheel I will stay. For if ever I will take anything to the next level or achieve my next set of goals, I’m going to have to put together a killer bike. And you put together a killer bike by killing your legs. Simple as that. So tonight I am talking myself into killing my legs to stay on his wheel.
He tells me he is going to start his intervals soon. I suppose that is my cue – to drop back, to back off. He doesn’t know my plan. The conversation I just had with myself that said listen Liz, you have one chance, one shot to make this ride count, right here, tonight. If you hang on his wheel for the first interval, you’ll do it all the way through. Get dropped in the first minute and you’re on your own instead. So I put it in my big ring and put my head down. Oh, I’m staying on this wheel. This rear wheel I will not let go.
Chris flashes his five fingers twice, which I realize is husband cyclo-speak for ten seconds to go. Ten seconds later, he shifts into his big ring and we are off. I work hard to hold his wheel. Keeping the bike straight, my own wheel steady. He surges and it takes monstrous power from my legs to hold behind his line.
The legs are doing the work, but the head is fighting hard against it. A fight or flight, if you will. Part of you is thrilled that you’re in the draft, the other part is scared to death. This takes more than physical power to get yourself through. This takes convincing conversations in your head, to talk yourself into every pedal stroke of hanging on.
Interval 1: I can’t believe I’m hanging on this wheel. This is hard. Legs hurt. Maybe I’ll back off. NO. Hold it, hold it, let the legs go. DO NOT LET HIS WHEEL GO. I’m spinning 109 rpm’s just to keep up with him. Does he know I’m there? What if I crash? What if he crashes and I go tumbling over him? Shut up. Shut up and ride. Push harder. Sing a song. Ok, got it. Put it into a harder gear and hold it there. Right behind the wheel. Don’t look down, don’t look down. But just a quick look. YOU ARE SWERVING. Oh my god. We are going 26.6 mph. Oh for crying out loud DO NOT look down again. 26? Who holds 26? Chris does. This is what it’s like to be Chris. This is what it feels like to be fast. Quit daydreaming. FOCUS. Ok, push. Push more. Shift down. 88 rpm’s. Heart rate on verge of….don’t look down at it…..you looked down……….heart rate on the verge of explode. How many minutes have gone by? Five more minutes to go. You can hold this. Left turn, up the hill. Take a drink now or never. He’s dropping back a little. This is not good. Soon he will surge. There, there, SURGE. Legs. Wake up. LEGS. Push up the hill, still in his draft. 21 mph up the hill. Seriously who holds 21 up a hill? Don’t think about it. Time to descend. He’s pulling away. BRIDGE BRIDGE BRIDGE. Do not look down! Holy crap. 438 watts. I am bridging at over 400 watts. I am going to explode. What did I tell you about looking down? Numbers you don’t need to know. Back on the wheel. Left turn to bumpy road. Is that a tractor ahead? What the hell is a tractor doing in the middle of the road? I do not believe this. We are passing the tractor. We have passed the tractor. We have dropped the tractor. I will not get dropped behind this wheel. I will not get dropped and then passed by the tractor. Bumpy road. Chris is pulling away. 30 seconds to go. Push, bridge, PUSH! DONE.
One down, two to go. Chris finishes his interval which is a bit longer, then turns back to catch up with me. I ask if I can start the second interval with him. “Fast night tonight,” he says. Yes, I suppose. I don’t know. I could be fast tonight or it could be a fluke. My head says yes we’re fast but my legs say no. I think I’ll need to sort this out a little more in my head before we really know.
Second interval: The fingers flash at five. Countdown. Big ring, big ring NOW. Go. Oh no. Cross tailwind. Not the tailwind. Exponential. His lead in tailwind can grow exponentially. Do not let him go. You will never get him back. Bridge back into the draft. Don’t look down. WHAT DID I SAY. We are going 27.9 mph, 28. Must stay focused. 28? Sick. Stay in the draft. NOW! Get small, very very small. But I am already small. SMALLER. Streamline yourself, head down, in the draft. Pedal, pedal. At 105 rpm’s. Shift down. Push 88 rpm’s. Settled at 26.4 mph. Stop sign. Stop. Stomp out big watts just to catch the wheel again. Do not give up. Heart rate – check – very high. Up the hill, push, push. Make a right turn, on the buffalo road. The buffalo are out tonight. Big hairy herd animals. Must be hot. Don’t look at the buffalo. EYES OFF THE BUFFALO. Eyes on the road. Look ahead on the road. Rear wheel. Get in the draft. Hold it, holding over 24 mph INTO THE WIND. Sick. This is sick. How are my legs doing this. Do they remember the Dairyland Dare. Do not think about the Dairyland Dare. Get small. SMALL! In the draft. Stay there! Hold it. No squiggles. What did I say about squiggling. Straight line. Hold your line. He’s taking a drink. Please don’t drop your water bottle. Please don’t drop your water bottle. If it drops, if I hit it, I will be launched into the prairie at 28 mph. This is what it feels like to be fast. I want off. Maybe. Pedals, push, feet flat, my stomach hurts, 30 seconds, no more to go. DONE.
Again, Chris turns back after his interval and finds me on the ride. “Feeling fast tonight?” he asks as he pulls alongside me. I don’t know. Please don’t ask me questions when I go hard on the bike because I really don’t know. The oxygen is still seeping back into my brain and the question is just starting to make sense. I don’t know what I am feeling and all that I do know is that a short while ago I was going so hard I was feeling like maybe I would piss myself.
Interval three: Last one, legs are on the edge of explode. At the stop sign. Big ring, aero position, and GO. Here we are again. One last interval to go. Shift back further in the seat. More power, more power. Fast. Again with the buffalo. This time going the other way. Eyes on the road. Push pedals. Stay in draft. Small, SMALLER. Going fast. How fast? Don’t look down. Just a peek. Going 27.9 mph. Again? Disgusting. Right turn. Bumpy road. Do what it takes. Over the bumps, losing power. DO WHAT IT TAKES. Keep the rear wheel. That wheel is mine. Bring it back to me. Willing to chase it as it goes. Chase, hard, breathing, hard, effort, hard. Holding over 26 again. Can I hold it? You can hold it. HOLD IT! Here. He always drops me here on this slight incline. NOT TONIGHT. I will not be dropped. I will NOT be dropped. I have not been dropped. Holy crap I held it. I’m on the wheel. Is that a horse up on the road? What’s with the freakin’ farm theme tonight? Pass the horse, pass the people. Stay straight. Stay in the bars. Squirrely. Feeling squirrely. Steady. STEADY. Bump in the road. Bump in the road. You will NOT fly off your bike. You will not let his wheel go. Harder. HARDER STILL. Ok, barf. BARF. That was the gel or maybe a piece of bar. Sports drink? Who knows. Take the wheel. DO NOT LET IT GO. You can do this. A minute more. Push, hurt, push, hurt, turnaround, time’s up. He’s gone.
The conversation came to a close. Chris finished up his own intervals and then we rode back to the car. "Good ride tonight?" he asks. I - now - safely looked down at my computer so I would know. Good ride? Yes, I had averaged the highest speed and wattage ever on a training ride. But it wasn’t easy, and with all of the hills I’ve been running and riding lately I wasn’t sure how I pulled off this ride with any legs at all.
But maybe it had nothing to do with my legs at all. Maybe it was just pure push and persuasion from the conversation in my head telling me to keep his wheel and not let it go. Maybe sometimes a little talk is all it takes. Maybe it's not the training at all.