Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Paying for Long Distance

I like my bike. I like to ride my bike. I am usually happy when I ride my bike.

This brings up one of the strange dichotomies of ultra-distance cycling. You would think that it is the ultimate opportunity to ride your bike ... a lot. But I have recently found that the ultra-distance event itself may force you to ride your bike less. Worse, it makes some of that riding unpleasant.

Here's what I mean. To do the Rocky Mountain 1200K in July, I tapered in the weeks preceding the event. Ordinarily, at this time of year, I ride between 200 and 250 miles per week; two weeks before the RM1200 I did just over 150 miles, and the week immediately before I only rode about 90 miles.

Now, sure, the week of the ride I did 775 miles, which should more than make up for my loss of riding bliss during the preceding weeks. But did I enjoy all 775 of those miles? Alas, I must admit that I did not. Times arose during the course of that ride that I was not having a heck of a lot of fun. To be honest, times arose during the course of that ride that, had the opportunity presented itself, I would have sold my bicycle for $20 (Canadian) and caught the next Greyhound bus back to Kamloops.

These are the times when you think, "I just want this ride to be over." So you lean into the wind and keep turning the pedals over, and eventually the ride is over. Or sometimes you stop and take a picture of something, or get an ice cream, or just sit in the grass for a few minutes. But, as my friend Jeff Bauer once said, "the control isn't moving towards us," so you might as well get back to work.

And eventually the ride ends and you get to sleep for more than five hours ... in a bed, even! ... and then you drive to the airport and fly home and catch up on all of the stuff that you have to catch up on while you were very indisposed in the middle of nowhere without a computer, cell phone, lights, motorcar, or a single luxury. By this time it's been four or five days since the 1200K ended and you think you might like to get on a bike again because (remember?) you like to ride your bike.

Well, I got back on the bike and some things hurt. Not just the things that you would think hurt, because a lot of that had pretty much healed and other things were still numb, but my knees hurt. They had hurt during the RM 1200 after the first 500K, but I figured that was normal. However, they still hurt the weekend before last, and they hurt riding to and from work last week, and they hurt on the hard 115-miler that I did Sunday, and they hurt right now just sitting here writing this blog entry.

When your knees hurt if you ride your bike, you may find that you don't want to ride your bike as much. Which is probably a good thing, since pain is your body's way of saying, "Hey, buttwad, cut it out." So I am listening to my body and not riding this week. At all.

Well, until Saturday, when I'm doing an Arrow to Huntsville, Alabama. That's a 230-mile ride that I'm supposed to do with three other Nashville randonneurs - Jeff Sammons, Kent Kersten, and David Bauer - starting at 7 am Saturday and ending at 7 am Sunday. Hopefully, my knees will cooperate, or at least be placatable with massive doses of ibuprofen. If they still hurt just sitting around ... well, that's why I said "supposed to do" above.

Anyway, back to my point about 1200Ks keeping you from riding your bike. As I said, the two weeks after the 1200K I barely rode 200 miles, and I'll probably only do 230 miles this week. And if my knees are still hurting me I may even take a week or two completely off the bike (agh!). So, if you add it all up (hmmm, carry the two ...) you'll see that, during an eight-week period when I would normally ride 1600 to 2000 miles at this time of year, I will barely get to ride 1600 miles. And I really only enjoyed about 800 of those. Well, maybe 900.

The part that is really irritating is missing out on my little rides to and from work. In spite of the traffic and all the junk I have to carry, ordinarily biking into the office just cheers me up so much. It's like eating cake before the steamed squash (don't ask my mom about me and steamed squash - she will go into the longest story). Even though it's just a little 12-mile ride, as long as red pickup trucks don't try to sideswipe me, the ride really brightens things up and makes the day much more palatable, and I miss it.

Hopefully, though, the time off will put everything right and I will be able to mount up again and do normal distance in a few weeks. September will be almost upon us, then, and that means warm days and cooler evenings, and soon the leaves will start to change. Wool jerseys and fresh knees ... yes!


  1. Nice observation. I remember my first ride after my PBP attempt. I had spend the whole year focused on making quick stops, pushing myself as hard as possible to get ready for the event. On this day, I stopped in a pleasant town square green, had lunch, and just relaxed for a while. It reminded me why I ride - because it is fun!

  2. The excitement of exploring a new stretch of road that you have never known on the long brevets occasionally/transiently exceeds the physical and mental fatigue of these most extreme rides. These end up our highlight memories. When mentally and physically "fresh", most rides can present some new sight/experience/adventure, even if they are on familiar routes and "short". These end up drawing us back to our bikes ASAP.