Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Winter Training

We’re cruising through North Austin, Round Rock if you want to be technical about it, on a road called FM620. This road seems like it was hewn from the hillside for the purpose of training cyclists through a long series of endless hill climbs. Complete with a beautifully wide shoulder and just enough traffic to make things interesting, the road is consistently populated by tri-athletes –their aero bar widgetry protruding like the antler of some hideous, Technicolor elk- and endeavoring roadies seeking what seems to be mile after mile of intense punishment (the likes of which I have not seen since being expelled from Catholic School after what –due to legal and ethical restrictions– I can now only refer to as, “the incident”).

Every time we make the road trip down to Austin, which occurs roughly twice a month, I tell my wife Betty that “next time I’m bringing the Ridley.” On our last visit I happened to meet a pair of said Technicolor Elk at a small, hidden, local hang out that appears to be named after the swashbuckling star of BattleStar Galactica (the first version that is, the new one just kills the whole idea of the character by way of a sex change). Both riders were full of information and produced a map showing some of their “more common Sunday morning training rides”, the shortest of which covered FM620 in a 65 mile loop. The lengthier portions wrapped off the back of the makeshift map and included little arrows and notations like “128 mile short loop” and other numbers I would never associate with a bicycle, forcing me to point out that I raced track. As such, this suggested in itself that I was feebly incapable of traveling more than a few miles without a rather lengthy break for chatter about rollers and other useful, barbaric devices.

In the course of conversation I mentioned the one rider’s rig, which featured an interesting set of Power Cranks. I encourage you to Google this fascinating device, as it allows a cyclist to pedal each leg independently of the other. Easily qualifying as barbaric, I’m sure this set-up comes in handy when you want to pedal in circles. So far, however, my mind is incapable of determining how you might keep track of which leg is doing what; much the same way I cannot seem to accomplish the “pat your head and rub your stomach” routine without giving up -completely confused- and resort to mindless activities such as reliving the last episode of Metalocalypse.

All of this took place as we cruised westward toward 71 and our ultimate destination, a great crag for rock climbing known as Reimer’s Ranch. At the end of every cycling season I find myself in need of rest, but still desiring to endeavor in some form of physical pain and exhaustion. Fortunately, my wife Betty focuses the bulk of her year, particularly during the winter months, on rock climbing. What, you might think, does this have to do with bicycles? First of all, I am told that Reimer’s Ranch does have some fantastic mountain biking trails, but I wouldn’t know that first hand. Secondly, training in a sport that rewards accurate movement, problem solving, balance and core strength can only serve as a plus once I start my 2009 season. My wife and I rarely consult the guide book for grades of difficulty as a means of selecting routes, and depend instead on what has an aesthetic appeal. We’ve each selected a handful of project routes that require intense training away from the crag and provide us with distinct goals while training at the gym or in the apartment. For what it is worth, my wife has selected a climb with a much cooler and intense name than my own project. It is also difficult in a freak-of-nature-hard sort of way.

Scorpion Child is a wicked climb that starts with a perfectly horizontal roof of some measure, before launching skyward on holds that appear to be both bulbous and slick, or just large enough to grip with half of the first pad of your fingers. The aforementioned roof section has a single visible hold, an oddly shaped pocket that is just large enough to allow three fingers inside. Aside from that, the rest of the “holds” are more easily equated to the pull tabs on 80’s soda cans. She describes the planned movement to me in fine detail, and as such I believe in her ability to eventually send the route.

By focusing on a single climb as a goal, she is able to push the rest of her climbing to incredible levels through intense training and effort. She’s stronger than I’ve ever seen her before and climbing complex routes with a grace and affinity that only someone with her experience can allow. In the process she has also surrounded herself with other climbers who can help her train, motivate her while working their own projects and provide invaluable critique of her technique. In the process of seeing all of this I learned that when my legs have gotten enough rest and my season is ready to begin in earnest, a lofty goal must be set.

To this end my great friend and training goon, Will Swetnam, and I have nearly decided that riding 200 miles from Seattle to Portland seems like a really good idea. To make it more interesting, we’ve decided that the single day option really is the only way to go. Quite how we’ll train for this I do not know, but I figure it will require a few trips to Austin to get crushed by FM620’s regulars and more than a few miles being pulled, pushed and stoked as we fight to increase our endurance and stay on the bike for additional hours of mileage. The plan also includes training and racing at The Superdrome to increase power, cadence and for no other reason than to have fun. In the meantime, we’ll continue training in the gym, increasing core strength and training for trips to Reimer’s and Enchanted Rock to work projects. I am hopeful that this intense training will also translate well to the bicycle, but only time will tell.

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