Workout August 31st – where I ride Too Fast on a Bike with Gears because I chase a couple of Lycras

It is Sunday and time for a ride. The usual route is up to Kenmore and back, but instead of riding an old school bike I go the other way and decide to ride a bike with derailleurs.

I pump up the Gunnar’s tyres and ride it away. It looks slow: It is a big black commuter bike with fat tyres, full mudguards, lights, comfy leather Brooks saddle and noodle bars on a long stem so you sit high. It has cross brakes so you can ride on the top of the bars rather than using the brake hoods. The mudguards rattle as you go over bumps, like a true commuter. The chain scrapes against the front derailleur when I pedal hard; I have to adjust that soon. However, it rides faster than it looks: it has fancy green Chris King hubs and a Gunnar cyclocross frame. Even better, it fits me better than any other bike I have. The cross frame has a large ground clearance (to clear obstacles during cyclocross races) and so you sit high while riding it. It is very black.

On the way out I forget about my self-imposed heart late limit (140) and push the pace a little, then I find myself riding in the mid-high 140s. Whoops. I didn’t plan to go this fast, I guess I got in to the flow of riding something with gears. So I’m cruising along the Burke-Gilman trail, convincing myself to slow down. From a training perspective the right thing to do is to get that heart rate below 140, to help me become a better fat metaboliser and to build up a strong base. After all, that’s the point of going on these rides. Since I am a strong and disciplined individual with the right training attitude it should be no problem. But why am I keeping on at the same speed. The joy of the ride? Some desire to test myself? I did just overtake a bunch of riders and I don’t want to let them overtake me back.

I take a quick drink at the top of the lake and head back, thinking I’ll take it easier on the return journey. A few hundred yards out from the water fountain I stop at a traffic lights. While I am staring at the Red Hand, two fit and lycra-clad racers push their bikes past me to stand right in front so they could take off first. If I was a reasonable man I would understand their point of view; they figured they had caught up to a slower rider and needed to get by. They don’t know I had just turned around. And If they had said, “Excuse me, do you mind if we slip by?” I would have smiled and let them through. But they pushed through without comment, and I felt the sting of their assumptions that I was a lesser rider.

Now I want to make them look foolish for pushing past me. So I decide to follow them. Are they fast riders or lycra-clad posers?

The light shows the walking man and I ride off behind them, keeping about five meters gap so they don’t get pissed off at me for drafting. As we hit a decent stretch of track they talk to each other then sprint off into the distance. I check my heart rate – 152, I’m producing lactic acid now – and increase the pace a little. They leave me behind for the moment, but my steady riding catches up with them a mile down the trail. My heart rate is at 158 when I catch them and I need to slow down to recover.

As we ride I watch their body language. I’m guessing they are late thirties, maybe early forties – somewhere around my age (41). One guy is fit, really strong and cut. He’s tall. His leg muscles are huge and you can see the power as he pedals. He’s on some matt grey bike, maybe titanium. He has a tight racing gear cluster on the back, unlike the touring cluster on my bike that has a granny gear suitable for climbing a vertical wall. Every now and then he looks around to watch me. He also spends more time in front so I figure he’s the stronger rider.

The other guy is fast too, but his tight lycra shirt shows off a little extra fat around the middle. He doesn’t have the muscles of the first guy, but his bike is just as fast with racy colours and hard, skinny tyres. I try to get a closer look at his bike but I’m putting so much effort into pedalling at this point that it is hard to focus.

After I spend a little time behind them, they again sprint off and leave me on my own. They disappear around a bend and I figure I have lost them for good. Riding in the high 150s is a new experience and at no point does logic step in and make me slow down. I just keep plugging away at that pace. The highest I have ever seen my heart rate is 166, which happened once when hill sprinting on a bike and once when hill sprinting on foot. And here I am planning to ride at 155-160 for forty minutes back to Fremont. I’m not breathing hard. My body might be light on glycogen since I’m not eating much in the way of carbohydrates and I’m not snacking on the ride, so I wonder if I’m going to hit the wall at some point or if I can just burn fat all the way home. I tell myself it is an experiment to rationalise chasing those guys. I tell myself that I want to see if I can ride this fast for a while. The thought is in my mind that maybe I can catch those guys again.

I ride a few miles on my own, passing the occasional cyclist. I look around and see the trees and the expensive houses and feel the sun on my face. It is a nice day for a ride at pace, it feels good to put so much energy into cycling.

The ride home has a long, gentle hill. It is enough to raise your heart rate a few beats, or slow you down an equivalent amount. I start up the slope at the bottom and keep my pace, my heart now running at 160. I wonder how far up the hill my legs are going to give up.

Riding up this hill is always fun, you get to challenge yourself over the mile it takes to climb. I pass a couple of slower climbers and then about 300m up ahead I see the two lycra-riders. They must have slowed for the hill. If I keep my pace up there’s a chance I can catch them by the top and at least irritate them one more time before they speed off again. So I keep pushing up the hill, watching the riders get closer a meter at a time. The effort is taking a lot out of me, I’m breathing heavily and I can feel the lactic acid build up in my legs more than before. I hope I can make it to the top. The cycle path crosses a couple of streets and the gap is closing all the time. Maybe they are interval training and taking a break before they put in a burst of speed? Maybe they are cruising until my presence wakes them up to sprint away?  They take off with slow acceleration after another road crossing and I use the opportunity to put in a final effort to catch up, and I get right behind them. They don’t sprint off right away; they’re still climbing the hill at the slower pace. After following them for a minute it occurs to me that maybe they’re going this pace because this is as fast as they can go up a hill.

As we ride on my thoughts change. All the way up the hill I wonder when my legs will crack, when the lactic pain will be unbearable and when they will turn around, see me and take off. As I follow them and see that I might be as fast as them my feelings change from survival to triumph. I smile at every bump because the mudguards rattle and they can hear it. Every time we slow to cross a road I freewheel and backpedal to make the King hub scream its angry bee sound. I’m making a sonic hooligan of myself. I’m here, guys. On my rattly commuter bike. You can’t get rid of me. You can’t get away from me uphill. I can climb hills.

I notice that the body language has evolved since I last followed them. The athletic guy is riding ahead a little, then slows down to let the other guy catch up, then rides ahead again showing off his superior fitness. His ego has to let me know that he can go faster. He looks around and talks at the other guy a lot but I can’t hear his words because the iPod is blaring Smashing Pumpkins into my head. I hope he’s really pissed that I am following. The other guy is looking down at the road the whole time. They don’t take turns leading any more, the athletic guy does all the leading.

As we approach a bridge at the top of the slope I think ahead. The track will begin to descend a little, the speeds will rise and their aggressive riding positions and racer bikes will give them a big advantage over me that they didn’t have up the hill.

As we cross the bridge and the track opens out I ready myself to put the hammer down for the fast downhill section. I check the heart rate – high 140s – and then they pull off the track. They stop. They let me overtake. The lead rider just pulls over and the slower guy follows. Since I’m ready for a sprint anyway I take off downhill. I think about yelling “Hey!” or “Thanks for the ride!” but I keep my mouth shut.

I keep the pace up for a while. Every now and then I look over my shoulder to see if they are following, but I don’t see them again the rest of the ride. At this point I’m getting more pedestrians so I slow down. As I make it into Fremont I climb a short hill to the Fremont Bridge. A cyclist joins the road from a side street and speeds past me up the hill. I take it as a challenge and try to respond but there’s nothing left in my legs – she speeds away.

As I climb Queen Anne hill I take advantage of the gears and stick it in one of the granny gears where you keep a high cadence but go walking speed. It is all I can manage. That is the highest sustained physical output I can remember doing. I don’t plan to do it again for a while, but as a test of my basic fitness it taught me a bit about what I am capable of. Ego is a strong motivator.


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