Cycling is a game of chess with the rider playing against his own body. The rider alternately pushes and then relents, hoping to finish the ride as quickly as he can. If he miscalculates or misreads his body’s feedback, he bonks* before finishing. Effectively, checkmate is the body saying, “This time I win. You’re not going any further.” Or checkmate is the rider saying “I squeezed an extra 15 seconds off my time.”
Strategy is the essence of cycling. When I lie down the night before a ride I visualize all the climbs and downhills. Is this hill long and gradual, or short and steep? What comes after it? Where is the perfect spot to attack? I want to be over the top before I run out of steam. How much energy do I save to finish the rest of the ride? How am I feeling? Did I get to bed early or late? When do I eat?
Throw in another factor like my super-competitive wife riding with me and the game becomes even more complex. It’s a wonder I can sleep.
Lately I’ve been considering a really terrible ride. In the U.S. it ranks in the top ten most difficult for endurance. Right here in Fresno each June a couple hundred cyclists do the Climb to Kaiser. It is a monster starting at close to sea level and taking a deviously indirect route (with plenty of extra climbs thrown in) to Kaiser Pass in the Sierra Nevada at 9200 feet elevation. The ride is 155 miles long and climbs 15,000 feet.
I’m about 10 pounds overweight. I’m slow and get winded on the 30 mile ride I’ve been doing lately. C2K is five months away. I need to be able to do a moderate century ride (100 miles) in eight weeks. In another eight weeks I need to be able to finish a century ride with 10,000 feet of climbing in 8 to 10 hours.
I consult a book called “Cycling Past 50.” It gives training plans for old guys like me. It tells me I probably don’t have enough time to prepare. I can do difficult training rides every week but can’t push too hard or I will injure my aging knees.
I go through the next 18 weeks in my mind. It’s tight, and probably not realistic. I have other obligations/commitments. Training will probably be interrupted often. My wife thinks I’m crazy. Everything tells me I should save it for next year. But my heart (not my heart rate) says, “Go for it! You might not live that long.”
I’ve decided I will give it my best and if my body wins this match, so be it. I never was very good at chess anyway. I will let you know how it goes.
*Bonking is a cycling term that describes the body shutting down. Without warning a person suddenly has no energy and might even feel nauseous. Usually bonking signals the end of the ride because quick recovery is practically impossible. I once bonked at about mile 75 of a planned 200 mile ride. I was very disappointed as I stopped at a little general store. I bought two Coca-Colas and guzzled them down, rested about 15 minutes, and tried to keep going. Being 29 years old probably helped because after the caffeine kicked in I was able to press on and finish the 200 miles. It took me 18 hours, though.