I woke up today with a sense that time is really flying. This feeling was no doubt due in part to the incredibly strong cup of coffee I made at breakfast, but also brought on by the realization that it’s now officially the middle of June. In just a few short weeks, KT, NP, and I will be packing our bags to head back home to Canada, after a year in Germany. And almost 15 days have already passed since we watched a fireworks display over the old bridge from our window in Heidelberg (a picture of the Heidelberg castle, lit for that event and visible from our back window, is to the left). At the same time, it seems like there’s still a lot to come in our German adventure: before heading home, we’ll be off to Berlin for a few days, I’m racing in three triathlons, and KT will be off for a few days in July for a solo trip.
A lot of my time recently has been going into work and cycling. On the work front, a colleague and I organized a conference, which took place last week: successful and enjoyable, especially as it wasn’t too large and allowed for some good discussion, but also hectic and exhausting in the way that hosting a conference always is. It was also an opportunity to see some good friends and involved a couple of nice dinners. At the same time, I’ve been fitting in a lot of cycling.
A week from this coming Sunday, I have another Olympic-distance triathlon, this time in Kaiserslautern, to which I’m looking forward. But my training programme has been steadily building up the kilometerage (a fine word for those of us who find it hard to think in miles, despite 10 years in the UK and 3 in the US, even if it hasn’t yet made it into the OED) in the past few weeks with a view to the Challenge Roth race on July 8, where I’ll be doing the 180km bike portion as part of a relay team.
Since getting back from Greece, I’ve put a reasonable amount of time in on the bike. And time really is the issue when it comes to training on the bike for the long-course distance: run and swim training takes time, but nothing compared to the longer bike rides of 3-6 hours in duration. Fortunately, after my wet and cold 100km ride of a week and a half ago (described in my last post), I’ve had much better weather on my bike days, which has allowed me really to enjoy the time out there. Last Thursday (and this Thursday too), I was out for a 75km tempo ride but then this past Sunday upped the distance for the longest ride I’ve thus far ever done, 152km by the time I got home (in just under 5h 25min.).
The intensity of the ride was set to be slightly above lower heart-rate zones, which felt pretty relaxed as I set out. I was a bit tired from all of the conference activities, but after I was out on the bike for about an hour I actually started to feel like I had more energy. The route was the same one I had done for my 130km ride before going to Greece, with the difference that at the 95km mark, there was an extra 25km loop up through the hills. The first part of the route had some smaller hills interspersed with flats, then after the 55km mark there were flats back along the river, followed by the big hill, after which there were about 20km on flats for a cool-down back home.
I was fortunate to have company for the first 95km of the route – on the smaller roads, it’s nice to have someone to talk to, and it’s just generally nice riding in a group: I think I ride harder and better when I’m not alone. My friend had, however, bravely come out for the ride after having already been out for over a 100km the previous day (she’s a pretty talented cyclist), so she opted out of the hill at the end and I was on my own for the last third of the ride.
The first third of the ride felt really easy: I pushed up some hills, but generally felt relaxed at the planned pace. Things changed when we crossed over the water and headed back down towards Heidelberg along the river. On the previous long ride, I had pushed at this point in the course and so decided to pick up the pace this time too. In hindsight, I picked it up a bit too high for the plan going into the day. Maintaining my pace in this section was also made a bit harder by the wind coming down the river, the brunt of which I was getting in the lead position (I had agreed to ride lead for this stretch, as my riding partner was tired from the day before).
By the time I reached the hill section 40km later and bid farewell to my friend, my legs weren’t exhausted, but I could certainly tell I’d been working them. The biggest problem I was having at this point was that I was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable in my seat, as I’d been in a pretty locked position for quite a while. In this respect, the climb was just what I needed, as it gave me a good excuse to stand up off the seat now and again. The belief that ‘this climb is just what I needed’ only lasted a short while though……the elevation on the climb went up 340 metres over 8 kilometers and there were a few sections on the way up where I was really working hard. I knew I could make it, but I didn’t feel I was keeping a very good pace.
The top of the hill brought a sense of accomplishment, and a certain joy at the thought that I could now speed along on some flats and descents back down to the river. From that point on, it was really just a matter of turning the legs, something which becomes almost involuntary after a few hours on the bike. There’s a concentration that goes into cycling, but also on long rides an automation, as the scenery of varied roads, fields, and towns come together to form a panorama that is timeless, in the sense that it seems almost to stand outside of time altogether. Only when I stepped back into our flat after the ride, did it strike me fully that I’d been on my bike for almost one quarter of a 24-hour day.
A lot gets done in 5.5 hours, and KT had kindly (and bravely) during that time seen NP through the trials and tribulations of teething – training for a long-distance triathlon is a commitment for the whole family, and I can’t thank KT (and NP) enough for being supportive. I improve my fitness and get to see some nice countryside, while I’m riding, but what do KT and NP really get out of my long bike rides? I undoubtedly owe them, but take some consolation in the joy they have in laughing at me, when I display what might be the worst bike tan in recorded history (yes, my toddler laughed at me):