It's easy to train on the first day, and days that follow, initially, but the progression into the battle between the will and the mind is inevitable. Two weeks ago, twelve consecutive ascents of Stadium Hill with only 3 minute breaks between climbs was one of those times that I questioned. Again, and before, I have questioned, so far I've kept going. The numbers to date, hrs, miles, etc, are records for my life, all personal records. But despite their magnitude, if asked months ago if I could, I would have said yes, I know that we can do more than we think we can, that part is clear and intuitive at this point in my life. However, if asked if I would persist for this long, training in 2013 (April - August) and now 71 days into training in 2014, I would have responded with uncertainty.
In the last four weeks, I've averaged 6 rides/215 miles/and 15 cycling hours per week. Year-to-date, behind me are 136 cycling hours, 86,108 feet of elevation gain (climbing), and 67 rides. Most of my riding in February was on the trainer, so I have no idea of distance. February represents about a third of my hours. If I factor this in with some guesswork then I arrive at about 2300 miles to date in 2014 on the bicycle. (in 2013 I rode a total of 5000 miles) Add to this 1-2 soccer games a week (indoor, outdoor), 2 forty-minute gym workouts, and until about 2 weeks ago, 1-2 5k runs, then you have the potential, I think, for a beat-down, worn-out 43 year-old dude.
So where am I at this point? Physically, in the very best shape of my life. My coach suggested I was in the top 1% of active 40 year-old as far as fitness. That was generous! But certainly for non-professional athletes in their 40s, I'm a contender for the upper 1%. That's not ego talking either, I worked for that, and what I accomplished is just sitting there, waiting and available, for anyone that wants to work as hard as I have. Physically I'm where I need to be, and getting stronger each week thanks to persistence and my coach.
But physical condition is only part of the story, some might say "half the battle". I'm not convinced it's half, but it's important of course, you can't be a successful athlete (meeting your goals) without the physical condition to back it up. The larger "half" is mental. The battle in the mind that says, over and over when the real hurt and suffering come on, that it needs-wants-must STOP now! It is the feeling of exhaustion, fatigue, the crushing that creeps in and floods the system when you're pushing into the near red zone of your physical capability. To hang there for minutes is difficult. To hang close for hours is brutal. To maintain the near-red-zone off-and-on for 71 days, is epic. I am there.
The difficulty of continuing is truly humbling. I've stepped far from the circle containing my comfort zone, farther than ever before, and arrived at an unanticipated and enviable, I think, perspective: a place where I can peer into the realm of the professional athlete. And so, if nothing else, that is if at some point I'm unable to overcome the mental battle, I'll take away that amazing perspective. I want to salute friends and strangers that are athletes, you are truly an inspiration and I will always be grateful that I was able to be if your company even if only for a moment.
How did I get to this perspective? I set an overarching goal for the 2014 racing season, to finish the Leadville Trail 100 in under 7.5 hrs, and asked my coach, Alex Hagman, to help me acquire the physical condition I'll need to make my goal possible. In the 2013 Leadville Trail 100, under ideal weather conditions, only 38 riders out of just under 1600 finished in under 7.5 hrs, many of them pro mountain and road racers. Recall, my time, including 9 minutes to repair a flat tire, was 8 hrs 28 minutes. This explains the challenges to date, the hrs, miles, and ascents. They'll be much more to come.
In about 20 minutes, I'll be on my next ride, a version of my "long way round" Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins. I've been asked, by my coach, to give it some gas: "near race pace"; "throw in some efforts on hills," I anticipate 6,000 feet of climbing and about 60 miles over 5 hours. I'm going to win this battle and carry on to the next ... one day, one challenge at a time. That's the attitude I'll need to be successful ... long may it win the mental battle!
Update: Here's the ride that I mentioned at the end of the blog post (above), strava.