Saturday, February 19, 2011
Riding back to St George on Thursday evening, I glanced over my shoulder and almost fell off my bike with surprise as I saw an enormous and glowing white moon rising over the Hurricane Cliffs. After admiring the view for a moment, I pedaled on, not wanting to interrupt the seemingly invincible state which my legs had found.
In ultraendurance bike races, after a couple days, it's not uncommon for competitors to describe settling into a sort of diesel mode in which their legs can drive a solid pace all day long. For me, the discovery of the existence of such a state was the revelation required to understand how ultra racers can keep pushing for days on end. It wasn't until racing on the Arizona Trail two years ago that I experienced this on the final day as I pushed to outrun Stefan Griebel to the finish and couldn't believe what was left in my legs. It's happened a few times since then, only after 2+ long days in the saddle when I'm on great form. And on those days, it usually takes 2-3 hours for my legs to get warmed up in the morning, making for a rather uncomfortable start.
This week I once again found myself in diesel mode, the second time I've achieved this state during training. Following my shadow cast by the full moon the other evening, I decided it would be worth doing a little comparison. On Monday, the first day of this training binge, I rode a tough 130-mile loop. I seemed to feel better 100 miles into Thursday's ride than at almost any point on Monday's ride. What if I did that exact loop again at the end of this 5-day binge?
So that's what I did. Since I don't have a power meter, my only quantitative comparison is based on time. I tried to ride at the same sustainable level that I did on Monday, not consciously "racing" my old time. Six hours in, I crested the second pass within 1-2 minutes of my time of 5 days earlier. Then I crossed the 100-mile mark about 5 minutes ahead. I gained a bit more time climbing Bulldog Pass, and in the end, I came in ~20 (3%) minutes sooner with 30 seconds (2%) more non-riding time clocked. Looking at the GPS data playback, Friday-me and Monday-me were within no more than 1000' of one another for the first 70 miles. The separation finally began on a long canyon descent which I apparently rode a bit faster yesterday since I knew what was around each bend.
I haven't fully digested what all this means, but I'm intrigued. It's tough to experiment with scenarios like this since I only find myself in them a few times a year, and usually it's during races. If nothing else, it reinforces a few things about how my body responds to these consecutive all-day efforts. If any readers have any physiological insight into this, I'd love to hear it.