I was asked recently by someone who knew I was trying to train more and ride 500miles/month, whether I was getting better. At the time I thought I must have been but in no way that I could measure. My response was along the lines of “possibly, the times aren’t changing but the wind does”. Coming from rowing with its ergs and constant quantitative measuring of fitness, moving to cycling where gains are much harder to measure it was more than a little disconcerting to realise that, while you felt and thought you were fitter than before, you still hadn’t equalled a record set nearly two years ago.
My first two rides this year were around the road training loop I’ve been doing and timing since I got the road bike. My times were abysmal. At the time I put it down partly to the fitness I’d lost over the second half of last year but also to the strong wind. I took those times (within 6s of each other) as a benchmark to build on. Over the seven weeks since I started my 500 mile challenge I have ridden just over 800 miles. I know that means I’m not succeeding a huge amount, but I can now finally say that I am improving. If you don’t enjoy reading of someone on the internet trying (probably unsuccessfully) to sound like they’re not bragging, now would be a good time to look away.
Since that conversation, I am happy to say that I have beaten that two-year-old record. Last weekend, I realised that for once there was almost no wind at all, the roads were dry and it wasn’t cold. The perfect chance to see what I could actually manage. I shocked myself. Given the previous rides, I expected to be getting close to a PB and hopefully on the right side of it. When I finished I was amazed to find I’d beaten it by more than a minute. Not a huge amount in most situations but far more than I could have hoped for. I didn’t even care (too much) that I’d missed going under the hour mark by 11 seconds. It just means that I have a greater sense of achievement next time when I only beat it by 12 seconds.
Since then, whether by improved fitness or improved confidence I have started noticing things speeding up. I have had to find a new route for the time being as the old one is being dug up, and have lengthened out my regular rides to ~30 miles to try and increase distance each month. Where before headwinds would destroy any ability to push on, I am now riding at a speed I’d have been happy with in still air a month ago. My smallest chain ring has been unused for the last week of rides and I’m aware of being able to hold gears for longer before changing down when the roads do go uphill.
I’ve not had a chance to ride the new route on a still day. While a couple of climbs have been made easier, the long steep downhill section (would be a Cat 4 the other way) has so far not let me get higher than ~35mph where I’d usually be expecting 45. Even with these conditions today I managed 21mph average. It was another of those times where you’re not quite sure how it’s happening and you keep expecting to find a section of road you’d forgotten you had left. When riding I only have speed and cadence on the screen so my only knowledge of the running average to that point is the small pacer arrow that tells you which side of it you’re on. There were points I was sure it must have been wrong.
If only the GPS hadn’t decided to fail at strategic points around the circuit, who knows what Strava (another chance to record the minutiae of life) records I’ve have beaten.
If I hadn’t been so exhausted and doing the heel-down-road-shoe-hobble, I could almost have appeared happy as I collapsed inside in a state of debilitation.