When I was a kid we saw a film at school called Hemo the Magnificent. It is an animated film that describes how the circulatory system works by using graphics that were light years ahead of their time. In researching this post I just learned that this movie was made by Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”) and has a lot of other famous film maker involves so it’s no wonder it had such an impression on me.*
In the film, the brain is depicted as a control center, telling these little muscle men strategically placed around the heart when to push each chamber and how hard. It demonstrates the ‘fright or flight’ reaction in a deer by showing the control center issuing urgent orders to “pump faster! pump faster!” The film has shaped my personal internal narrative of what is going on in body ever since.
Today was supposed to be my Half IM test drive where I rode 50 miles and ran 6. Anyone who has ever trained for an endurance event of that distance knows full well you can’t go out one day and make a test drive and have any idea whether or not you are prepared to train to go the distance at pace but I was rather enjoying my naiveté on that point so that was the plan. The best laid plans……
I arranged to have a friend meet me at 6 AM because we wanted to beat the heat. As it turned out it cooled way down Friday night so it wasn’t an issue but I decided to keep the time. I woke up feeling sort of oogie in the tummy and couldn’t eat any breakfast but that was okay because I’m pretty sure I OD’d on what we affectionately refer to around here as ‘Easy Peasy Mac and Cheesy’ which is Annies Organic shells and cheese with some peas thrown in. When it comes to cooking for myself that’s about the level at which I function. But I digress.
As we were riding along, discussing the route I knew that I didn’t want to do any really ferocious hills because I wasn’t up to it just having raced a 5K a few days before. I didn’t happen to mention that little factoid to my friend, though. We decided to take Happy Valley Rd and just do 1 of the Three Bears – no problem. Why I thought you could get to and area at the apex of some long hills without climbing is yet another mystery but I blithely rode along having no idea. It’s like Pee Wee Herman stopped by to whisper “Today’s word is”Naive” (heretofore referred to as WotD). Turns out we had to climb the second nastiest hill I have ever been on.
After we had been climbing for about a mile I was really getting knackered – my legs were shot. I almost stopped but my friend called out the lie we all love to tell each other when we’re riding – “We’re almost to the top!” I fell for it, too (refer to WotD). And then, when itwas clear that we were nowhere near the top my brain interceded and decided that I really should stop for a second.
I did my signature move – clip out right, fall left. As I lay there in the road under my bike with my left shoe still in the death grip of my pedal all I could think of was how really, profoundly good it felt to be flat on my back. I wanted to stay there forever but then I decided that if a car ran over me it wouldn’t feel so good anymore so I forced my foot out of the clip and stood up. Then I was irritated with myself because I was on a steep incline and either had to ride down as I mounted then turn around ane re-climb the slope that had defeated me or I had to walk the bike up the hill for a bit. I picked door number 2 and really wished I had just stayed in the saddle but oh well.
It got a bit flatter and I got back on and rode the rest of the way up and then WHEEE!!! we were going down. That’s when problem number 3 popped up (1 being my tummy, 2 being my beat up, post race legs). I was wearing a nylon jacket that has a lot of fabric in the sleeves and around the back. It is made for runners, not for cyclists. It was windy up there and I was going downhill. The jacket billowed out behind me and the sleeves flapped and slapped so hard that the slappage bit at my arms like a teething puppy. I might as well have had a big old sail mounted to my top bar.
Ultimately we got down that hill and then had to climb Papa Bear the back way and surprisingly enough, that was fine. The rest of the ride was sort of fine except my legs were suffering a level of fatigue I have never felt before. When I got to the bottom of Papa Bear (which required furious pedaling just to go 30 because my sail was in full bloom) and had no more descent to aid my forward progress I was sure I had a flat because it was so hard to propel the bike. I was practically in the granny gear and could barely move. I stopped and felt the tires – they were fine. I was just out of gas.
I kind of liked it. It gave me some idea of how it feels to be in the midst of a high volume training week where you feel totally beat up and like you can’t go on anymore. It gave me some idea of what it is really like to train for an Ironman or even a half and I needed that insight so I could transcend the WotD.
I tossed the original plan in favor of being reasonable. I rode home the easiest way I could find back – total ride 22 miles. I took my ancient and somewhat crippled dog for a walk. I was done.
As I sat eating my scrambled eggs after the ride I could hear the little muscle men working on rebuilding my quads.
“Whoa – we have some serious damage here. Come in Control Center – we need an assessment”
“Yep – looks that these fibers aren’t up to the load – time to reinforce. Bring in an extra crew”
“More myelin! Double it up!”
So Go Little Dudes – Go! I need you to be working like mad dogs in there because I’m looking forward to test driving my reinforced legs next weekend. When it comes to training it’s really true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
*the other thing I learned is that you can still buy this film! I’m so excited.