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Keep the Faith
A big race looms on the horizon. Until a couple of months ago, I managed to all but put off everything but the most basic of training, favoring learning how to ride a mountain bike over actually putting in hard miles on the road. Work was taking over my life with several consecutive days off the bike loosening my grip. Minor injuring hummed in my trapeziums at night and left me tired every morning. On top of it all I decided to move in with my boyfriend, to simplify things of course. This was the year I’d decided to train like a pro. What had happened? Guilt compounded with fear and denial.
So when December slunk into view, and then Christmas, I had to finally pull the trigger.
Between Christmas and New Year I traversed the Brecon Beacons on my Waterford in the sleet, rain and pounding headwinds. I kept to the larger roads and penned a straight line over the hills. First South from Hay-on-Wye to Merthyr Tydfil and back. Then from Hay to Llandovery. I found a rhythm and just enough Welsh cakes to keep me going. It was dark when I set out. Sometimes dark when I returned. I was expecting my legs to bottom out each day but they kept going. The sun lapped only momentarily on the edge of the Beacons, quickly swept away by some distant flurry.
As the new year took hold, after-work sessions on my turbo trainer became the only sensible option. I would be efficient. I would train hard and rest hard. I would eat only what my body needed. I would keep track of my watts and my resting heart rate. I would wake up to my alarm without hitting snooze. I would find power in long forgotten pockets of muscle. I would sweat out the weight of my social life. I would go back to work and become floored by sinusitis within weeks of being back in shape.
At my fittest in months I was also unable to breathe. So I rested. I didn’t get out of bed for five days except to visit the pharmacy and heat up tinned soups.
How much of my power would be gone? Was it too late already? If I get sick again I can’t do the race. That’s it. Game over.
The strange thing about training by yourself is you forget your speed. You have good days and bad days, but you’re not climbing next to one of your girlfriends and measuring your breath against hers. Riding is personal, but strength is relative.
I’d forgotten something: I never stopped riding this year. Even if I wasn’t building up my fitness, I wasn’t getting any slower.
Stay on his wheel. 23.4mph. 160bpm. Stay here and keep going. Push through it. Stay here, Ahart. Don’t get dropped.
I’ve never been able to keep up with Will (my boyfriend) before. We neared the end of a five hour ride and I was on his wheel. He kept looking back to check if I was there, only ever a few inches behind. Surely a fluke? I must have just been having a good day.
I’m here. 23.6mph. 150bpm. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.
The blood in my legs pounded against the frosty, sun-lit air. “I’m not going anywhere”, I repeated to myself. Just inches off his back wheel, this was no fluke. This was our second day out. My ninth hour that weekend. I caught myself smiling. Have faith. The speed finally came. Every pedal stroke pushed faster, harder. And SNAP! I pulled ahead on a hill. It must have been the coffee. And then again. POW! He wasn’t even on my wheel. I pushed up the misty tarmac. Did I just drop him? Again?
Silence was about as close as I got to a compliment that weekend.
Faith is a fickle thing. Less than two months of solid training (and even that was punctuated with illness) I had blind faith that if I didn’t stop riding, if I didn’t stop loving it, the speed would find me. And it worked.
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