A first synthesis ride

February 20, 2013

So last night I took my first “real” ride of any distance in 2.5 weeks.  I’d been on the bike 4-5 times in the interval, but for a TOTAL of maybe 10-12 miles, and never more than 3 at a stretch…just very short rides to keep “in touch” with the bike.

Recently much has kept me off the bike.  I’ve been working through some things in the personal life, working a fair amount, the weather has been inconsistent, and crowning it all I had a battle with the nasty flu that is going around.  All these things contributed to keeping me off the bike for – well, one of the longest stretches since I first bought the current bike in January 2012.

But, finally, there I was last night.  The weather wasn’t hospitable to it – it was well below freezing when I set out at about 7 PM and dropped below 20 before I arrived home.  Plus I am still battling the remaining 20% of the flu I’d been suffering.  But with the forecast calling for between 6 and 12+ inches of snow, ice, sleet to fall in the next 24 hours, I knew I would NOT be riding for the next few days – so better to sneak in at least one ride.

I was eager for the ride for more reasons than one.  Beyond just the joy of riding and reconnecting with the bike (which I truly believe, as my blog’s subtitle says, saved my life), I recognized that depending upon route selection, this would be a good “synthesis ride” for me – a good ability to gauge my progress along the all-important power-to-weight continuum.  I’ve been applying myself dedicatedly to improving the power-to-weight ratio for some weeks now, continuing to eat healthy and lose weight while going regularly to the gym for strength training.  I’ve seen the results in numerous little ways, and was eager to assess its impact-thus-far on the bike.

I chose a route that for me historically has been fairly challenging.  Or at least, not a piece of cake.  It’s a roughly 24 mile route up north to LeLoup and back via 68 Highway, a route originally suggested to me by Randy Rasa of kansascyclist.com.  The route has certainly gotten less difficult for me as I’ve lost weight over the months, but I hadn’t done the route in the past several weeks of strength training and weight loss and was eager to measure my progress against it.

Additionally, I have a slightly tweaked fueling strategy that I plan to essay for this cycling season, and this would be a first ride to give that a test.

This became one of those bike rides you live for.  Crisp and cold, yes.  I wore my normal winter gear – leggings with 2 pairs of shorts, t-shirt underneath with long-sleeve shirt atop – but in addition I wore atop THAT a warm red sweatshirt, and on my head a cap/ear cover which I only employ when it’s below 30ish.  All of that gear kept me comfortably warm for the most part (although by ride’s end my feet were cold), and I fired up my usual Pandora mix station as I weaved my way through traffic lights out of town.  Coming up to the first inclines on 68 east, I could immediately perceive a difference in the amount of “push” I needed to exert.  My body felt stronger, quicker and lighter than before, and I made good time up the couple of small inclines with good cadence.

The ride to LeLoup is a beautiful stretch of quiet country road, with a few small rolling hills, and these I also took with less exertion than is typically the case for me.  The night sky was (in parts) clear and bright, and the tunes were as always a perfect soundtrack to my private reel of thoughts as the miles ticked away and the Kansas landscape glided silently past in the darkness.

Making the turn east for the next stretch, I continued feeling very good…a little quicker, a little stronger, and a little lighter.  For maybe the first time in my life, or one of the first rides, I was feeling like a “real cyclist”.  I’m aware that even after all the time I’ve put in on the bike and all my effort in losing weight, I’m just now starting to open the door into a different “era” for me in terms of on-bike potential, and it’s a very cool thing to experience, if difficult to capture in words.

I took a short break at my usual place – halfway in, about 12 miles.  Briefly stopped at my familiar stop-sign breaking point, drank some more water and relaxed a minute or two.  The moon seemed to be directly overhead, aligned with the stop sign, and fringed with bright stars – a beautiful moment to be alive and enjoying a bike ride on this crisp night.  Soon enough I jumped back aboard for the return to O-town.  The first few miles here are on Tennessee Road, with another few rolling hills.  A couple of these climbs in particular have in the past played havoc with my cadence and breathing.  This night though, the “synthesis ride” could hardly have been much more encouraging…I rolled up each climb and down the other side in stride.  Turning back west on 68, passing familiar landmarks and more rollers, I arrived back in town cold (especially the aforementioned feet) but feeling very good.  The fueling strategy seems to be an A+ at this point – when doing this route in the past, I always would feel a little “protest” from my legs in the last couple miles, but not today.  I felt as though, if not for the temperature and the time of day (this on a work-night), I could comfortably have extended the ride for another X number of miles.

In all, I couldn’t have been more heartened by this “synthesis ride” than I was/am.  It’s a very encouraging start to what should be a really fun year of cycling.  Clearly the weight loss, the healthier eating, and the strength training are cohering (synthesizing) into making me a stronger rider.  Now with spring just around the corner…warmer temps, and longer daylight, I will be able to integrate the final piece which is more frequent and longer rides, building the miles.

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