Being race fit is not the same as being fit. Racing is hard and unforgiving, whether it’s cyclo-cross, criteriums, downhill mountain bike or whatever other persuasion tickles your fancy. In order to race with any degree of success (contextualised to what success means to you) you have to be on it all the time. Every ride is a training ride or fits in to some sort of bigger scheme. It’s really hard work and when things start to slide, simply because of that big and sprawling thing known as ‘life outside of cycling’ it gets really really hard and can be utterly disheartening. It’s because the difference between racing and not racing is the edge. It’s the intensity acquired through being on it. If you can no longer replicate the intensity then the race is over, it moves on without you.
By way of a simple comparison, lately I have been trying to get back towards race fitness after a lay-off. I’ve still been riding my bike, but without the pressures of racing. Now I have reacquainted myself with the pressures and therefore I have been working hard in training. i rode back from Cheltenham last week at a 21 mph average speed. I took in some savage climbs and i tried pretty hard. And yet my average heart rate hovered in the 140s. I think I hit a maximum somewhere on Selsley Hill where it brushed 179 for about 10 pedal strokes. And i was trying really really hard to push it up.
In contrast, I rode the Minehead CC Hardrider, two laps of circuit near Wheddon Cross. I’ve done it twice before and it’s bloody hard work and technically quite demanding. Right from the start my heart-rate hit 170bpm and it kept climbing. I rode for an hour and 5 minutes and it hurt for the entirety of the hour and 5 minutes. In fact, it hurt more as time wore on. My average heart rate was 171bpm. I did ok, I came second behind a ferocious Robin Coomber who mullered it on the flatter sections to good effect. I am satisfied that I have rekindled some form, I am on course for the hill climb season and on an upwards curve. But it’s only happened because I’ve been training properly. This is why I admire racing cyclists; I know and understand the level of commitment that is required to compete.
Yesterday i went to Wales and rode a hill climb. I have been anxious to open my account this year, having missed the two Dursley promotions. It was a savage and unpleasant ascent up to the small village of Pantygasseg. It was much shorter than I would have liked, I hoped they were using the full valley road but in the event they went for the steep ramp at the top. It needed a huge effort, no real pacing, just an out of the saddle churn of the pedals and the capacity to ignore the lactic burn. it was horrid. I won by about 15 seconds and set a new course record. it wasn’t the most competitive of events, but I’ll take it. The good people of Pontypool Road Club were very friendly and welcoming.
Tomorrow I am using the Mercian to get to work. After spending Saturday astride the C-Bomb (which is currently tipping the scales at salacious 6.39kg) the Mercian feels like it’s made of girders.