Every once in a while, you’re gonna have one of those rides. You know you probably shouldn’t go, you’re either too tired or the weather is bad, but you gut it out anyway. “Character Builders” is what I call them. Today’s was one of those rides. It is my last long endurance ride leading up to Sebring and it was truly a “gut-it-out” kinda day. Diesel and I rolled out at 6 a.m., still in the dark. We both had things to do this day so we needed to get our miles in. I knew the forecast was calling for some cycling unfriendly conditions, cold and windy. I’m admittedly a cold weather sissy. I’ll do it, but I really don’t like it. Heat is where I am most comfortable, bring on the triple digits and I’ll blast out the miles. Not really sure why that is. I’m a big guy in cycling terms (at over 200 lbs), and I’m a “sweater” (i.e. one who sweats profusely), either of which would typically indicate that heat should be my nemesis. But alas, I’m some sort of freak. Anyway, I dressed very warmly; three shirts, thick wool socks, shoe covers, heavy gloves, the balaclava. I briefly considered donning the running tights over my shorts and leggings but since a saddle sore and I are currently at odds, I thought it best to not compress everything quite so tightly. I was sweating before we got rolling, second-guessing if I had too much on, that would change within the first hour.

We rolled into the night, or really early morning I guess, catching a breeze every now and then. My legs were stiff, fighting to warm up amidst the chilly conditions in the low 40s. Besides the cold, I attributed this stiffness also to the wringing out I had two days earlier, a muscle stripping session with Dr. T. I had my calves stripped down. It’s excruciating, bringing me to the point between laughing and crying, as Dr. T pulls the adhesions and scarring in the muscles apart which build up over the course of many miles. Despite still being sore, my calves did feel much better than they had over the past week. I had begun using a “bone stimulator” on my shin this past week, afraid I was developing a stress fracture (which is virtually unheard of solely from cycling). I had a telltale localized pain at the distal third of the medial tibia (fancy talk for “my shin hurt”), a common locale for a stress fracture, one in fact I had experienced a couple years prior, hence the reason I even owned the “bone stimulator”. The device (which I childishly love to say in mixed company) is simply a sort of microwave for the body, causing the bone to regenerate when it gets heated slightly from the gadget. My leg had begun hurting, along with a couple other places on my body (besides the current hotspot on my “saddle contact zone”, my knee was acting up, lower back was getting locked, neck was uber-stiff), all sure signs that the radical shift in training in order to get ready for Sebring were taking their toll. After the strip down though, I think the shin pain was simply soft tissue issues (that’s surprisingly not that tough of a tongue twister to say a couple times). I’ll keep treating the bone just in case though.

Diesel was struggling to get his engine running too. His was from different reasons though. He rode a century the day prior, performing back-to-back long days in order to be ready to attempt the 400-in-24 (miles in hours that is). I was hoping to do the same, but the weather is simply not gonna cooperate for me. Sunday’s forecast is for a low of 19 in the morning. That’s just too much. I think I could probably survive it. It wouldn’t be any fun for sure, but I’m more scared that I would get sick. I guess self-preservation is kicking in as the event draws near. I’m getting more aware of the risk of sickness and injury, opting for more secure training options. I’m ready, or at least as ready as I can be, no need to push my luck. I’m very comfortable out to the 200K point, ready to take it out to 640K (the equivalent of 400 miles). I have my pacing down for sure. I think I have what works for me for nutrition right now (it seems to constantly change for whatever reason). Just some last minute physical fine tuning and all’s a go.

As we finished up lap 1, I asked Diesel if we needed to make a stop, maybe refill or grab some calories, he declined. We rolled on through for lap 2 which would take us out to 50 miles. I became aware that I had hardly touched my bottles so I downed about half a bottle of EFS. Drinking made me more thirsty, I guess because I was now aware of it. I’d have plenty to make it back around the loop again. The wind was picking up, swirling, always seemed to be a headwind. Funny how that happens. The temps were dropping too. I finally got loosened up at about 30 miles in, ready to start hammering down. The wind kept my speeds in check. Some of my favorite stretches, particularly the run down Antioch, were demoralizing as we churned into the arctic blast. I lost contact with my feet at this point. I had disposable heated insoles, but they were useless. Luckily my hands were still okay. Of the two, I’ll volunteer the feet to be the colder. I guess it’s easier to distance myself from the discomfort with them being further from my brain. We got through the second lap and Diesel suggested we blow on through and do the third lap and get this misery over with. We were only going 75 today, no need to get out to 100 in these conditions. I knew better though, with minimal fluids and no calories, that third lap would become a struggle, especially with the extra power we were using in the wind. I stopped in for literally seconds as I chugged an Ensure and a cup of coffee and topped off a bottle. We rolled on.

Lap #3 was the icing on the cake. Not far from the house, the skies darkened. As cars approached from the front, I could see their wipers going. Man, I didn’t want to be both cold and wet. That would be totally miserable. Luckily (I guess) the precipitation was sleet. It wasn’t a lot, but enough to get your attention, especially Diesel’s. He wasn’t wearing glasses and the little ice pellets were bouncing off his eyeballs. By the time we got down to Lake Horton, the coffee was ready to be recycled, so we made the run down to the park to hit the restroom. It turned out that was a mistake, shoulda’ just made the splash-n-dash off the side of the road. The lake was so wide open and exposed that the wind, which now was blowing fairly constantly, was able to really get going. We fought our way back up to Chapple Road, at points seeming to be at a standstill. The long grind back in was very cold. My thermometer hit a low of 37, dropping from a high of 44 when we started. Definitely not our fastest ride, but good training nonetheless. After this ride, I can’t help but have visions of a warm sunny south Florida in which to really turn it up. I can’t wait.

The final preparations are almost complete, just buying the last assortment of truly peculiar items one may need. Things like mustard, pickles and Tums (good remedies should muscle cramps hit), blood sugar test strips for my diabetes monitor (to help troubleshoot should it all go to hell), little keychain lights so I can monitor my speed and distance in the night (can’t afford to fly blindly while the clock keeps ticking). I also have to go see my stripper one last time, my muscle stripper that is, Dr T (what were you thinking). Gotta get the hamstrings worked over. I’ve found the hammys for sure are the biggest bang for the buck for cycling. Once those muscle fibers are unwound, it’s like having a new set of legs to go tear up, and I will. The quads, not so much, but that maybe because the IT band hurts so freakin’ much to mess with. Anyway, in under a week now, I hopefully will be well on the way to a successful RAAM qualifying attempt. Oh, it’s gonna hurt… really bad. I don’t think there’s anyway to truly make this thing not hurt, no amount of training you could do that this could be a cake-walk, it’s just too much. In an odd way, I’m looking forward to that suffering, looking forward to getting a clearer vision of life. It’s funny how all the meaningless chatter in your life gets stripped away during something like this. Maybe this is the real character builder. Not the uncomfortable ride you choose to do because it’s part of your training, but the true suffering you make yourself voluntarily go through (remember, I’m “paying”, not “paid”, to do this stuff) which really exposes what you’re made of. How you act under that stress, whether you’ll push on when you’re sure you can’t, that’s where you’re character can be found, where you can work on it. It’s gonna be a beautiful disaster šŸ™‚

Oh yea, and a Brooks leather saddle, at below 40 degrees or so… turns into absolute granite. Take that you blasted saddle sore. I’m more stubborn than you, at least until you put me in the OR.

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