Friday, December 20, 2013

Allez, pou-pou!

In the cult classic, The Rider, by Tim Krabbe´, the author describes spectators along the side of the road, shouting encouragement to the cyclists in a race. "Allez, pou-pou!" they say as the riders pass by.

Pou-pou is a nickname for Raymond Poulidor, a French cyclist in the 1960s who perpetually came in second in the Tour de France to an unpopular Jacques Anquetil. I suppose the spectators were calling out the name of any cyclist they knew, and Poulidor was one of the famous ones of the day. Or maybe Krabbe´ was dreaming what they said. He dreamed up a lot of things on that ride. The whole book, beautiful as it might be, is something of a hallucination, since it is the closest thing I've ever read that describes what goes on inside a racer's head in the middle of a long competition. In any case, I like the way the exhortation sounds. So...French. Fancy scarves and skinny baguettes, all wrapped up in the sort of funny, lilting endearment you might say to a child.

Allez, pou-pou!

Krabbe´ also recounts this story, during one of the moments when he isn't dreaming: The 1956 Giro d'Italia was so cold that rider Wout Wagtmans climbed off his bike in the middle of the race, went into a cafe´ and stuck his feet, shoes and all, into a bucket of hot water.

I thought about both of these things while I was out riding today, bundled up against the cold and damp. I wore toe warmers on my Sidis, but even so, I could imagine myself finding a warm cafe´ and asking for a bucket of hot water.

I could have stayed inside, I suppose, and ridden on the trainer. But besides finding the trainer mostly a bore, I felt I needed to test myself against the elements. In part, I'm preparing for doing another Bike Garden Challenge in 2014. No trainer miles will count, so I might as well start toughening up right now. Foul weather shall not stay my rounds.

The temperature today was in the mid-thirties, the wind a gentle, but chilling 10 miles per hour from the north. My feet were numb under the toe covers.

"Allez, pou-pou!" I whispered behind my balaclava, because on my bicycle, I am still a child. "Allez."

The Bike Garden Challenge is just around the corner. Get your checkbooks ready.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Don't get too comfortable, 2014, 'cuz I'm coming for you

I rode a lot of miles in 2011 as part of the Bike Garden Challenge to raise money for the South Plains Food Bank's Grub Farm. I got pretty fit as a result of all those miles, but I didn't get fast. They were slow miles, all year, mainly because I didn't know for sure I was going to be able to complete the challenge, having never done anything like that before. I've been a distance runner since...well, since for most of my life, and if there is anything distance runners know about, it is that you have to pace yourself. Don't head out in a sprint--save it so you can finish the race.

Well, that is all well and good, but too much slow never makes you fast.

At the end of 2011, I entered a local bike "race," the PT Classic. It is twenty-some odd miles and includes a couple of the only true hills we have here on the plains, Horseshoe Bend and the Spiral Staircase. I figured, "Hey, I've been riding all these miles. I've got this."

I came in dead last. As in, they had already packed up all the registration tables and left the parking lot by the time I rolled up to the finish line. Admittedly, it was partly because I got lost on the course, for when I got dropped by the pack, my map of the route rode away from me. Here's the kicker: I lost the pack more or less in the first two miles of the race--because they were fast and I was slow.

I wasn't last only because I was lost, however. I was also slow. What is worse, I was exhausted at the end of the race, which shouldn't have been, given that I'd ridden all those miles in the previous months. If not speed, I at least should have had some endurance.

I am haunted by this race. I don't mind so much that I was last--after all, someone has to be that person, and fortunately, my self-esteem isn't tied up in where I cross the finish line relative to the rest of the pack. I'm tickled when I do well, but if everyone else finishes ahead of me, well, good for them, because we all had fun.

But my results in this race bothered me then and bother me still. I think it is because it was so different from what I expected. I believed I was in spectacular shape, having ridden all those miles. And I probably was in pretty good shape, just not race shape. That is, I was fit relative to being a regular person, but not a racer-person.

My friends, being a racer-person is tied to my self-esteem. This is something I have admitted to myself. I'm not making a judgment about it one way or another; it is just who I am. I love being in a race. I love the nerves and butterflies. I love the pageantry and dressing up in the race kit, as if I am putting on a suit of armor. I love the training and the tweaking things so that I can get the most out of my performance. I love dreaming about the race beforehand, and sidling up to the edge of suffering during it. I love going over it in my mind afterward, and planning how I can do better next time. But when I toe up to the line, I am almost never racing against anyone but myself and my own expectations. In the PT Classic, I lost, terribly, against those expectations.

I could leave it there, I suppose. Life is full of moments in which we disappoint ourselves, after all. But the thing is, in the case of this particular disappointment, I know I can do better. Besides, dammit, just because I am in the waning moon of middle-age, it does not mean it is time to stop having fun, give up on the pageantry and suffering, and lie down on the side of the road. So when picking out mile-markers for my long-term fitness and health goals for the upcoming year, you-know-what kept shooting to the top of the list.

So yes, Year 2014. Here you are, just around the corner, looking smug and self-satisfied up there on Horseshoe Bend, wearing your house slippers and eating your bon bons, all because you think grown up means the same thing as complacent.

Well, you know what? I'm sending you notice: The PT Classic, next September. Bring it. I've been studying and analyzing, and cogitating and planning. I think I've figured out why I was slow. I think I know why I was exhausted in spite of logging all the previous mileage. And I think I can fix both of those things.

I am in training and I am coming for you, 2014. We'll see who is the boss.