Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Digging Holes

There is an expression in cycling called "digging a hole". This refers to beating your body down ride after ride, never allowing it proper recovery. Thus digging yourself down into a hole. It's not so easy to get out of a hole. Whereas, if you are simply out of shape, you aren't at a deficit. You just need to make some deposits to the ole fitness account. Overtraining is like overdrawing on your fitness account, and the fees are outrageous.
I thought I was recovered from my upper respiratory infection, and had a week of good riding under my belt after 2 long weeks off the bike. But after Sunday's nostalgic ride at Rich Mountain, my health took a downhill swing. Thinking I was still just tired, I forced my way through some easy rides. Wednesday's ride was the telltale sign. It took 3 hrs to make 47 miles, and it felt like we had done at least 147.

"Dig, dig, dig," was all Alexis had to say in reply to the incessant whining over my wretched state of riding. "You're digging yourself into a hole," she reminded me over and over. And she was right, as always. This time I am in so deep, I cannot see the front or the back. Sigh.

My riding is completely out of focus, and I'm trying to find the upside of it all.

Another visit to the doctor, more missed days of work, endless boring hours of rest, and 3 weeks of antibiotics....just start shoveling the dirt in over my head. I do not do well with rest, forced rest. Always itching to get out and do something, I end up jumping the gun every time.

I jumped the gun again this Tuesday. Surely there was enough energy in my little body to muster up the strength to spin around the crit course for the "prologue". The prologue consists of riding around in circles mindlessly to loosen up the legs in preparation for a grueling hour plus 5 laps of sheer torture.
Simply called "the crit", every Tuesday night cyclists from all over Atlanta meet at a small office park in the 'burbs for a practice criterium. Having grown in popularity over the past 20 years, some now refer to it as "West Oak".

In the early 90's, West Oak Office Park was a beautiful quiet oasis in the middle of streets, cars, and endless development. Only a few buildings occupied the lovely office park encircling a peaceful pond complete with geese and ducks. Many a time, the pack would come tearing down the straight, only to find the geese marching across the road. "Brake, Brake!" we would scream, as everyone tried to avoid the animals and each other's wheels.
Slowly, but surely, through the late 90's, more and more office buildings were added to the park. The oasis has long since vanished. Now it is a thoroughfare, with intersections, stop signs, and kamikaze drivers and trucks.

As the office park has grown, so has the crit. In 1995, the pack was up to 30+ riders strong with an average pace of 25-26mph. We thought we were bad. We were at the time! Now the pack can easily number over 80 riders, and you pray the pace will be an easy 25!
Every cyclist is decked out in their fancy kits, and occasional visiting national teams show up to taunt the locals. Vulture's corner is always full of riders waiting to jump back in the pack.
I have always had a love hate relationship with the crit. Hating the pain, I could not help but love the results afforded me by consistent participation. Doing the crit made me strong and fast. It also made smart riders out of the lucky ones that were joining in 15 years ago. There were specific rules, and each rider had to abide by those rules. You break the rules, you get a tongue lashing and lots of scornful looks. Nowadays, I notice riders doing all types of stupid things in the pack that would have gotten them thrown out in a heartbeat. It seems you cannot correct people anymore without infringing on their rights and garbage like that. But that is a whole other subject.

Unfortunately, I stopped doing the crit on a consistent basis in 2002. Having added yet another head injury to my tally, I was no longer comfortable riding shoulder to shoulder with 80 other cyclists with half of them having the prowess of a squirrel. I can directly pinpoint my decline of fitness to the season I pulled out of the crit. Jumping back in here and there did not cut the mustard. I lost my edge while the ride continued to get faster.

Tuesdays are no longer my crit day, but sometimes I go out just to visit with old friends and see how many laps I can hang on before exploding. It was nice to see some familiar faces last night as we rode around in circles for the "prologue". Reason ruled out thanks to Alexis's dirty looks, and I got off my bike before approaching the Start Line. Initially it had felt good to be riding my bike, but those good feelings vanished all too soon. Digging a little deeper.

I had no time to focus on how bad I felt. My camera was waiting in the car. An easy distraction with which to amuse myself. Plus, Raja was trying his hand at the crit, and I wanted to watch him.
Photographing road riding is a different beast from photographing mountain biking. I know alot of it has to do with your connection to the subject. Let's face it, I'm a mountain biker at heart. But I do have zillions of hours experience on the road, so it has to count for something.

While everyone was testing their bodies, I was testing my mind. This was tricky business for me and I felt like a fish out of water. The day was late and the light was fading. Buildings, trucks, and portajohns mess up the view. Cyclists go by so fast! I cannot pick out anyone in the crowd long enough to focus. This was more of a workout than if I'd stay on my bike!

Barry had things under control in the crit, and kept tabs on the time. After an hour has passed, a wave of his hand and a shout lets the riders know it's 5 laps to go.

Things heat up as the riders get anxious. The surviving cyclists clamor for good postions while others graciously bow out to watch the last few rounds.
And in the blink of an eye, it's down to the last lap. The serious riders want confirmation. It will make all the difference in their strategy.
As quick as it started, it's over. I'm exhausted and I did not even participate!

At least while I'm sitting down here in my hole, I have some pictures to ponder. Maybe one day, I will emerge from my pit and begin the new season. I've got a long row to hoe if I do ever get back on the bike. But I should be good at it, I've been building up my strength digging holes. So watch out, I'll be coming from behind.

Tuesday night's slideshow:

268 pictures are here.



jmilliron said...

Great read. Thanks for sharing & good luck with your health.

Blair said...

Great post and pics. You captured the pain/pleasure of the crit. I too remember the old NARC days in the crit. I still jump in every once in a while.

Take care-

i8chocolate said...

Maybe I'll see you out there this year, Blair. I hope to give it a whirl hanging on to the back a few times. I'll stay on your wheel.

regularjoe said...

Don't go diggin' this weekend...

Great shots. They just keep getting better. Love the light of the golden hour...

Namrita O'Dea said...

i love the shots, nice work. i would really like to try that sometime..but i don't know if i can handle riding that close to people :)

James Bigler said...

I didn't do all that much, but I appreciate the plug. Your photo editing skills are sky rocketing. You should be making me a blog header.