With a modicum of timidity I launched toward the start of HOP yesterday morning. I have been spending precious little time on the bike and my mid week ride around the Crocket Loop was a discouraging 63 minutes. I have an unattained goal of 45 minutes with my fastest times in the mid 50 minute range. The 63 wasn't easy.
So heading out to ride with 20 other race conditioned guys on a 54 mile circuit was psychologically daunting. But they were mercifully moderate. The word "Tempo" kept popping up during the ride, and I relaxed just a little more each time I heard it. Riding 54 miles averaging 20 mph probably can't be considered exactly easy, but hiding away in the middle of a 20 soul peloton certainly makes it easier.
The promise of spectacularly clear skies and idyllic 70 degree temperatures brought out a fine group of well mannered cyclists. For the first time in some time, the group really worked together, with us amateurs taking our short turns at the front and the real thoroughbreds pulling with remarkable restraint. When the powerhouse cyclists decide to open the ball, it turns into a chaotic scramble for a convenient slipstream and the so called "slinky" effect easily rockets the less vigilant out the back of the group. I've had my turn at success and failure on that slinky in the past, but our leaders omitted the chaos on this ride and offered sustained intensity instead.
A few weeks back I watched a cyclist cross wheels just ahead of me and leave a fair sample of DNA on the asphalt. He rode away from the incident, sans half his shorts, but the rider directly behind him was left changing his tube and nervously riding on a tire scrubbed clear to the threads where he had locked it up to avoid dissecting our comrade. That day the group chemistry was slanted toward chaos and chaos claimed a victim. Those days stand in contrast to the more peaceful rides where we all work together and avoid the continual acceleration and deceleration of the slinky.
And all of that stands in stark contrast to last weekend. Last Sunday morning my alarm roused me at 3:45am and I switched on the coffee pot at about 10 minutes before 4. With water bottles filled on Saturday night, and lights, running shoes, and hat laid out by the door, I was pounding pavement by 4:15. I knew I'd have the roads to myself, but wore my blindingly reflective illumiNite jersey nonetheless. I carried a small flashlight which, once out of town, augmented the small light attached to the bill of my cap.
I then ran far out of town. Nervous about attacking the remote trails with over 2 hours of darkness ahead of me, I pursued a 23 mile course which would take me primarily on roads. Once on the far side of Briones Regional I would briefly abandon pavement for packed earth - but only after the sun had illumined enough sky to distinguish a trail. However, when my rural strip of asphalt winds through skyless forested canyons and I encounter the same deer, skunks, and turkeys as I might have seen in the park - it becomes dubious as to whether my choice to substitute the mountain lion risk with the drowsy motorist risk was truly a substitution or an addition. I certainly pondered this as my pace was often accelerated by the snapping of twigs and the scattering of leaves.
I passed a small clearing where, frozen by a jostling spotlight, half a dozen eyes unblinkingly monitored my passing. This proved to be a wary family of deer nested along a palisade of pines. The light began to fail around mile 7 or 8 and I was reduced to momentary bursts aimed at an unidentified mass or unexpected noise. The light on my cap was weakening too until I could clearly see only the area 5-6 feet ahead of me. By this time I was running squarely down the middle of the road. It seemed less than prudent to run alongside bushes and trees that all strangely resembled mountain lions and gargoyles. The cacophony and brilliance of a passing car so contrasted with the solitude that I feared surprise by motorist far less than surprise by wild beast.
I was not eaten or accosted by any beast. And nearly as wonderful - it proved to be a tempo run. With just under 3000' of elevation gain, the hills didn't dictate my pace, pain didn't dominate my thoughts, and I was thus able to enjoy the pace for the 3 hour and 23 minute duration..
It was by all measures one of my better runs. I must admit however, that I later complained to my wife that I felt an irrational uneasiness about the run. Such negative thoughts about a great run are not normal. She played the part of shrink for a few minutes and explored my feeble psyche. Some insightful probing finally established that I was concerned about having set an unrealistic expectation for future runs. She promptly told me to get over it and went back to making dinner.
This morning I urged my recovering quadriceps up nearly 1800' of ascent during a quick half marathon before church. They remembered yesterday's tempo. And my unease did not go unfounded. I had rather high expectations for this run, and frankly didn't meet them. But then who (besides me) is keeping track of my expectations? I rode 54 miles on my bike yesterday and then ran 13.1 miles at a sub 9 minute mile pace today.
Life could be worse.