Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pondering Mortality

My birthday is in a few weeks, but my present has come early this year. My present is a sense of satisfaction derived from proving to myself that I am not another year older. I am at the age where some people start to “sense their own mortality,” and I must confess that I occasionally have those feelings. Mostly I put these feelings aside; after all, we are all aging at the same rate—day by day.

Some people have very detailed short and long term athletic goals, and that is admirable, especially if it motivates them to get out on the bike more. To make use of a phrase that is part of the latest overused vernacular, I don’t have a “bucket list” of items to be checked off.

I only had one goal for this year, and it’s the same goal I have every year. It sounds pretty simple on the surface, but it’s not, and it gets harder to achieve every year. My goal is always to be faster than last year’s version of me. In other words, my goal is to not become another year older physiologically even if I do age chronologically. Realizing that this is somewhat subjective and hard to quantify, I came up with a specific strategy for 2010.

At the beginning of the year, I identified five local climbs where I would attempt to break my own personal record time. Last week I nailed down PR’s on two of these climbs (Somerset the hard way and Montreaux) on the same day that I crossed the 500,000’ of climbing threshold for 2010—the fourth year in a row I have managed to do that. The PR on Somerset felt particularly good, because my previous PR came while leading a large Team HPC group up the climb during our climbing themed ride in 2008.

Not only am I at an age where one might start to sense their mortality, I’m at an age where a cyclist is probably doing well just to hold the status quo year over year, let alone improve. For me, measuring relative aerobic strength is the most meaningful way to track my aging process.

In July of 2008, right after I returned from a very hard three week European cycling trip, I set my personal bests on a number of Seattle area climbs. I’ve been timing myself on certain climbs over the years, and I think comparing the times gives me a pretty good barometer check of my fitness. During July of 2008, I was feeling as strong as I ever had on the bike, and my times reflected that.

Well, now it’s late in 2010, I am another two years older, and I honestly didn’t think my fitness was all that great this year. That all changed when I returned from my very hard September cycling trip to the Sierras with David Longdon. Since returning, it’s almost like someone else is pushing the pedals for me. This person is pushing the pedals harder than I normally do, and using a bigger gear on familiar climbs.

I have felt great since returning from the Sierras, and doing well on two climbs last week gave me some added confidence. Today, I picked off Horizon View-Summit, the third of the five climbs, and the one that is the most important to me:

Back in July of 2008, I took a full 49 seconds off of my previous PR on Horizon View, and I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to duplicate that effort. Three down and two to go. I hope the weather and my energy both hold out a bit longer.

One of these days it would be nice to peak during a hard alpine trip instead of after I return, but it seems like the only way I can peak is to do one of those trips. I guess I’ll have to take a pre-trip before my important trip of the year! Lots of endurance and tempo work seem to benefit me tremendously, and that is the type of riding I do on a tour with a lot of climbing.

Back in January, Tracy and I moved into the retail core of Downtown Seattle, about two blocks from Nordstrom. We’ve lived downtown for over 9 years, and I have always headed out to the eastside via the International District. Since the move, I still head to the tunnel through the ID, but I now come home over Capitol Hill. I suppose I could count, but I imagine that I have ridden by the Ferrari Dealership at Madison and 12th on Capitol Hill at least 100 times in 2010.

I have yet to see a single person standing in the showroom as I cruise by; no salespeople, and definitely no customers. For those who seek to temper their feelings of mortality by buying a Ferrari, it appears that the current economy has put a damper on that strategy. Who am I to judge? But for me, it’s far more satisfying to crush those mortality feelings while on the bike.


SuperLukerBee said...

I agree on your measure of success. It is a hard bar to set on yourself and certainly there will be years where life circumstances may hamper the training time to acheive it. But it is a good goal.

Kudos on the Sierra trip - an inspring effort by you guys. It is now dominant on my list.

I still remember following you up Sommerset on that '08 group ride - had never climbed it before and not ridden much with HOWC. Just sort of grabbed your wheel and didn't let go. The remainder of that ride sure felt long!

This year I am slower than last and have not consitently found the 'impetus to hammer' as one once put it. Sounds like maybe I should follow you up Horizon View!

McQ said...

Great post, Tom! I'm inspired to turn some local B'ham climbs into TTs to guage my progress--both mountain and road bike.
Let's get out for a ride soon!

Cascade Cyclist said...

Well said; not to mention "old guys know how to suffer," which I think is part of what happens as you get older.

I never see anyone in that Ferrari dealership either, but maybe their clients don't actually need to go there.

Tom Meloy said...

"Old guy!" Who are you talking about? All I will admit to is getting older like everyone else.

It's always easier to motivate oneself to go hard when there are others around. About the only time I am motivated to go really hard solo is when I have the kind of fitness I do right now.

The problem with going really hard up a climb with a group is that you know you will have to go hard again, so you can't go super hard.

Gotta keep something in reserve to survive the day!

Scott said...

Don't pros often do one tour in preparation for a later one for better form and fitness? It seems to me that recreational rides are much stronger after coming off some "special" multi-day event.