Grrr-eighty.

Almanzo’s only a few weeks out, so training is on our minds.

On Saturday, a group of us headed out, intending on doing 80 miles of gravel.  We’ve had quite a bit of rain over the past few days, so the roads were damp, but at least there wasn’t a ton of standing water.  Good news: no dust.

At the outset, there were 4 riders: Tobie, Aaron, Lenny and myself.

Aaron had other obligations to attend to, so he peeled off around mile 15 and did his own loop.  The rest of us headed south, following a route by Chad.  We had some barren gravel roads (see above), and some great scenery.

We also encountered varying conditions from pavé to hardpack to asphalt to loose gravel.

Chad has a way with maps.  (And wheels).

In the end, the 3 of us cranked out 81 miles in just over 4.5 hours, with an average speed of 17.5 mph, with 2,000 feet of climbing.  (That’s a fair amount of climbing for Illinois).  Almanzo will be another 20 miles and another 5,000 feet of climbing.  Yikes.

For the 3 of us, it was a great ride.  For me personally, it was a fantastic ride.  I’ve been training hard all winter, and to be able to hang with Tobie and Lenny was pretty awesome. For the last 30 miles, we were pushing pretty hard.  I saw my compatriots breathing hard at times, and knew I wasn’t alone in my exertions.  While the first part of the ride was more relaxed, the last 30 was more organized, with pulls and drafting.

The rotation was organic–it just happened.  No words said, no arm gestures.  We just felt the wind and responded, in a surprisingly orderly fashion.  I’m still a new enough cyclist to find joy in things like that–in the unspoken understanding that comes out of a paceline.  In the order arising out of all of us falling in to a rhythm together, at the same time, without needing to discuss or plan it.  In the poetry of team effort.  In the exertion of a pull, followed by the reward of drafting 2 other riders.  In the immediacy of riding on gravel with a strong crosswind or headwind.  I didn’t pull more than the others by any means–but I felt like I took my fair share, and held the pace when at the front.  That’s a victory.

When I’m riding hard and taking my pull, I find that I subconsciously tighten my abs from my ribcage to my pelvis.  I think I do that because it takes some load off of my back and upper thighs.  In any event, when I catch myself doing that, I know I’m working hard.  The ‘off the bike’ training I’ve been doing this year has really helped with core stability, balance, and overall athleticism.

I told Tobie that I’m not sure if I’ve actually gotten stronger and faster, or if I’m just getting more used to discomfort and more tolerant of pain.  I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  I know that I ride through things now that would have caused me to drop off the back a year or two ago.

From a food/hydration perspective, I’m overeating and overdrinking, intentionally.  I drank about 2.5L of water from a hydration pack, plus 1.5 bottles.  I ate 2 bars and a gel.  I’m not willing to risk bonking or cramping, and I know that my system simply doesn’t absorb nutrients the same way that others’ do.  I ditched the tangle bag for this ride, and went back to a camel bak.  I think that will be the Almanzo setup.

It was a good ride–a hard, but rewarding ride.

It was gr-eighty.

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