Surreal Cycling

Just watched the last 2km of stage 6 of the Vuelta  – amazing performance from  Sky and Froome. They wanted to put some time into Contador and did it exactly where it counts. The worst of the heatwave appears to be over here so I went out for a proper workout today – the 116km Beaufort loop – but in the opposite direction over the Cormet de Roselend to start with. The decision to go in reverse was because there had been massive thunder storms yesterday evening and I didn’t want to leave the 2000m Cormet until the end in case the storms built up again today – and there were heavy clouds building already by midday just before setting off.

Improved control of “doms”

Yesterday I’d been caught in the start of the downpour when out running – but it was refreshing. I only ran another short 5km because it’s still a transitional period to get the legs back into running. I had an interesting thought about the “doms” though. The delayed onset of muscular soreness is caused by the “eccentric contraction” of the muscle having to extend when it is taking up the load or shock of landing. This takes place in the calves and Achilles more than anywhere else. For some time now I’ve noticed that foot pain when standing on small sharp stones can be eliminated by making sure the foot doesn’t land ahead of the body – so that there is no deceleration force adding to the body weight on the foot. It struck me that perhaps the “doms” was a symptom of inefficiency in this same area – causing an increased eccentric contraction due to added decelerations. When running I really focused on keeping the knees low and stopping the foot from going ahead of the body and making sure all effort was towards extending behind instead. Running for a lifetime in padded shoes means that there are movement patterns ingrained that are totally unconscious and although you might think that your feet are not coming ahead the mere fact of feeling “normal” probably means that they still are ahead. The 5km was covered in 26 mins which is a normal running speed and what is interesting is that today (the day after) there is no “doms” and no sign of the muscle tiredness that accompanies “doms”. It could be just the body adapting to returning to running – but I do think the change helped. I had also noticed that a tendency to blister in the VFF shoes was caused by still reaching ahead slightly and totally unconsciously – due to not altering the stride enough even when trying – because it doesn’t feel familiar. The entire run yesterday was done comfortably with nasal breathing.

Oceanic clouds, waves and squalls.

The legs felt good on the bike and I connected with the sensation of working from the core and the abdomen immediately – and it stayed all day. This is the first time that’s ever happened. I don’t know if that made the climbing easier or if finally starting to get fit this summer is making it possible to have better coordination and feelings in general. At no point today was I struggling, feeling tired or plodding. The races a the start of the summer would have been very different with this conditioning – and it’s probably just the start of the good feelings this year. Regular repetitions of the 116km loop is sorting things out properly. The start of the loop from Aime to Beaufort was uneventful, the sun being veiled partly by clouds so not too hot. I noticed the initial climb to Macot was easy so that is always a good sign. Starting the 19km climb from Bourg St Maurice up to the 2000m Cormet de Roselend there were already some ominously dark clouds appearing and doubts over getting to the top were surfacing already. There didn’t seem to be anyone else climbing and spots of rain were soon being felt on the skin, plus it was threateningly dark and with gusts of wind that could instantly cut your speed in half even on the flats. Half way up the climb at Chapieux the first squall hit. It was a bit like the squalls you frequently encounter when at sea – but at least there weren’t waves to contend with – that would come later. I almost stopped to put on a wind jacket but realised that it was still warm and I’d get just as wet from sweat – but be even less comfortable – so left it off. That was a good move because despite looking quite menacing the squall passed over quickly and the sun re-appeared to warm things up again. Exactly 5km from the top the road steepens and it’s usually a tough moment to deal with both physically and mentally – but I focussed on the action of push/pull coming from  the core and eased up that section and onwards. Right at the summit the rain started again and looking over towards Beaufort it really was like being at sea when the weather closes in. Frustration at being side-lined all week due to the heatwave meant that I was not going to give in to the elements this time and so pressed on – but stopped to put on the thin jacket before getting into the wet descent. It’s about 23km to Beaufort all descending and quite steep, but I wasn’t going to see much because the heavens opened and it bucketed down. The car drivers were afraid of descending in this amount of liquid so surprisingly I found myself overtaking them on the bike. Yes – there were waves of water flowing down the road as the run-off came onto the road from the slopes all around. Needless to say I was completely soaked and beyond caring about that – at least it wasn’t cold. My fingers went numb from constant braking to prevent any serious speed build up and the rear brake felt like it was an ABS system with juddering when being squeezed very hard. When rims are extremely wet you do need to squeeze very hard on steep descents to get any braking effect. I passed quite a few other cyclists hiding beneath anything they could find that was overhanging – but I didn’t see much point in stopping as it would be warmer lower down eventually and the clouds looked like they had a sizeable portion of the Atlantic ocean inside them – and could go on dumping forever. Just before Beaufort the rain eased off and stopped as the town sign went past. I pushed a wrong button on my telephone and ended my workout logging – but was coming to a stop by then anyway. The Sony Ericson Xperia Arc phone had survived with no protection and I even had to blow the water out of the button cracks – amazing! I pulled over to the terrace of the café and boulangerie were I usually stop and there was a seat available – just catching the first rays of sunshine as the clouds were breaking. The next thing to happen was slightly surreal. I ordered a hot Beaufort cheese pie and a coffee (my lunch) and by the time they were eaten there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. It felt like I’d missed something – perhaps gone to sleep for an hour and just woken up. I struggled to get my head around such an extreme change in such a short space of time – and it was now boiling hot again. I’d removed my headband, gloves and socks to wring them out and place them in the sun to dry – also the inner soles of my shoes. Given the need to dry things there was time for some more sweetened munchies and another coffee. Setting off again it was so warm that any dampness just felt like sweat and it was as if the apocalyptical flood had never happened. It took only 30 minutes to cover the 20 km to Albertville – with most of it being a gentle downhill gradient. Then the long slog back to Moutiers and eventually Aime was tempered with excellent shading from the sun by the mountains. All in all it was a good workout, celebrated with a hearty Pizza and Almond Magnum later on. (OK I need to work on the nutrition!) Once again I’d used nasal breathing for at least the first couple of hours. There is a massive increase in the thirst you experience when you stop nasal breathing but today I couldn’t keep it up the whole way. The real achievement was in keeping constant form with the core muscles.

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