"With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps." - George Harrison
Last year, I rode the Art of Survival Metric Century with my Modesto Roadmen buddy Roger, and this year I did it again. Last year, I knew I was going into this ride underprepared as I had just recovered from pneumonia which had made it impossible to train until the last few weeks before the ride. I avoided any major illnesses this year and have been training pretty continuously, so should have been in better condition than I was a year ago. Coming into the ride, I did notice symptoms of overtraining but thought I might have gotten over that just in time. I also tried to compensate for that overtraining by taking it easier in the runup to the ride than I did a year ago, figuring that reducing tiredness was more important than trying to maximize fitness. As a result of that decision, my preparation this year was less than last, a change which I had hoped would improve my performance. Unfortunately, last year I forgot to track the ride so I cannot make a direct, objective comparison between my performance last year and this, but based on my subjective impressions, I am pretty sure my performance this year was worse, not better than last. The direct comparison I can make is to the Golden Hills Century I rode last October, which I did track and which is almost the same length with about the same amount of climbing as the Art of Survival, which I rode significantly faster (13.3 mph vs 12.2 mph, a huge difference.) In short, I was very disappointed with my performance this year and found the ride quite painful, especially at the end. Quite a mistake! What did I learn?
The obvious conclusion, one which is very much on the table and which I take very seriously, is that I need to train more extensively for these kinds of events. And yet, I cannot ignore my repeated experience of more training leading to worse performance. Also, my preparation for the Golden Hills Metric Century last October was no more extensive than for the this year's Art of Survival, an argument against the "train more" conclusion. In fact, it is possible to argue for the opposite conclusion, to argue that I trained too much, not so much in the weeks before the ride, but in the months before, that the overtraining I blogged about recently was still with me, that my poor performance was because I had not yet recovered from that overtraining. So I trained too much or I trained too little, that about covers it, right? Not quite. A third possibility is that training was not the issue, that I just had a bad day. The idea is that I have developed a relatively optimal training schedule, and that most of the time I am as fit as I can be, but there will be day to day and week to week variation. Finally, maybe it is a mistake for me to ignore the overwhelming consensus of the training community in favor of periodized training. I have decided to forgo periodization, a training plan with periods of hard training leading up to key events and periods of easier (nor no) training to recover, but rather maintain a constant level of fitness over the course of the year. What if I took it easy most of the time, but then made a concerted effort to prepare for an event like this? Could I reach a higher level of performance? Even if that worked, is this something I would want to do? How would it impact my health?
One last question: why is Roger so much faster than I am? He is about the same age as I and we had similar abilities as cyclists back in High School, suggesting a similar genetic contribution to our fitness. That is, of course, an overly simple way of looking at things. We could be genetically different in how we age, I may just have aged faster than he has. Also, he has maintained his fitness over the course of his life as opposed to me who took a 30 year vacation from exercise during the middle of my working and parenting years, a vacation that might have that permanently impacted my current athletic potential. But there is a third, more obvious difference; I am fat and he is not. The drive home from Roger's home in Cedarville gave me seven hours to reflect, and I concluded that it might be time to supplement my training with efforts to improve other aspects of my health, to eat better, lose weight, and significantly reduce my drinking. Of course, immediate upon arriving home, I opened a beer, so who knows how that will go; diet control is not my strong suit.
At this point I worry that that, contrary to George Harrison's hopeful lyrics, I am learning nothing at all. Because I am drawing so many contradictory conclusions from my poor performance, this might render all these conclusions meaningless. That said, I am going to chose to be an optimist and claim that I may be learning slowly, but I am learning. If I am learning, that should be evidenced by changes is how I train going forward. So, what am I going to try next? Honestly, I don't know yet, I am still thinking about it carefully. What I can say is that the disappointment with my performance at Art of Survival 2019 will heavily influence my thinking about training going forward.
So is that all this ride was, a total disaster whose only virtue was as a "learning experience"? Not at all! From 1966 through 1969, Roger and I were fellow Modesto Roadmen and I count him among my close friends from High School. But then didn't see each other for 47 years, until the Modesto Roadmen 50th Reunion, and we both agree that we didn't have nearly enough time there to get to know each other again, with everything that was going on at that event. It was not until last year's Art of Survival that we really reconnected, and having reconnected, have become very good friends. Friendship requires periodic renewal, and our friendship was renewed a few months ago at Eroica California 2019, and yet again at this event, the 2019 Art of Survival. Even if I had not been able to start the ride, much less finish it, the time I spend with Roger and his wife Janet made the event very worthwhile. But I did finish it. As disappointed as I was with my performance, any ride I finish, especially one as long as a metric century, I should count as a success, not a failure. And besides being a success in and of itself, this ride is an integral part of my second cycling career, now 11 years old. This second cycling career is the best thing by far I have ever done for my health. Finally, despite my lack of fitness, the Art of Survival is one of the most fun rides out there, one which I encourage everyone to try.
I would like to make one last point about the Art of Survival, one about its name. Last year I assumed this was just another macho name that we cyclists love so much, my upcoming Death Ride being a good example. This year, I learned that there was more to the name than that. One of the rest stops is at the site of a camp used during World War II to imprison innocent US citizens of Japanese descent. The whole ride goes through territory occupied by the Modoc tribe who have lived there since long before the arrival of european immigrants. Like all native american tribes, the Modoc tribe survived brutal treatment at the hands of these european immigrants and the Japanese-Americans survived their unfair imprisonment. The name of the ride is in honor of their survival. I really appreciate the effort the organizers have taken to remind us of their stories.