Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Back On My Feet

I had to take a little hiatus from running the past week for some bike racing. I love bike racing, but it really is an entirely different type of sport. The training for distance running and cycling is similar, but on race day things are radically different. For one thing, we wear radios in big races. Our team director is either in a car following us in the caravan, or she is on the side of the road watching the race unfold, all the while giving us directions. Bike racing is seldom about the strongest person winning the race, and is more often than not about strategy and tactics. If you ever wondered what a bike race was like, let me translate it into a running race scenario:

Imagine you are doing 4 races in 4 days. The first day is a 5k run, and you do it individually. Runners line up and start in 30second intervals. You have no idea how you are doing until they post results. Sure, maybe you passed 4 people on your run, but someone who started 10minutes ahead of you may have gone faster. You are racing a clock, only you don't know what a good time on that course is. So it's an all out 100% effort to the finish. Time trials are the most similar events to running race. Same type of effort, only there is no one around to gauge your effort.

Day 2 is kind of like a 10k or maybe a 1/2m. Except we are doing 11 laps of a 5k loop with a steep ass climb. But this is a bike race...so we are not always going 100%. Oh no, in fact, on alternative laps there are points up for grabs. So imagine running along for maybe 5minutes at a training pace (say, 7:30min/mile). Then suddenly you do an all out 100m sprint effort, then relax and go back to your 7:30s. Repeat for like, 5 more laps. And then on the last lap, everyone starts pushing and shoving and trying to get to the front, and then you do one more 100m sprint. Except this time it is for the finish. And people are stopping and walking right in front of you as you sprint for the line, and you have to basically go around them. Oh, and during this entire experience you have a voice in your ear from a teammate asking you to go to the front and set a faster 7:00 min/mile pace so she can draft off you.

Day 3 is the marathon-esque day. Six laps, 11miles per lap. One hill that isn't exactly comfy. Again, you are radioed, but today you have to do one specific thing, and that is to follow around the person who is currently leading the race. The first hour or so is easy, 8min pace. You are relaxed. Then you see two people sprint away from the group - they suddenly dropped to 5:45 pace, but the group doesn't feel the need to follow. You hear instructions on the radio not to speed up. This goes on for a while. Eventually other people start yelling at you because the two fast runners are way out of sight, and your legs are expected to drop to 5:45 pace to help bring them back. But the voice in your ear is telling you not to do that. Then the pace drops, the pack starts running 6:30s again, but not fast enough to catch the sub 6min people (who are now 3minutes ahead of you). At about the two and a half hour point of the race, you are told from the voice in your ear to do some 100m sprints. But then after you do that, you are told to just do some steady tempo for as long as you can go - so now you are running 6:15 and starting to come unglued, and there are still another 5miles left in the race. If you were running a marathon you would never dream of dropping to your 5k pace at the 20mile mark, but you are being asked to do this. And you have to. So you do. And at about the 23mile mark of the race, you pop, blow up, come unglued, and slow to about 9min miles. Game over, you watch the pack run away from you. Then your shoe comes untied as you near the last mile. Oh, what a wonderful world.

Day 4 is the easy day - it's a lot like running a 10k on the track. Ok, so it's a race that is an hour long, and you do 28 laps on a 1k loop, but imagine racing a 10k and only running 10k pace on some laps, and then running your 1 mile race pace every 5th lap. Oh, and on those laps you have to sprint the last 50meters every time. This race is fast /slow/fast/slow. Imagine also that you have people stepping on your foot and elbowing you in every turn, and oocasionally people fall down near you and you have to avoid them. Great fun.

The reason I like bike racing is because it is exciting. It is also very unpredictable and can be frustrating. I like running because it is pure, unadulterated.