Today I had a hardish run workout, and I did it on a bike path near where I work. I know this bike path goes slowly uphill on the way out, and therefore (yes, I'm quick like that) somewhat downhill on the way back. I am not above using this occasionally to my advantage in workouts, although today it didn't really matter, since the hard stuff was by heart rate. But what I noticed today, for like the 2,018th time in my running life, is that while the slight uphill is noticeable in the moment, the slight downhill really is not. Had I not just turned around from running uphill for 20 minutes or so, I would've sworn I was on a nice flat when I was really coasting slightly downhill.
Which brings me to the bike. This summer I had several workouts where I headed out on a flat section of road near the Connecticut River--anyone who lives out here knows what I mean (Tuesday night TT course)--and the wind is variable day to day, but usually present in some direction. I would be doing some workout where my HR was not all out, and invariably I would be coasting along without much effort, look down and see that I was in one of the hardest gears, see something like 25 mph on my bike computer, and immediately conclude, "Wow! I've just had a real breakthrough in bike fitness!" I would then spend the rest of the first half of the workout congratulating myself on this breakthrough.
Then I would turn around. And hit a massive headwind. And struggle to keep the pace above 17 mph. And, had I not been afraid of falling over, I would have slapped myself on the forehead and said, "OH! That was a TAILWIND!"
And then I would repeat this the next week.
The thing is, it ALWAYS feels like there's a headwind on the bike. Because there is, whether or not there's a net tailwind. (I'm sure there's a physics/fluid mechanics term for this, but I'm just going to make one up. There is always a local headwind around, appropriately enough, one's head. Even if there's a gale force wind pushing at one's butt.)
But it's not like I am totally stupid. I do learn from experience. So by the end of the summer, my internal conversation on the way out would go something like this: "Wow! I've just had a real breakthrough in bike fitness!" A minute later: "Oh wait--this happened before, and it was just a tailwind. And in fact, now I see that all the flags on main street in Hatfield are pointed directly away from me. There must be another tailwind today." 30 seconds later: "Yeah, but it doesn't FEEL like there's that much of a tailwind. I must have had some kind of serious breakthrough in bike fitness anyway!" After the turnaround: "Wow--where did this vicious headwind come from?"