Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tailwinds, downhills and magical thinking

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?"

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