Monday, March 24, 2008

A glimpse into too many lives

I wrote this for Winning in 1988. If you are not a bike racer, competitive runner or other style of aerobic athlete (or married to one), this guy Jim may seem a bit over the top in his habits. He's fine, really, a normal, well-adjusted American. He just needs a few more miles...



"Hi, Frank... it's Jim. How you doin'?"

"Good, Jim. How 'bout you? You over that flu yet?"

"Mostly over it, but it sure is hanging on a long time. I think maybe I'm a little over-trained."

"No kidding? Are you getting in lots of miles?"

"Not THAT many, really, but they're all quality miles. No pain, no gain, right? I'm not sleeping all that well. I have this recurring nightmare: I'm crossing the finish line alone, arms above my head, winning Milan-San Remo after a 100-kilometer solo break.

"Then I wake up to realize I'm just the first guy to the lunch stop in the Pottsville Pedal Pushers Metric Century."

"Oh, that's a bad one."

"Really. And I think maybe I'm getting a little too thin. I got on a bus down on Grant Street yesterday; this little girl saw me and screamed. Oh, and my dog, Fausto, my Basset; I came home from a ride Tuesday, Fausto didn't recognize me, took a nip out of my leg, tore my good tights. Upset me."

"Geez, that's too bad. Poor Fausto."

"Well, my jersey might have had something to do with it. I got this old Look jersey, might have belonged to Bernard Hinault. I resist washing it; might have a little of the old magic still in it. Who knows?"

"How'd you get so over-trained?"

"I thought this year I'd really see if I could do it. I wouldn't hold back or compromise. I decided this was the season I would make my mark, get out of cat four and possibly get a cat three placing or two. So far, no good. I think maybe my early season training was ill-advised...."

"Hey, I remember. Running those stadium steps in full field pack, with the bike on your shoulder...."

"Oh, yeah, back in December. That worked out OK, but in January I ran the stairs in Montgomery Towers downtown in a wetsuit and ankle weights. That was hard. End of January I got shin splints, couldn't run anymore, so I started training seriously on the bike.

"I'd ride short in the mornings. I’d maybe do a few sprints, sometimes a 15-kilometer time trial. I'd come home and eat a light meal, maybe pump a little iron. Then I'd go down to the Y and swim a lap or two. In the afternoons I'd get on the bike and do a real workout."

"Jim, that sounds like an awful lot...."

"It wasn't so bad, really. It would have been lots easier if I'd been eating normally. I was trying to take off a few pounds, give myself a break on those hills. I got pretty hungry, and a little grouchy; I admit it. It was during that period that I bit Fausto.

"And my mother moved out so suddenly, after living in that house for 17 years. She'd never even mentioned wanting an apartment. She was just gone."

"You must've been getting super fit about then...."

"Well, sorta fit. I was starting to do longer rides, trying to cross at least two state lines every day. I'd ride in wool sweaters and leg warmers on the hot days, and not carry water. Paying my fitness dues, you might say. I wanted the hardest bike race to seem like a rest day."

"Learning how to suffer, eh?"

"No, that wasn't so bad, in fact. In March I started following my cousin on his motorcycle. At first we'd go about 50 miles at, say, 35 mph. I'd try to jump around the motor every mile or so.

"Later, we'd pick up the speed; I'd ride a 63-inch fixed gear bike with heavy steel wheels and soft tires. When I felt strong, I'd adjust the front brake to drag. We'd quit when my cousin got exhausted. Whew, when I think of trying to breathe, sitting behind that smoky old two-stroke of his...."

"Didn't the racing start in March?"

"Yeah, some of the early season events. I just didn't go. I'd think about the race and how hard all the guys were training; I'd just not go. There's a bunch of guys who ride every morning from a shop here in town. I don't even go with them.

"I see 'em out there; they have a good time, talk a little bit, do some jumps. I've thought about training with them, but I don't know if I'm really ready. I think I need a little more speed."

"All that motor-pacing? You must have terrific speed."

"I have SOME speed, I guess. I don't have enough base. I want plenty of miles in my legs when I start training for real. I'm not interested in showing up at a race just to get dropped on the first hill. Some of those guys are really serious."

"You sound pretty serious yourself."

"Well, I am in my way, but I think I'm doing something wrong. I'm sleeping so badly; last night I had this nightmare that was so bad that when I got woken up by a charley horse I was grateful. I've been kinda hard to get along with; Fausto stays out longer and longer these days.

"I've been thinking about cutting down my reps at the gym, maybe do fewer squats until my resting pulse rate settles back down. That wouldn't be so bad; a few days with normal pulse and I could pick up the miles on the bike.

"Mileage is what I need. If I was sleeping better and riding more miles, I'd be ready. Hey, I want to be ready. Some of those guys are serious."

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