I've come up with a theory as to why I find cycling hard so painful and yet I am able to maintain that level of discomfort for much longer than the equivalent while running. I think that my brain is "calibrated" to the sensory feedback from running - Dr Tim Noakes' idea of a "Central Governor" that uses this information to produce a sensation of effort and discomfort that forces us to slow down, both to avoid wasting energy that might be needed later (to outrun a lion for example) and to avoid irreparable damage. When running a Marathon we may somehow find the energy to run the last straight faster even though only minutes before we had been feeling so exhausted that we couldn't possibly run any faster. And, even if you then collapse over the finish line having spent what seems to be every last drop of energy, you still have enough left over to get back to the hotel. The idea is that the Central Governor is the key to how hard we can push ourselves and, ultimately, to how we pace ourselves in competition: training at intensity not only changes our physiology, it "re-calibrates" our brain in the depths of the subconscious to a new level of effort. So, based on this theory and the fact that I have done less high intensity training on the bike, I think that my brain generates a higher level of discomfort for a level of effort that is, in fact, easier to maintain than it seems. Perhaps all our brains are evolutionarily wired to running which is more energetically demanding and damaging to our muscles, tendons and bones than cycling. This might explain why the Tour de France is so widely considered to be a suffer-fest, even for those highly trained cyclists that take part in it. As far as I am concerned, I just have to remember that the pain in my legs will be relatively higher for the bike leg of the Half Ironman and that I will be able to maintain it for longer than it seems.
I do have another theory, though. On the bike I usually train in a particular heart rate zone. At first it seems impossible to get my heart rate up to where it should be because there is inevitably a lag. I find myself gritting my teeth and breathing harder in an effort to persuade my heart (and my head) that I really am working as hard as I am supposed to be. The fact I am focussing so much on how hard I have to work makes it seem much harder. On the other hand, if I run at a particular speed, at first it always seems surprisingly easy - the sensation of difficulty creeps up slowly on me and it is psychologically more bearable.
I had decided that this week I would do one of my aerobic tests, where I run 20 laps around the 350m running track all the while trying to keep my heart rate at a maximum of 172 bpm. Normally I try to do this test on fresh legs but, this time, I was already quite tired from the hard session on the spinning bike the day before, not to mention the accumulation of fatigue from the rest of the week of training. Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to see how I fared especially as a triathlon is all about running on tired legs. I had to slow down much more markedly and my heart rate was noticeably higher than usual so, in the end, I was over 30 seconds slower than last time, which translates into one and a half minutes over the Half Marathon distance. I'm not sure this really tells me very much so I'll probably do one last test (this time on fresh legs) just before the race, to see how my running speed has been affected by my triathlon training.
In fact, I was so tired on Friday - or rather, my back was - that I very nearly cried off my training on Saturday. I had real trouble getting to sleep because my back just felt tired in whatever position I was in. For once I'd actually arranged to train with a friend so I was a bit loathe to let him down by being a pansy. Luckily I woke up the next day feeling much better.
On Saturday morning I drove down to Griñón, on the way out to Toledo, to go for a ride with Dani. As its relatively flat round where he lives, I decided to take out the triathlon bike for a spin, complete with disc wheel and tubulars (if I had got a puncture, I would probably have had to call a taxi). It was so nice to have a change of scenery as well as some company. Buying my triathlon bike was a bit like having an orgasm - almost immediately afterwards all my desire to compete in triathlons vanished. Dani, with his enthusiasm for competing in what will be his first Half Ironman in Lisbon, reminded me of the excitement of taking part in a triathlon and re-charged my batteries to some extent. What also helped was having the best weather we have had in Madrid all year - a glorious day of sunshine which, together with an excess of wine, was a bit too much for me in the end and, as a result, my after lunch siesta lasted all the way through until the morning.
I woke up on Sunday not in the very best frame of mind to attack my most important workout of the week - the "brick" - but, again, it was a beautiful day so it was much easier to get out of the door. This time I took the road bike and managed to design a new route which avoided going through Brunete. I have nothing particularly against Brunete, but it is very difficult to go anywhere far on a road bike from where I live without passing through there and I have come to despise the rolling hills between Boadilla del Monte and Brunete that sap my speed and energy. I know most cyclists relish hills but, as you probably know, I hate them. What is the point of going down if you know you have to go up again? (It's probably not a very good idea to ask what the point of anything to do with cycling is.) This route inevitably had its hills but at least they were different ones. I was pretty tired by the time I got home and was seriously contemplating changing the brick into just a bike ride (i.e., skipping the run altogether) but I had everything set up to watch a film on the treadmill (Cube Zero - the prequel to the Cube films that amazingly I had not already seen). Training for triathlon feels so different from what I remember Marathon training to be. It didn't feel hard per se, running at 15.5 kph after nearly 3 hours of continual exercise, but the discomfort and associated desire to stop were more present in my mind than the effort needed to keep going. I thought of my friends who had just finished the Marathon des Sables and of what it must have been like to trudge for hours and days through the hot sands of the unchanging Sahara desert. The Marathon is just short enough to still be a race but anything longer feels to me more like a test.
Monday: 40' swim, 80' turbo trainer (including 60' aero)
Tuesday: 2 x (1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' @ 3:10-3:20-3:30 etc)
Wednesday: 45' swim (15' easy + (3 x 5' HIM pace + 5' easy)), 45' aero position on turbo trainer
Thursday: commute by bike, 10 x 3' spinning @ 170 bpm
Friday: 7 km @ 172 bpm (27:02...)
Saturday: 120' triathlon bike
Sunday: 145' bike (including 50' @ 150 bpm) + 60' run (30' @ 4:30, 30' @ 3:50)