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Monday, January 14, 2013

Time Out for Training: Preemptive Cycling on the 136


As a cyclist and as a lifelong athlete, I must first admit that I am addicted to improvement. I love seeing the results of hard work pay off in the form of surprise. Maybe I am simply addicted to surprise-- the satisfaction of reflecting back on a moment when I could say, "wow!"

As a right brained individual, sometimes the focus on the bigger picture overshadows the details and organization needed to achieve those grand mountaintop moments.

Before cycling, I was a wrestler (and a pretty good one at that), and I did regular weight training that, in as twisted a way as possible, sought to maximize strength while limiting mass and its associated weight.  The result was a 54kg frame benching 7x7 at 110kg. If, for any purpose at all, to win any battle of schoolyard one-upmanship with the "well, how much can you bench" argument.

With weight training, if you can lift X weight, you then reach for another iron plate and see if you can lift more. Once one numeric goal is satisfied, there is always another kg to lift.

With cycling, this is not always the case.

Sometimes you need to make the conscious decision to do less if you want to do more.

After two weekends in a row filled with some pretty intense riding, and no training rides between, I decided the next best step would be to pull back in the name of my overall health and work on a more targeted approach to my training regimen.

With unstable weather haunting Taichung, a short morning ride up the Route 136 made perfect sense.

My goal was to work on quick, sustained attacks on the steeper sections, as well as managing my muscles for recovery.

This was a different approach than simply adding another punishing, gargantuan ride to top my last one. I would not be stacking another plate on the bar.

In the past I have pushed myself to tackle longer, greater and harder climbs in succession, and the results were predictable. Over use injuries. My hip flexors and hamstrings could not keep up.

Now I am doing more pre-ride exercises as well as planning my rides with my long-term health in mind.

As I approached the hills, a light mist turned to a drizzle and I used the weather as an excuse to add a little needed coffee to my energy stores.


Soon the rain drifted away and the hills were cloaked in a thin veil of fog.

The lead up was much easier than I remembered. I spun at a pretty good clip to the point I had to remember it was an incline.

What makes the Route 136 such an ideal route for winter hill training, is that it is not only close to Taichung in case the weather turns sour, but it also offers up a variety of ramps and grades that a rider can use to best tailor to a workout.

I burned too many matches on a fierce attack on the lower section, and thus found it ironically amusing to find myself passing a statue of a lone digit sticking up from a driveway.

In essence, the 136 was giving me the finger.


 I finally found my legs again and scrambled to the top where a few other riders were regrouping or waiting for their fallen comrades who had dismounted somewhere below.

For what had started out as a messy morning, the weather had greatly improved with clear skies over the hills and most of the nasty drizzle sweeping over some friends  riding Baguashan to the south.

Last week my climbing was pretty solid for a day of medium ramps; or as solid as I could hope to ride considering my year of setbacks.

This week the legs, still pretty tired from Sanlinxi, fared much worse of the opening grade not far beyond the Bat Cave. If lastweek had been a smoldering slow burn, this week the glycogen in by legs had been replaced with nitroglycerin. Once I lit the match on the ascent, there was a sudden burst of power... and then an eerie silence.

This getting my climbing form back is going to take some time.

The great thing was to be sitting at the top of the Route 136 basking in the warm sunlight on a brilliant morning in mid-January.

I sat up there for a while looking at riders come and go. Couples arrived on scooters to take pictures and then disappear over the ridge. The only thing that really spoils the place is all of the trash left by fellow visitors. It is one of the worst parts about riding a road that is so popular with so many local cyclists. You have to deal with their temporary personal monuments of plastic, paper and other consumer materials.

As I launched myself back toward home, I kept trying to remind myself that I had not wasted a sunny riding day on a little jaunt up the 136 instead of a trophy ride into newer, further areas. When the sun is out, it is best to use it.

Sometimes a little training ride can offer just a taste of the exotic.