Jan 5, 2011

My hellish morning

I opened my eyes, grabbed my phone and looked at the time; it was 4 a.m. - way too early for me to wake up, but I wasn't that surprised to be awake. I know that my sleep cycles are about 90 minutes long and I need 4 of them to feel fully recharged, which means that if I go to bed at 10, as I did the night before, I will surely wake up at 4. I forced myself back asleep. The next time my eyes opened was 5:42, exactly one minute before my alarm was set to ring. Don't ask why my alarm was set to 5:43 - I have no idea, but it was close enough to 5:45 that I didn't feel like messing with the setting. I scrolled to the weather app and saw that outside was a balmy 39 degrees. "Great," I thought, "at least my thermal tights are clean." I got dressed and headed out the door to meet Matt at 6:20 at the usual departure spot. It was just two of us.

On the menu for the day were hill repeats - three of them. The plan was to warm up to the saddle of Hawk Hill, drop down McCullough and then do repeats from the bottom of McCullough to the top of Hawk Hill. I felt fine during the warm up, but the first repeat was tough, I couldn't average more than 262 watts as my heart rate was through the roof, even though my legs felt like they could push harder. I know I saw numbers over 185 several times. The second repeat was actually better and I averaged about 10 watts more, but my HR was still way higher than it should have been. Not to mention my legs were still very, very sore, though better than yesterday. The third repeat would prove to be the toughest as I felt myself fatiguing and could not hold more than 255 up the climb. The first two numbers were actually okay because the plan was to stay at about 80-85% of my FTP, and that's kind of in the ballpark. However, 255 was a bit lower than desired and the 80-85% felt much harder than I expected due to the elevated HR. 

The irony of this is that I had just talked to L last night about her tough running workout after which she felt down because she didn't do as well as she expected. I quickly recalled the "don't feel bad about a bad workout, it's insignificant in the grand scheme of things" talk and figured I'd just have to follow my own advice on this one and come back stronger the following week. What happened next, however, was a complete and utter disaster. 

We finished the last repeat, forced ourselves down Hawk Hill. Yes, forced. The wind was so strong, that without an effort, the usually quick downhill slowed to a crawl. Then we crossed the bridge and started to make our way to the Presidio, and that's when it hit me. Or rather, I hit it - the wall. I haven't bonked on a bike in almost two years, and never on a morning ride, and never on a ride shorter than 50 miles. But the way I bonked this morning, I have never bonked in my entire life. 

I felt the energy being sucked from my body with every second, every pedal stroke, every motion became more and more of a challenge. I yelled out to Matt, "you got any food on you?" "No," he said. We proceeded at a 10mph crawl through the Presidio, until I could no longer even keep that up. Holding my head up was a challenge. I felt like I haven't slept in three days and that I was going to fall over on my bike. I had to stop. By that time, Matt was way ahead of me and had come back to check on me. I was lucky to have him with me, as without any hesitation, he offered to go find food for me. 

In the mean time, leaned my bike against a barrier on the side of the road, and sat down. I just wanted to lie down and sleep. Not a single muscle in my body wanted to move, but even if some wanted to, I couldn't move them. After about 5 minutes of this, I felt a touch better and decided I needed to move forward to meet Matt half way. I started to slowly roll. The road at that point was a slight downhill, so minimal effort was required. As I pulled up to the usual Presidio sprint finish, Matt greeted me with a KitKat candy bar and two Powerbars. I think in inhaled the KitKat in about 7.5 seconds (and I'm not even a fan of chocolate). A slight rush of energy entered my body, at least enough to get me moving. "Let's head to Velo Rouge," I said, and he agreed. 

We proceeded to roll down Arguello to Velo Rouge, and in the half to three-quarter miles that was the distance keeping us from the cafe, I consumed 1.5 of the Powerbars. At Velo Rouge, I had a hot chocolate and some veggie version of banana bread. I finally felt like I would make it home (~1.5 miles) and we rolled. 

By the time I got home, not only the hunger and low blood sugar, but also the cold did a number on me. I was shivering, as if I was hypothermic (maybe I was). I got into the hot shower and began to thaw.

"What the hell happened back there?" - I asked myself. How could this even happen? I'm one of the most methodical bikers I know about fueling. I know how much to eat, when to eat, what to eat, how to drink and at what intervals to eat what and how. Why did I think that I could leave the house with nothing in my stomach and climb almost 4000 feet on a liter of water? I don't have any other answer than I was being really stupid and probably a bit overconfident. One thing I know, however, is that I'll never again leave the house without a snack in my pocket, no matter how short or easy the ride because there is no worse feeling on the bike than the feeling of a bonk. Today, I promise myself that even if I have to tow a pasta truck behind me up a hill, this absurdity will never happen again - and I'm not the type to throw absolutes around lightly. 

When I got to the office, another part of my workout started to bug me - why was my HR so high? I know that when I'm off the bike for a couple of weeks, on the first workout back, my HR is typically high, but this was the third one this week, so that couldn't be it. The only other factor was the temperature. Sure enough, with a few Google searches, I was able to determine that in cold temperatures our vessels constrict and the heart has to pump faster to get the requisite blood to the extremities. With that question answered, all that was left was to learn from my errors and move on. And move on I will - M2 tomorrow at 6:15 a.m.


  1. ah, the perils of hubris.

  2. I wonder how fast your body will take to recover! Gels are great, take up little space and pack a lot of energy. If your body wants to sleep/rest, working out could be more detrimental than beneficial. A very well known cycling coach suggests carrying 2 bottle on the bike, one containing a recovery drink ...kinda makes sense if you think about it. After 45 minutes your body needs to be replenished ...