Here’s a story to explain why you should always be “Training Up” – or, put another way, training with riders that are well beyond your current abilities.
This week a few guys on the team agreed to meet up one morning in Central Park for laps to include 4-minute efforts. We basically broke this down into 2x efforts per lap, so it was roughly 4-mins of hard effort, and 5-mins of light spinning to recover. Both efforts were to include the most uphill portions of Central Park: the East effort from Horseshit Alley to the Met Finish (a little past Cat’s Paw) and the west effort from the bottom of Harlem Hill to the end of Three Sisters (effectively the Central Park Alps segment on Strava.)
One teammate posted the team rankings for Central Park Alps for motivation – my PR was 4:07 and breaking 4:00 would push me in front of two teammates; another 0:03 saved and I’d topple two more. And since that segment is the hardest part of every CRCA Club race for me, it made sense to focus on it and set my sights on a sub-4 minute segment.
After a half-a-lap to get the four of us in sync and loosened up, we did the Horseshit Alley segment first. Chris and Thomas lead out on this one and I was comfortable on their wheels for about two minutes. Then, of course, we came to Cat’s Paw and I barely held on till the top of this short but notable climb. From there until Chris backed off, I wasn’t on a wheel, but I kept pace effectively. I had worked pretty hard, but I hadn’t killed myself, so now I could recover before my first attempt at “The Alps.”
Knowing my abilities through multiple laps, I knew that my first attack on The Alps was likely going to be my best, so as we descended to the base of Harlem Hill, I readied myself to push hard for the next 4-minutes. Chris again lead out on the climb with Thomas and then Gavin following closely. I was barely on Gavin’s wheel and pushed hard to stay with the group as we headed for the top of the roughly 1-minute long climb. I was about four lengths behind as we came over the top, but I knew I could make that up on the descent and by the time we were rolling up the next incline, I was comfortably on Gavin’s wheel again.
The Live Segment on my Garmin said I was 3-seconds ahead of my PR and I needed to more than double that improvement to break 4-minutes. Since I was near my red line and getting some efficiency gain from the group, I simply stayed in with them for the rollers hoping to use my sprint abilities near the end to make up some time. But, alas, I lost contact and immediately felt how hard it was to keep pace without the draft of my teammates. I was close enough to the end of the segment that I knew I needed to start the sprint, so I got up and began to hammer. I was about 5-seconds BEHIND my PR now! Gavin had lost contact at this point as well and I blazed by him on the final uphill section, but that glory was short-lived as I had peaked too soon. The sprint put me ahead of PR again, but with 0.2 miles left, I could barely muster a steady cadence, so I drifted back to finish the segment at 4:09.
While I was disappointed with this, I realized that my PR was in a race peleton and therefore much easier than on my own. (I still want to beat it on my own, but that will be for another day.) Recovery did not come easily this time and when we reached Horseshit Alley, I was barely back to Z2 as the effort picked up again!
Fast-forward to our last lap. I told the team I’d do the Horseshit Alley effort, then climb Harlem Hill, but cut off after that and head out the north end of the park to roll home. Chris lead out with me on second wheel and felt really solid all the way to Cat’s Paw. In fact, as we started the ascent, I powered to the front and pulled the team up and over. However, soon after the top I realized I was cooked and might not finish the segment with the group.
As my teammates passed me, I felt like I was done – totally done. Chris was third-wheel and hollered at me. I don’t recall the words, but something both motivational and slightly insulting. By the time his comments weaved through my brain I was about ten meters back and losing ground quickly. I stood up and sprinted back to the group in about 10-15 seconds, finishing the effort last wheel, but with the group.
As we recovered, Chris congratulated me on the effort and I said I was giving up on the last Harlem Hill climb. He was having none of this, “man, finish your plan!” Again, motivational and slightly insulting; tough love perhaps? Either way, I did, in fact, finish my plan and then limp home from there.
Once home, showered, and breathing like a human being again, I looked at my stats. I set my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd best times on Horseshit Alley. Had I not been “Training Up” and had Chris not given me encouragement, there’s no doubt those numbers would not have been as impressive today.