Surviving Zone 5

4:12 PM

There is nothing good about zone five training.

OK, I suppose you could argue that getting your heart rate up in the stratosphere will condition your body for the extraordinary efforts you need to put out in races.  Maybe.  And next I guess you will be trying to convince me that it is by being ready to attack in a race that will get me on to (or at least closer to) a podium finish.  Sure, I suppose you could say that.

But my main problem with zone five training is that you actually have to do it to reap the benefits.  Isn't there some way I could just get faster without working myself to the point of (almost) throwing up?

Today's workout has been staring at me from my workout plan all week - just giving me the evil eye and muttering things like, "You'll see...oh, you'll see..."  The details were pretty basic: find a long hill (7-8% for about a mile) and climb it five times for four minutes each climb in zone five with an equal amount of rest.  For my hill I selected the Smith Bridge, which may be a touch shallower than I wanted, but is close by and is long enough for this workout.

I could tell during the warm up that I wouldn't have any difficulty getting my heart rate up above 175 (where my zone five monster lives) - it was only eight o'clock in the morning, but nearly 80 degrees.  Indeed, one minute into the first interval and my heart was already leaping above 175.  It is funny, Joe Friel says that if you are not strong enough to get into zone five by the second interval you should stop and do the workout later in your training - I had no difficulty getting into the zone, but I wouldn't say I felt strong because of it.

The second time up the hill found me struggling.  The sun was beating down, sweat was pouring down, and other riders were riding down (…the hill - taunting me with their coasting on purpose, I'm sure of it).  I grasped for inspiration and first thought of my cycling hero, Greg LeMond.  Be like Greg, floating up those mountains...but then I got the image of climbing with diarrhea and I had to move on.  Maybe I should be like Hinault (I'm currently reading Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France, can you tell?), so I flattened my brow, gritted my teeth and climbed with the grim determination to make the hill yield to me.  Yield, I say!

Nope, the hill refused to yield and I didn't even make it as far up the hill as I did during my first interval.  I noticed that some of the riders on the road were making return trips up the hill, so I wasn't alone in my idiocy.  We would wave companionably when passing - happy on the way down, tongue lolling on the way up.  

Should-a,  Would-a, Could-a
Round about the end of the third interval I had a cheering thought: I didn't have to do this.  I could turn my bike around at any time and head for home.  Heck, with the money I had in my pocket I could make a stop along the way - I was a mere 10 minutes away from a decadent pastry, a smoky mug of coffee, and air conditioning.

It was this thought that, rather than leading to my ride abandonment, actually got me through the last two intervals.  Every time up the hill, every pedal stroke, was for my own improvement and by my own choosing.  Why soft-pedal it?  If I'm going up the hill anyway, I might as well get the most out of this workout as I can.  I also knew, somewhere in the deep recesses of my fatigue-addled brain, that I would be glad I had done this workout...once it was over.

Which, of course, it soon was.  I finished strong and time resumed its normal cadence (something funny was happening during my workout - time would slow down on my way up the hill, and speed up on my way down - I must consult some NASA scientist about this strange phenomenon).  And as I sit here typing I am happy that I pushed through the discomfort brought by the heart attack that is zone five.  Of course, I also have a glass of wine at my side, which may be responsible for the rosy glow…

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