Greg Lemond famously once said that “It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.” I’ve heard this refrain repeated dozens, if not hundreds of times from fellow cyclists. It is thrown around so much that it’s almost a cliche, but it is also a great motivator for getting through a difficult part of your training.
This is not a trip to Disneyland. Training is suffering, and improvement is the reward for all that hard work.
I have recently found that the reverse is also true. When you do not train as much as needed, it still doesn’t get easier, you just get slower. When comparing this year and last year’s Mitchell performance, I noticed some startling similarities. Even though my time this year was over an hour longer than last year, my heart rate activity was at about the same rate. Both days I felt worn out when I reached the top, and both days I was achingly sore the next day.
Strava Premium has a useful little tool called Suffer Score. For people like me who are too cheap to invest in a power meter, it’s a good way to measure training intensity. It also a good barometer for how difficult a ride is. When I say that Mitchell is a tougher ride than Bridge to Bridge, I have some evidence to back that up.
I have now done Mitchell twice as a Strava subscriber, which allows me to do some comparison. Of course last year I was disappointed with my 7:07 time, and felt I could have done a little better. That may not be fair. When looking at my heart rate stats, however, it looks like I pushed quite a bit.
64% of my ride was spent in threshold level, which is quite a lot. My memory is that I worked pretty hard on the rolling hills from Spartanburg to Marion, and tried to control my heart rate a little more on the climbs. If I had drafted more along the way to Marion, the threshold percentage probably would have dropped, but so would my time. It is safe to say that my heart rate was elevated for the vast majority of the climbing.
Here are the 2013 stats:
First off, ouch! I believe that 555 is my highest recorded suffer score for any ride. This shows that a slow time is not the only consequence for poor training, not that I could help it this year. The key difference between this and last year is that most of my hard work was at the end of the ride. I had an easier time getting to Marion, so my suffering was again during the climbing. The 4+ hours of saddle time with an elevated heart rate was very close to last year, but the total time was 8:25.
It also shows that cardio conditioning is essential training for climbing. Assuming I get healthy and put in more interval training, I should improve not just on this year’s time, but also last year’s. Either way, it is going to hurt just as much, even if it does not take as long.