A chill is in this night air.
Your rivals are going to sleep, but you are just beginning.
10:48pm, post-ride, you are just stepping out of the steam shower 10 minutes ago, sitting down loose and relaxed with a cup of decaf and a fruit smoothie.
Sometimes, the energy is on.
Tonight, you feel electricity.
An one hour ago, the world is a blur, a suburban slideshow flying by you on the sidelines as you ache in the tuck.
29+ mph on the TT bike, chasing night under this moon. You have one local training loop of flat terrain, well-lit. You know the race lines, you know every crack and road seam, every sewer grate, you are in a tunnel, you operate in the vacuum – these suburban roads, tonight, are here for you.
The quietude is deafening, the pedaling is pure volatility. The legs are there, foom foom foom foom, come get it — at night, the speeds feel faster, the wind always an incredible caress.
Up ahead, that traffic light turning yellow? You are hell-bent keeping the speed. You accelerate and hold 32 mph, you can make the light. Pedaling in a blaze, nothing to think about.
Is it turning red? Too late, already gone, smoked darkness in your wake, the night trying to catch.
You are a black wolverine ripping through the darkness. Nothing can stop you.
The wind is alive and moving around you.
The interval is over, your eyes are pulsing, your legs are trembling, the night is coming into focus again, you sit up and feel the air parachute into you, 31, 27, 23 mph, here we come, out of the tunnel of suburbia, the bright lights of downtown Pompton Plains now coming into view — nothing like the stillness of empty downtown Pompton Plains window-fronts as you cruise at 18 mph post-interval.
The air is cool, you breathe in deeply.
This night is yours.
The bicycle is your gym. You want to get faster and each year you have a different goal, different races to aim for, and each year you are working on limiting weakpoints to become the best.
You want to be #1 no matter who shows up.
You live in Riverdale and you train in nearby Pompton Plains, in the valley of mountains. The mountains of Wayne Township border the south, the Butler and Kinnelon hills border the north, Skyline Drive is immediately east, and the hilly terrain of Montville is to the west.
Pompton Plains is the only valley of flatland. You generate nirvana loops, long straights, wide straights, right-hand turns, only red lights if you are slow, just loops of this.
In this valley, over and over and over, you carve who you are.
These roads, this night, tonight there is no better place on earth to be; you are hammering through the perfect training loop, you have earned this realization. You are home and you are happy, in this tunnel.
The workout wrapped early; you rode the final long tempo interval faster than you had planned, you rode further, enabling you to loop home faster.
Life is good on days like this, when the watts and the stopwatch are both in your favor. Those are win-wins, that’s an alpha day – no one takes down an alpha, you force the legs to catch up to the mind.
When the training is as hard and intense as it is, you need to have fun. You need to love it. And you do. A lot of people might see you as laughing or joking or loud or funny, not serious, that your mind can’t be on the job, but it must be that way – when you are not on the bike, you are in the office, working on training programs, relentless. Nothing can stop you, the laboratory is an exciting place, athletes will go faster forever.
You coach many of the best riders in the region, and you know they give you their all, and this process becomes intimate — you gain access to the athlete, the athlete is coughing up truths intrinsically, they tell you their strengths, vulnerabilities are exposed, and as velocities improve the coach/athlete relationship strengthens, you gain insight. This is earned.
The moon is a vapory glow above the valley of Pompton Plains. Hands are on the bullhorns, the war is over, industrial music in your ears. Headed towards the house now, you spin gracefully at 102 rpms, a pleasant 12-minute jaunt with wide roads and shoulders — there are bike lanes in Riverdale.
Bike lanes and moonlight are lovely.
You are proud to be immersed in the culture of the competitive cyclist, you are aware of this, this is all that you do. You have a strong psychological advantage.
When you are training, you know exactly what you are doing it for. You are in this first generation of Elite Endurance athletes.
* * *
Your home is on the bike. The intensity remains.
A lot has changed for you since you first started riding this bike in April 2000. These exact roads, the bike remains 100% the same: cheap on parts, priceless on effort.
Who needs a new TT bike when you already have this one? This bike is Team Lundgren, loyalty is everything, loyalty is how you build things that last. Riding this bike helped you once escape the pains of reality and earn something real, this aluminum bicycle is a best friend.
People tell you to get a new bike, to ditch the old 1999 heap. They don’t know what they are talking about — this bicycle has never failed you, and you are driven to keep bringing out new potential on it:
#1 You have to go in and not care what happens to you. You might crack, you might puke, you might hyperventilate, you might cramp, you might not reach your mark, you might fail to achieve the speed ten times in a row. You only fail if you don’t try 100%, you know you will reach that mark on your eleventh try. Going through these moments of unpleasant intensity, experiencing pain and aching, you go on and you go on and you go on, and the last minutes of your efforts, this is your golden time, the time you earn, when you really see what you are all about – this divides a winner from a loser, from doing something and not doing something. People lack the guts to just go in and not care what happens. It just does not matter.
Because it’s worth it.
#2 You miss what it feels like to improve. You are addicted. When you are away from home, you miss the comforts of home.
The third tip is the secret one, this is everything:
#3 The training has to be harder than the racing. You build uncommon perseverance. Some workouts are the absolute worst for you.
This is when you are really nervous. Nerves are key; you are not afraid, you have no fear – you are nervous, nerves summon your very best. Embrace these moments, you are ready, you will find out who you are.
7:50pm, fingers crossed, you have an hour until it’s time to throw down. Unfettered fury into the pedals, you know the ritual will destroy you. When you are training to excel in a time trial, everything is about the second half and the final third. Anyone can go fast for the first eight minutes.
The intervals tonight are gold, every pedal rep you sink into with real force, with venom.
You are riding all-out, you know you are a hard rider to beat, you are relentless, you’re clever on the bike, always tricking yourself and finding ways to increase your performance. You are getting better at this, at playing this game. On the bike, you will not leave the tunnel of this effort for one single second.
You cannot just “turn up” to workouts like this if you want to win. Big reality shock. But, you are going to win, you are winning right now.
The reality is frightening.
This motivation doesn’t come from anyone but you.
* * * *
#4 You cannot waste one single day.
The heart of success is the workout. Tonight’s workout is a hard one.
The road funneling out of Riverdale, which is purely warm-up terrain, always provides effortless speed. Yes, riding your bike at max speed to cars on Newark Pompton Turnpike is fun, it’s a lot of fun, the road is fast, usually a steady tailwind, you can rip 36 mph for the entire stretch if you want, but tonight it serves no purpose to the workout you have. These days you are smarter; you are in the zone and have raw reserve, you only see this tunnel approaching.
You are in charge. Your focus is a motherfucking assembly line. You know your role on the road. You are in charge of hitting the cadence zone, you are in charge of nailing the wattage. There are established rules – the bike is immaculate and race-dialed, you’ve eaten your low-glycemic meal exactly three hours pre-ride, you’ve gotten perfect sleep, you are committed to nailing this workout. You work, you work, you work.
You work. Things happen in life. You always have a chance to prove who you are. Many times, if there is a struggle on a bike, if there is a struggle and a failure, you can get stuck on this failure, it can derail the path.
This delay, this failure is between you and only you, you lose time you never get back. Only the strong survive. You cannot waste a single second. You can never be bitter over past failures. You need to improve, now, tonight, in this moment.
You need to stand by yourself. You need to be special, you do not go through this training to not achieve your goal. If you’re in a position to succeed, then why not?
You bring your A-game. Your mind writes checks that your legs can cash. How is it going to feel? If rivals beat you, they would’ve earned it — but that is not happening.
The chill is in the air. You’re here. You know what it takes. You’re hungry. You want to test yourself so bad.
To become the A-game, you must be the A-game.
You are rolling onto the Boulevard, rolling towards the yellow sign which marks the start of Interval 1, the flash of a hellish flurry coming. Your eyes are so open, this focus is your everything.
Right now it’s all work and no play. No one sees this side of you, ever. You have a spirit only you see.
You think of the next generation of Elite Endurance athletes, better athletes, what else can you say? Careers will be rich with reward, battling to prove what no one wanted to give them. The thought brings a sparkle to your eye.
Faster. Faster. Faster. Foom. Foom. Foom.
You are hell-bent on only one thing, the traffic light is already yellow, you are 32 mph into the deep darkness, and you notice that night is just beginning.