Saturday, 16 April 2011

Training Partners

It's a good thing I wrote my last post when I did and not a week later, as it's true what everyone says about 30 weeks and beyond: the baby grows by half a pound a week, your lungs get more and more compressed, and life is suddenly a lot tougher again. Three weeks on and I can't even run up a flight of stairs without feeling completely winded! These days my rides have as few rises in the road as possible, and my usual quick out-of-the-saddle sprint to get through roundabouts and come out of corners has been reduced to a slow careful slog.

But I can't complain as I'm still fairly comfortable on the bike, the weather has turned to glorious spring, and the longer days means more time to ride in the evenings. It could be a whole lot worse, and frankly I'm going to plan this timing for the next kid too -- it would be horrible to be 30 weeks in the middle of autumn with nothing but dark dreary short days to look forward to for the next four months.

As I've been forced to watch many others pass me by -- quite literally, as every cyclist on a road bike these days overtakes me -- it's been interesting to contemplate this dramatic fall in speed and power and think about my journey through various training partners since I got pregnant. I hesitate to say "regression" though that's of course what it's been; it's nicer to think of it in terms of getting to know various folks in the club as I join them on rides I'd have rarely done otherwise.

Pre-pregnancy to week 6
Still riding lots with Jim and the other 2nd/3rd cat racers in my club, which means hard training sessions and hammerfests that really push my limits at times. Club runs are those of the more social variety as recovery and mental health rides, where I hold back a lot on the flats and drop most people on the climbs whether I'm trying to or not. In other words, I'm in pretty peak form.

Weeks 6-18
The sudden influx of morning sickness means faster-paced club runs are about as hard as I care to ride. Full of fit guys and girls, not road racers but strong TTers and hardened sportivers nonetheless, up for pushing the effort from time to time but mostly wanting a steady good-paced ride and that suits me fine. It's touch and go at times, and I end up doing a lot of solo rides as I just can't tell on any given day how good or bad I'll feel or if I'll want to bail after an hour. But by the end of November I'm still going pretty well, having only gained a few kgs. We hold a club race skills training day at Hillingdon and the 4-lap scratch race at the end turns out to be more fun than I thought. Things are looking up, and when the snow flies just before Christmas I'm out on the cross bike having a blast. Racing has gone out the window though, after a few half-hearted attempts at cross and getting too depressed with how slow I am, I decide my season is officially done, and I'm now sucking the wheels of those fit guys and girls starting their winter training periods.

Weeks 19-29
I'm feeling much better, more or less back to normal, though the weight is piling on and this is having some adverse effects. "Club run pace" is the default for me now, with the occasional burn-up at the end. Raising my stem about 2cm helps accommodate the growing bulk in my midsection, but I find myself having to reach down and physically shift my belly upwards to get comfortable on the bike as occasionally I get a side stitch or ache from the awkwardness of it. I buy an 11-32 cassette (eschewing the 11-34 thinking I'll never want a 34-tooth cog... ha ha, how naive is that!), prompting the guys at Sigma Sport to refer to it as the "maternity cassette". Nonetheless, my ego gets a shock when I end up having to get off and walk up the last 200m of steep and nasty Pebblehill Road near Boxhill. Still, it's going well and I'm actually gaining fitness back, able to do long rides of over four hours and 100km as long as I can stop to pee every hour!

In fact in March I do more miles than I have since the previous July, helped by numerous midweek "work dodgers" rides with fellow Wheelers who are off work or working strange shifts. Of course, the average speed is a lot slower and towards the latter weeks I find myself deliberately avoiding routes with steeper hills. The top corner of Coombe Road, or the steep early section of Crocknorth is about all I can manage now. It's starting to get more than frustrating being dropped up every hill, no matter the gradient, by average club run pace folks, but I can still hold my own on the rollers and flat sections. Ironically, descending becomes more fun and secure with the extra weight, not to mention faster! I'm still leading club runs but generally from 3rd wheel shouting out the turns rather than sitting on the front a lot myself. Clubmates are starting to make jokes about whether they should be prepared to deliver a baby on a ride, and any time I fall to the back of the group I'm met with concerned looks and questions of whether I'm feeling all right.

Weeks 30-?
The end of March sees me off the bike for an entire week as I juggle all the tasks of moving into a new house and getting out of the old flat. The movers come and I can barely go up two flights of stairs empty-handed let alone lift or move many boxes. It's shocking how breathless I've suddenly become, and how quickly my heart races with any small effort. Finally a few days after moving into the new house I get out for a glorious sunny ride and manage 22km/h average speed for the first hour. Three hours later I make it home quite exhausted and I have to admit my 100km riding days are over for now. Club runs now see me volunteering to lead the "newbie" ride, with its slow pace on the flats and even slower pace up the hills (I'm last up the two shallowest hills we ride -- the so-called backmarker -- and get dropped easily now on the smallest of rollers). Richmond Park laps are of the TT-course variety, avoiding both Dark Hill at Kingston gate and Test hill near Robin Hood gate. Any headwind on a hill sees me slow to a virtual crawl. Where's that 34-tooth cog I should have bought!

Worst of all, I no longer have any mental desire to work hard, and my legs feel like jelly if I do. My HR shoots up so high with any effort that I have to ease off otherwise I feel sick. It's like the first trimester all over again, only 25lbs heavier. Riding has become about getting out for some sun and fresh air, and all thoughts of power or speed or effort are completely gone. It's hard to guess what my FTP might be, but I suspect I could not hold more than 175w for an hour these days. Luckily I can diesel along at 130w for several hours still, but I'm getting less and less motivated to ride, and more and more fearful of hills. Still, I'm pretty stubborn and have yet to pull out my upright old MTB for a last-ditch resort to ride on the flat towpaths. Even as I see my CTL drop again (after hitting a max of 85 in week 29) I can't be too fussed about it. Even with the nice weather, I just don't feel like riding much anymore. Though at least I still have a few training partners left, the guys who are coming back from injury or extended lay-offs or just plain fat unfit cabbies (you know who you are!)

The final weeks
This is where it all becomes a mystery. I had said I wanted to keep riding til my birthday which would be the end of the 37th week, but that's looking like a big ask now. To be honest, I'd be happy to go into labour by then! A few weeks early is starting to look like a great plan. In the meantime I'll have to start making plans to stay active somehow. The pool is seeming most likely, and brisk walking seems to feel like proper exercise. In fact, anything but sitting on the couch feels like work...

The future
Over the past several months I've gone through the whole gamut, from riding with the strongest and fittest members of my club to riding with the weakest. It's been strange to measure myself against others and watch the slow decline in performance, knowing that a group I join to ride with will soon be saying good-bye a short while later as they leave me behind. I can only hope that the months after the baby see me progressing back up through the groups, improving the way I declined til finally I can ride with Jim again at his speed. Though of course riding with Jim again is going to mean a whole new problem to solve for both of us! But it's something I've really missed so it's worth the effort to make it happen in the future, even for just a rare Sunday. Anyone want to baby-sit?

29 weeks
33 weeks