New personal best to Mechelen and back

My standard training route is a perfectly flat, ~48 km long section of quite good quality asphalt along the channel (the Dijlekanaal) which connects the city of Leuven with Mechelen. I have ridden it 37 times since I bought my racing bike in February, 2010. It can be very windy, but riding this route is the best (as it is always consistent) and easiest (no cars, very few crossroads, good infrastructure, and starts very close to my place) way to see how trained I am. If I push as hard as I can, and there is not too much wind, then my average speed will reflect the level of my fitness. Basically this is my individual time trial course. My seasonal best (SB) for 2010 was set on the 7th of June, with an average speed of 33.95 km/h (this value differs a bit from what can be seen on Garmin Connect, but it is more precise, believe me – and you will see in the next post, how did I get it). Now this year I had a quite different training strategy, with additional low intensity rides and interval workouts, instead of the mostly strictly high intensity rides of last year, when I almost always tried to break my previous record. The reason for this is that 1) it is better to train like this, and 2) it got really stressing after some time that I never managed to break my record from June, so I realised that I should not try to always break my record if I do not want to demotivate myself. There is also no point of going for a record, if I do not feel perfectly fit, if the wind is stronger than 10 km/h, or if the temperature is too high/low, because now I have reached the point when it is not that easy to break a record, so I need perfect or near optimal conditions to try – if I also want to have chance for succeeding. So far this year I only tried once, but too early in the season, so I have failed miserably (I thought the aerodynamic wheels would do the job just by themselves, but this is not true at all – of course). But now after all the training I had on La Palma, I really felt strong, and as the weather forecast was perfect (temperature in the low twenties, and a wind of maximum 5-10 km/h), and I had a feeling that I had already recovered after the hard  rides of the Canaries, I had to try it. So on Wednesday after work I left with the goal of setting a new personal best on the Leuven – Mechelen – Leuven course. On the way towards Mechelen I had a slight tailwind, and I felt really good; my cadence was high, I had no ‘difficult’ breathing at a constant high heart rate of 180-183 BPM, and I could relatively easily concentrate on keeping the pace high without getting distracted by any doubtful thoughts (because sometimes that’s the worst, when you don’t feel perfect, and you start thinking about it, doubting that you will be able to hold this speed for long). This way I was riding with typically 37-39 km/h, and I have arrived to Mechelen with a personal best split time. My average speed was 36.5 km/h (because at crossroads I have to slow down to basically 0, and this have a huge impact on the average) when I turned back (after my usual short stop) towards Leuven. I knew that I had a very good first leg, but I was not sure if it was because of the slight help from the wind, or because my training on La Palma was really this useful. So I was very curious how will I perform against the wind (and a bit afraid what if it was just the wind – as it would have not been the first time in history). But it was relatively easy, I really do not remember if I have ever felt this comfortable (relatively speaking, as you never feel comfortable after keeping your heart rate above 180 BPM for an hour) while riding against the headwind. After the first kilometers it became clear that if I do not make a big mistake, then this will be a new record. As my speed was typically 35-37 km/h during this stage, I knew that the final average would be lower than what I saw at the turn-around point, but still much better, than my best time from 2010. And knowing that I can make it, and that the end result can be really good helped me a lot psychologically. Because there are moments when there is a stronger gust, and then you need to push against the wind with a much higher power to keep a steady speed, and it is very easy to loose the rhythm when this happens if your mind is not devoted or concentrated enough. In the last 15 km I just tried to keep my cadence at or near 100 RPM, and go without thinking about anything else (except for drinking frequently enough, because that’s very important). So at the end, I crossed the imaginary finish line completely exhausted, knowing that I really gave the maximum I could. Then I looked down to the screen of my Garmin Edge 500, and it displayed an average speed more than 1.5 km/h better, than what I had on the 7th of June in 2010. After a very easy (and extremely happy) ride home (from the end of the channel, where the imaginary finish line lies), I got to know my final, ‘official’ average speed, setting my new personal best (PB) at 35.70 km/h (individual TT on 48.06 km, not closed roads, no TT bike). An improvement of 1.75 km/h! For me this was a success as big as riding up twice to the Roque de los Muchachos on one day. In the second half of last year I tried so much to break the record without succeeding, that I really started to think that I had set it in such perfect conditions (it is true that the weather was even better than now), that I would never be able to break it again. And now, such an improvement, it is still almost unbelievable. I really am very happy about it! :)

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