The dreaded cycling interval. Is this even cycling? As the end of the year nears I begin to tire of the weekly interval session. Physically, but mostly mentally. One, sometimes two, a week since January, the intensity increasing month by month.
Now it’s eyeballs out interval time, the moment of the year when intervals are best described as ‘oh my god I can taste my dinner again’ intervals. Ugh. I’d hate to see myself during an interval. What a horror show. I doubt I’d recognise the tormented soul punishing himself for no apparent reason.
The many contorted faces of Donald Trump spring to mind.
Warning: this blog post contains images of a graphic nature which some readers may find offensive. A hard interval session may actually be preferable to viewing the images within.
Few enjoy turbo training. Nobody enjoys eyeballs out intervals. Nobody. Sometimes the prospect of a turbo session fills me with so much fear it can preoccupy my days, distracting me from simple tasks. Today’s the day. Shit.
The interval begins with a warm up. Easy, right? Legs feeling good, hopefully. Within minutes you’ll have a pretty good idea of the scale of suffering ahead. If your legs feel good the suffering will only be horrible. Legs tired? Lacking sleep? Not eaten properly? Hungover? Good luck.
Every cyclist needs a good fan to keep cool during an interval. During the warm-up you’re covered in goosebumps, by the end your body is crying salty tears.
The first interval is usually a mess. How weak am I? Your legs and lungs are still cold, mentally you’re not prepared for the horror, damn you’re still chewing on that chicken leg from dinner. This is exacerbated by online training programmes that try to squeeze in too much intensity early in an interval session, neglecting to give the rider a decent warm up. Us old folks need at least 20 minutes, a cafe stop and 100km before we get going.
Completing intervals is as much a mental battle as physical. You need to train your brain to endure the pain, to forget the agony, to enjoy the burn. Focus only on the current interval not beyond to avoid the Q word.
One mental strategy is to find your happy place. Sleeping. Belgian beer with moules et frites. The Grand Canyon at sunset. An imaginary utopian bike shed that never runs out of space for n+1. It matters not where your happy place is. Seek it and stay there.
My favourite mental deflection strategy is to focus on my cadence and pedal stroke. I’ve never really bought into the pedal with one leg interval business, mostly because it’s annoying and not very enjoyable. Instead I pedal as normal but focus my strength in one leg at a time, putting the power down through the left leg for 10 pedal strokes before switching to the right leg. Or sweeping my feet across the bottom of the pedal stroke, or pulling my knees up high to keep the cadence high.
Do not stare at the clock. Tick tock, do not stare at the goddamned clock. It’s amazing how slow a second can be during a high intensity interval. Best to pretend time doesn’t exist. You are not suffering. You are not suffering. Oh no.
Hot and sweaty
You are dripping. A lake has formed beneath your bike. Salt stings your eyes. That drip down your back tickles. You stink.
The killer interval is upon you and your legs are screaming at you to stop. Quit. Get off the damned machine. Lungs ready to explode, everything hurts. Technique has long since abandoned ship, your legs flailing at awkward angles. This is not smooth. The thought of quitting is outdone only be thinking of the guilt and disappointment that will haunt you until the next session.
Occasionally you’ll get on top of an interval and feel indestructible, smashing all previous records, the interval as easy as a cafe spin. You’re so strong and powerful you could outrun wild stallions. Roar! These moments are fleeting and can be quickly followed by any of the above. Enjoy it whilst it lasts.
You’ve mentally broken the interval down into minutes. Before long you’ve shortened your goal to getting though the next 30 seconds, which quickly becomes, if only I can make it though the next 10 seconds. Head down you punish your legs for what feels like eternity, only to look up and realise 2 seconds have passed since you last checked the screen. Nooooooo.
Interval over, you’re a wreck. You make strange noises that wouldn’t be out of place in an experimental Korean horror movie. Your warm down resembles a slow motion collapse. Only your cleats keep you on the bike. You feel and look anything but fit.
The pain and emotion of an interval was nothing compared to finding Trump facial images for this blog post.