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How Bike Touring Helped My Race

By Jackson Parr | Aug. 20, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

In the days leading up to my race I could feel the hundreds of miles from my tour in my legs. With three days before the event, it would be more rest than I had gotten but that didn’t take away from the way I had broken down my body and legs in the two weeks prior. Not only that, but two weeks of nutrition consisting of gas station food mixed with occasional campground cuisine left my body filled with the unnatural foods that I rarely included in my pre-race diet. Needless to say, I was concerned about how my body would react when it was time to perform.

jacksonOn top of these concerns was the lack of nearly any threshold training that is an important part in these high intensity races. When touring, I kept a consistent but simple pace. My heart rate was low, my legs rarely burned and most sweat was due to the weather and not the effort. When the heavy breathing set in and my heart was pounding, I wasn’t sure my body would know how to handle it.

To add to my list of mounting issues, I took my Cervelo P2 out the day before my race and realized I had all but forgotten how to ride it. After spending over fifty hours of my past two weeks on a fully loaded, steel framed touring bike, the fragility, weight and speed of my racer felt entirely foreign to me. I was unable to stand up from the saddle without the frame shaking beyond control and my hopes to work on a flying mount/dismount were thwarted. Spending an hour diving throughout an empty parking lot in South Burlington quelled a bit of that newfound tension, but things did not seem to lend to a successful race the next day.

The morning was as electric for me as it was for anyone at the venue. No one knew that I was the kid that rode his bike 900 miles to this race and that was irrelevant to everyone there. The race was still the same.

With my many concerns that had mounted in the past days, I had gone to sleep the previous night ready to have an enjoyable race (what would be the last of my 2012 season) and being indifferent to the results. My adventure was nearly over and the end seemed too close to cause for much concern. Yet going through my pre-race rituals I could feel the edge of competition creeping in and before long, every neon green swim cap was the enemy and I had welcomed the number one rule of triathlon; this was going to hurt.

I was not concerned with the swim, as it did not play much into the fatigue of my tour. Yet it was made significantly more difficult through the always-hectic start, which caused me to take an elbow to the eye and feel my left lens cap pop out of my goggles, sinking to the Lake Champlain depths. With one eye closed and a glaring sun in the other, I made my way to around the harbor and to transition curious to see how this bike leg would fare.

jacksonDisappointed with my fear of a flying mount, I hammered it down the initial bike path, taking the first corner as cleanly as I could. Unfortunately, the bump of the sidewalk-to-road transition weighed down on my aerobar pad that was already in repair, causing it to snap off and clink to the feet of the course volunteer. I would be riding the rest of the leg with one arm inefficiently resting across the other. Mechanically, this was turning out to be a hard race but I was excited to see what my cycling legs had in store for me (if anything).

Despite feeling the general soreness that I felt every day of my tour, the threshold speed felt just like it always did. The hills in Burlington proved mild compared to the Adirondacks I had emerged from across the lake and all of these fellow riders brought back the racing adrenaline that was lost during my tour. I rolled back into transition seeing that I had caught ground on most of my competition.

The run was a matter of holding onto any advantage that I had gained on those I had passed in the bike. Running into a personal record brought me 6th in my age group and 55th overall. With a top-ten bike split of the day, I put serious weight to the idea of bicycle touring as a means of training. I had left Milwaukee with the thought of being too burnt out to perform, but had arrived and excelled past what I would have done before.

My adventure and my race were over but I walked out of transition with bike in tow believing more than I had before. Perhaps my hours of pushing pedals provided the fitness to help me succeed, but it was the experiences that showed me the sacrifice it took to be a triathlete. Turning down an invitation to a wedding, missing my mother complete her first half-marathon all to sit alone in a tent somewhere in Canada with the rain knocking gave me a constitution and understanding that I didn’t have before. While my trade-off was a strange one, we all give up a part of ourselves to participate in the sport. It was my choice to take two weeks of physical and mental strain to compete in an event that I am passionate about, and it won’t be the last time I make a crazy commute.