The Quitter

The truth is that I’d been thinking about quitting for the best part of forty-five minutes. Round and round I went on that track, every lap hurting a little bit more than the previous; every lap taking a little bit longer to complete, every lap that voice inside my head getting a little bit louder.

It might have been adrenaline or it might have been enthusiasm, but it was probably overconfidence in the belief that I could go full gas for an hour that had me tapping out a beautiful, seductive rhythm during those first few minutes of my effort at The Hour for Festum Prophetae. As those first laps ticked away, my focus was complete; I saw only the black line with the Sprinter’s lane and the Côte d’Azure framing my field of vision. The perpendicular lines where the slabs of concrete make up the track passed under me like ballasts on a train track. The effect was all-consuming as I felt my legs spinning smoothly and powerfully while my lungs processed litre upon litre of air.

It was just before turn three on an anonymous but early lap that the feeling swept over me. It was that unmistakable feeling when the shadow of fatigue sweeps by like a bird swooping overhead. I wasn’t tired yet, but the momentum had undeniably shifted; something intangible had changed that signalled the suffering that was about to come.

Over the next few laps my focus shifted from the ballasts to unconvincingly convincing myself that I was mistaken in sensing that harbinger of Fatigue Doom. Yet now I noticed the headwind, and I noticed how it seemed to slow me down much more than the tailwind sped me up. The fixed gear was a liability at this point; my muscles were weakening and there was no option to downshift for the headwind and upshift for the tailwind. It was all a cruel game against momentum. A game I sensed I was starting to lose.

It always seemed we would be gambling with the weather; rain had been forecast but the skies were beautiful and clear when I awoke. As I warmed up, the clouds were slowly creeping in. Just before I set off on the effort officially, @Owen announced that the rain was predicted to arrive 50 minutes into the effort. Rain on a velodrome is a dangerous thing; it reduces friction and causes a bicycle to slip from the banking, which will come as a surprise first to the rider and then to the audience.

I have a voice in my head that questions me. Incessantly. Like an annoyed parent, I have tried “grounding” this voice and taking away its iPad, but the little fucker is monumentally insubordinate, not to mention devious; just when I think I’ve got him locked up securely in the basement, it picks the lock and escapes again.

So there I was, for three-quarters of an hour with an escaped convict, my Questions Voice. When the rain started to fall, it started chatting about this being the perfect excuse to stop riding early. Still I kept on. I had put in something like 50 minutes already and I wanted to see The Hour out, irrespective of the suffering and the overwhelming desire to stop. Then both wheels slipped off the banking; first the back, then the front came down to join the party. Thankfully I was low on the track near the black line and it wasn’t a long enough trip to cause me to crash; but on the next time through the start/finish, my coach @Haldy yelled, “If you’re slipping, pull out.”

That was all I needed to hear. I wanted desperately to stop already, and I’d been thinking up a good excuse for ages. Having someone tell you to stop because it would be dangerous – irresponsible even – to continue is the perfect reason to give in.

So I stopped.

Before the bike had even come to a stop, I regretted it. Fifty minutes and change of comprehensive suffering, and all of it for nothing. Sixty minutes is the mark for The Hour, nothing less and nothing more. It is both its cruelty and its beauty.

I suffered, but I didn’t earn the satisfaction of knowing I suffered to complete a goal. I was already behind my goal pace, and quitting makes it easy to tell myself I could have made it anyway, that I would rally in the last 10 minutes to make it up. But I didn’t, and I wasn’t going to. I quit.

I will go back to the track in a few weeks’ time and do The Hour again. This time, with good weather. This time, I will finish what I started, however much I suffer again and however far behind my pace I am. Rule V.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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76 Replies to “The Quitter”

  1. Beautiful summary of 50 delicious, difficult minutes.  You did not quit, you lived to attack another day. Today was not your day, but it will come.

  2. I think I was merely the bearer of bad news on that one. Sorry.

    Point of order, it’s not quitting if your coach pulls you. Would you rather be off the bike with broken collarbone? You didn’t just slip a couple of times.

    Another point of order, it’s hard to not see the black line when @Haldy screams it every lap.

  3. Thanks for the follow-up Frank!  Sounds like its a matter of getting more used to the hour experience and refining your own ritual and pacing.  I look forward to the next chapter.

  4. Bro, some days quitting is the only thing to do – we’re not savages, after all! Good on you for being brave enough to attempt this sort of suffering in the first place, it’s more than most of us are willing to do.

     

    In the immortal words of our friend Lance Armstrong, some days you’re the hammer and some days you’re the nail – you’re definitely a hammer and I’m quite confident you’ll nail it next time!

  5. If you didn’t bother checking the weather report before your hour attempt, you should at least own up to your mistake and ride until you crash out. Or just learn to handle your bike. There’s lots of bloviating on this site about the beauty of cycling, how every pedal stroke is a work of art, how suffering purifies the mind, how hard saddles please your prostate, blah blah blah, but when it’s time to actually HTFU and ride your bike you were woefully inadequate. Do better next time.

  6. @The Real Hardman

    If you didn’t bother checking the weather report before your hour attempt, you should at least own up to your mistake and ride until you crash out. Or just learn to handle your bike. There’s lots of bloviating on this site about the beauty of cycling, how every pedal stroke is a work of art, how suffering purifies the mind, how hard saddles please your prostate, blah blah blah, but when it’s time to actually HTFU and ride your bike you were woefully inadequate. Do better next time.

    Harsh – but fair. The V does not compromise….

  7. Once the rain started I’d have been wrestling other demons joining the “quit now” whispers. Those “your new bike is going to get wet and filthy” thoughts can be very powerful too.

  8. Happens to the best!

    When we finished in Roubaix in the rain I was going round mid track and suddenly had that o-oh feeling and so came down to the bottom of the track.  A second later a guy further up slipped off and took out the 3 folk behind me including my mate.  That concrete, or specifically those advert patches, are slippery when wet.

  9. Obree aborted an Hour attempt and we all agree he’s a totally awesome human.

    It poured with rain consistently during my attempt, but my velodrome is tarmac and so doesn’t lose much friction in the wet (there is a school of thought that it actually rides faster in the wet, actually). I also managed to keep absolutely on schedule which means that I paced it well but also didn’t set my goal distance high enough. Next year I’ll go for 41. Or 42 if I’ve got a TT bike by then.

    Can we revise our Frank Hour VSP thing based on what I’ve calculated your goal distance was from timing you like a creepy cycle stalker?

  10. @RobSandy

     

    Can we revise our Frank Hour VSP thing based on what I’ve calculated your goal distance was from timing you like a creepy cycle stalker?

    yeah did I win?

    and wear white socks next time….mutter mutter mutter

    and why is track so hard @Haldy? @RobSandy?

  11. It happens Frank.

    It’s the feeling I used to get when I did races above my level against pro riders even more above my level – you know the ending (and it isn’t You, riding over the finish line arms raised) so it’s just a matter of how soon you let it happen.

    As a very, very good rider of my acquaintance once said to me “You just want it to be over.”

  12. @piwakawaka

    @RobSandy

    Can we revise our Frank Hour VSP thing based on what I’ve calculated your goal distance was from timing you like a creepy cycle stalker?

    yeah did I win?

    and wear white socks next time….mutter mutter mutter

    and why is track so hard @Haldy? @RobSandy?

    No distance has been declared so I think the predictor was void. I’ll go for 38kms next time. If he does the decent thing and wears white socks.

    I don’t ride a lot of proper track, i.e. on a track bike, but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot as I am about 5% slower in TT mode on the track than I am on the road, on the same bike etc. I think it’s something to do with momentum and inability to rest at all at the track without losing a lot of speed.

  13. @ChrisO

     

    As a very, very good rider of my acquaintance once said to me “You just want it to be over.”

    I’ve only ever had that feeling, i.e. wanting to climb off the bike and not get back on, during hill climb TTs.

  14. @RobSandy

    @piwakawaka

    @RobSandy

    Can we revise our Frank Hour VSP thing based on what I’ve calculated your goal distance was from timing you like a creepy cycle stalker?

    yeah did I win?

    and wear white socks next time….mutter mutter mutter

    and why is track so hard @Haldy? @RobSandy?

    No distance has been declared so I think the predictor was void. I’ll go for 38kms next time. If he does the decent thing and wears white socks.

    I don’t ride a lot of proper track, i.e. on a track bike, but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot as I am about 5% slower in TT mode on the track than I am on the road, on the same bike etc. I think it’s something to do with momentum and inability to rest at all at the track without losing a lot of speed.

    oh man, you need to get on a track bike, it hurts even more, or it could just be my ride…

  15. @piwakawaka

    @RobSandy

    Can we revise our Frank Hour VSP thing based on what I’ve calculated your goal distance was from timing you like a creepy cycle stalker?

    yeah did I win?

    and wear white socks next time….mutter mutter mutter

    and why is track so hard @Haldy? @RobSandy?

    Just pedalling non-stop for a long time is hard. I did a charity event on a watt bike a few years back and pedalled continuously for close to 90 minutes. My legs have never been so mashed after a bike ride, even 200km plus days don’t compare.

  16. @Steve Trice

    @piwakawaka

    @RobSandy

    Can we revise our Frank Hour VSP thing based on what I’ve calculated your goal distance was from timing you like a creepy cycle stalker?

    yeah did I win?

    and wear white socks next time….mutter mutter mutter

    and why is track so hard @Haldy? @RobSandy?

    Just pedalling non-stop for a long time is hard. I did a charity event on a watt bike a few years back and pedalled continuously for close to 90 minutes. My legs have never been so mashed after a bike ride, even 200km plus days don’t compare.

    This is why training on a turbo is so effective.

  17. @frank Is your questions voice mocking, sarcastic or brutally deadpan. Mine has evolved over the years from the former to the latter as I’ve become more accustomed to hurting myself.

    As @RobSandy points out, Obree aborted an hour attempt and my former sensei pulled out of an amateur hour attempt due to his questioning voice and rain when he was ahead of schedule to take Obree’s amateur record on a wooden outdoor track. You’re in exalted company.

    I wouldn’t want to come across as a pedant or even a train spotter for that matter but they’re not ballasts, they’re ties (sleepers to the Brits).

  18. I ride hard and love it, but the actual competing I have done is running (not triathlon).  In that sport the best times come from negative splits – second half of a race slightly faster than the first.  You have to be fresh enough late in the event to go faster as the pain rises.  V minutes into an hour event there should be absolutely no pain and doubt.  At that point you should be feeling fresh and invincible.

    Regardless of distance, every race includes 5K of real suffering – the last 5K.  Everything before is just getting there efficiently.  The hour on a bike is probably similar.

  19. There’s a time to push thru and a time to quit and if ya’ve done enough of this kinda thing then you know the difference. It’s experience and it cannot be denied. Cheers @frank for the effort, sharing your story and for hitting it again.

  20. @chris

    …they’re not ballasts, they’re ties (sleepers to the Brits)…

    Thanks for putting me out of my misery – I was at a loss as to whether to chastise @frank for this schoolgirlboy error or for attempting an hour record on Festum Prophetae in black socks.

    Documentary evidence – see below – suggests (proves, in fact!) that the Prophet did his best work in white socks* – to attempt this event on a celebratory day without due regard to this basic requirement was foolish and shortsighted. Show some respect, FFS.

    * clarification: there appear to be one or two images on the interweb of the Great One in what would, at first glance, appear to be black socks; clearly these would have been perfectly white at the start of the race in question and gradually dirtied with the dust of his enemies over the course of the crushing ride.

  21. You did the right thing by stopping (not quitting). How dumb would it have been to play the tough guy and ride in the rain, risking a crash and possibly a broken collarbone or pelvis? Then you’d have felt dumb. Good call and having done the Hour last year and 50 minutes this year, you’ll be all the more prepared for the next go.

  22. @wiscot

    …having done the Hour last year and 50 minutes this year, you’ll be all the more prepared for the next go.

    Lexicon addition – @frank‘s hour – a track excursion of less than an hour in duration in which the rider attempts to ride more than 40km or more.

  23. @wiscot

    You did the right thing by stopping (not quitting). How dumb would it have been to play the tough guy and ride in the rain, risking a crash and possibly a broken collarbone or pelvis? Then you’d have felt dumb. Good call and having done the Hour last year and 50 minutes this year, you’ll be all the more prepared for the next go.

    This. People can talk shit all they want, but having your skeleton intact means you can have another go soon.

  24. You put in 50 good minutes of effort that your focus could be on learning from, before the conditions made it unsafe to continue.  Perhaps you will start a touch slower the next time and be able to prolong the period before the fatigue sets in, then crush it in the finale as it does!

  25. The voices of doubt are powerful things. On two occasions (both while climbing) I have heard an actual voice telling me I would be better served by getting off the bike. One even hatched an elaborate plan for me to save face by feigning a flat. Our internal governors can sometimes take more active roles in their attempts to protect us from ourselves. Sometimes you have an @Haldy there for you instead. Good call regardless.

  26. @nccyclist

    At least you and bike look great.

    Exactly. Continuing in the rain could have prompted damage to both rider AND bike. Ripped up gear and a scratched up bike? Not worth it!

  27. @Owen

    I think I was merely the bearer of bad news on that one. Sorry.

    Point of order, it’s not quitting if your coach pulls you. Would you rather be off the bike with broken collarbone? You didn’t just slip a couple of times.

    Another point of order, it’s hard to not see the black line when @Haldy screams it every lap.

    HE may have seen it..but he sure did wander from it! ;-) Hence the constant..forceful..reminders

  28. How many riders can say they did the Hour in 50 minutes? I think you’re looking at this all wrong. I bet you could even do it in less if you really put your mind to it.

  29. Let the peanut gallery have their fun, but you’re not going to get any shit from me, Frank.  There aren’t that many (non-pro) people out there who have publicly announced lofty goals and invited so many to watch the suffering.  After successful Volcano and hour rides, you must have really had an off day for this one.  Respect.

  30. Next time look deep into the closet with the lights on – there you will find man pants.

  31. @ChrisO

    @Steve Trice

    @piwakawaka

    Just pedalling non-stop for a long time is hard. I did a charity event on a watt bike a few years back and pedalled continuously for close to 90 minutes. My legs have never been so mashed after a bike ride, even 200km plus days don’t compare.

    This is why training on a turbo is so effective.

    Also a good reason to never, ever freewheel.

  32. @The Real Hardman

    If you didn’t bother checking the weather report before your hour attempt, you should at least own up to your mistake and ride until you crash out. Or just learn to handle your bike. There’s lots of bloviating on this site about the beauty of cycling, how every pedal stroke is a work of art, how suffering purifies the mind, how hard saddles please your prostate, blah blah blah, but when it’s time to actually HTFU and ride your bike you were woefully inadequate. Do better next time.

    When it came time to HTFU and ride his bike, @frank did just that.  The fatigue, the doubt, the hypnotic turns… They all set in.  And when they persisted, so did he.  You’re right, “Real.”  There is a lot of bloviating on this site.  And when it was time to criticize your peers you were woefully inadequate.  Do better next time.

  33. @Oli

    Bro, some days quitting is the only thing to do – we’re not savages, after all! Good on you for being brave enough to attempt this sort of suffering in the first place, it’s more than most of us are willing to do.

    In the immortal words of our friend Lance Armstrong, some days you’re the hammer and some days you’re the nail – you’re definitely a hammer and I’m quite confident you’ll nail it next time!

    Aren’t those Gerraint’s words? I thought Pharmy’s quote was “pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever” – which is a fantastic quote, despite what a twunt he was/is.

    @Barracuda

    Starting is winning !

    Oh, and I want that bike, well, not THAT bike obviously

    Last time I checked, winning is winning, starting is starting. Getting second, however, is winning at losing.

  34. @The Real Hardman

    You do realize the time/date was set months in advance in honor of Festum Prophetae, correct? That said, when the event isn’t schedule for an international audience, certainly the time/date would be adjusted to account for the weather, as it will be when I do it again in a few weeks.

  35. @RobSandy

    @piwakawaka

    @RobSandy

    Can we revise our Frank Hour VSP thing based on what I’ve calculated your goal distance was from timing you like a creepy cycle stalker?

    yeah did I win?

    and wear white socks next time….mutter mutter mutter

    and why is track so hard @Haldy? @RobSandy?

    No distance has been declared so I think the predictor was void. I’ll go for 38kms next time. If he does the decent thing and wears white socks.

    I don’t ride a lot of proper track, i.e. on a track bike, but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot as I am about 5% slower in TT mode on the track than I am on the road, on the same bike etc. I think it’s something to do with momentum and inability to rest at all at the track without losing a lot of speed.

    The track bike makes a huge difference – specifically the fixed wheel and gear. And there is something about the corners that seems to cause you to slow down. And the fact that the laps are measured and counted to calculate a distance, so if you ride a wider lap, you will sacrifice speed and time, as @Haldy pointed out to me…

  36. @imakecircles

    You put in 50 good minutes of effort that your focus could be on learning from, before the conditions made it unsafe to continue. Perhaps you will start a touch slower the next time and be able to prolong the period before the fatigue sets in, then crush it in the finale as it does!

    As the Prophet advises: start as fast as you can, and end as fast as you can. As for the middle, go as fast as you can.

  37. @ChrissyOne

    How many riders can say they did the Hour in 50 minutes? I think you’re looking at this all wrong. I bet you could even do it in less if you really put your mind to it.

    You win the internet today.

  38. @frank

    It’s a matter of perspective, with two small kids and a hectic family life, If I plan a ride and actually start it, Ive already won !

  39. @brett

    @frank

    Surely those long sleeves are slowing you down… and the bibs. Naked (except for the white socks obviously).

    Might have been my fat ass slowing me down, too. Never know which it was, exactly.

    @Dave

    I ride hard and love it, but the actual competing I have done is running (not triathlon). In that sport the best times come from negative splits – second half of a race slightly faster than the first. You have to be fresh enough late in the event to go faster as the pain rises. V minutes into an hour event there should be absolutely no pain and doubt. At that point you should be feeling fresh and invincible.

    Regardless of distance, every race includes 5K of real suffering – the last 5K. Everything before is just getting there efficiently. The hour on a bike is probably similar.

    This is my favorite kind of internet advice. “I haven’t actually done this, but here’s how you should have done this.”

  40. You’ll never know how hard you can go until you crack.  Man I’ve learned that lesson.  Every time I do a 20 min FTP test and aim a wee bit too high.  It sneaks up on you and then ka-blammo!  The great thing about it is that body gets just a bit tougher each time we do something stupid to it.

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