The rain is coming down in sheets, blowing sideways out from the coast. I hear its intensity more than I feel it; the drops reverberate through my helmet as they lash down. The temperature is just cold enough to add a sting to the rain, like a thousand needles upon the 15cm of exposed flesh between the tops of my overshoes and the bottoms of my knee warmers.
My body is struggling to make sense of the opposing sensations it is receiving. My arms and legs are chilled through, yet my torso is like a furnace. My face is stiff from the cold wind, but the saltiness of the water running over my lips tells me I’m sweating profusely. I am suffering, yet am hit by wave after wave of euphoria. Cycling is contradiction.
I rise out of the saddle to start the climb up away from the coast. It is sur la plaque business at first, and breathing deeply is crucial at the start of the climb. The wind seems to make it harder to draw my breath, as if there is some sort of bernoulli effect causing the wind suck the air back out of my mouth before it makes its way into my lungs. As I approach the first hairpin, I sit back down and ease onto the brakes while I drop the chain into the little ring.
There is little in this sport that makes one feel more Pro than to have to slow down for an uphill corner.
I’m through the switchback and onto the steep middle section of the climb, the wind at my back. It doesn’t seem to push me along, but it does make it easier to breathe, not to mention the pleasant warming feeling on my cheeks. Up through the next switchback, a badly paved brute with an extra bit of gradient thrown in for good measure. Why is it so hard to maintain a rhythm on irregular pavement, when climbing on cobbles doesn’t seem to bother me? These are the questions that serve to distract from the work at hand. I push the notion aside.
The legs are burning now, but they feel powerful – the first time in a while that I’ve felt these two sensations simultaneously. The effort and the cold air begin to do their work and the asthma starts to kick in. My mind casts to my left jersey pocket where I keep my inhaler only to realize that it isn’t in there. Such a foolish thing to leave at home at this time of year, but I’ll just have to suffer through a further lack of breath; no way will I allow myself to cut a ride short on account of my own stupidity. Besides, it will only serve to heighten the effect of the training.
Eventually, the asthma gets tired of the weather and goes away. Normal breathing returns.
I descend as though the road were covered in ice, as if I had become the love child of Brad Wiggins and Andy Schleck. The only thing more foolish than forgetting my inhaler is to come off needlessly during a routine training ride, so I continue to descend carefully.
The next climb has small rivers of rainwater flowing down the tarmac. They’re fun to ride through because the motion of the water adds to the sensation of speed and the unfamiliar feeling of climbing well. The feeling is enhanced by the stone walls on both sides of the road that amplify the hum of my wheels. My head drops every so often to watch my legs go about their business. They seem to be operated by someone else, someone who knows the inside of my head, but who is not me. My role has become one of an influencer without control. My head rises again and I settle back into the metronomic drip of water from the brim of my cap.
When I return home, my hands and arms are cold, and I am soaked to the bone; water streams from every bit of clothing, possibly from my pores as well. My body has all the trappings of a good training ride; I can feel the depth of my lungs with every breath. My legs feel heavy but springy, and I am thirsty for a recovery ale. Sean Kelly once observed that it is impossible to tell how cold and wet it is by looking out the kitchen window. You have to get dressed, go training, and when you get back, you will know how cold it is. Truer words were never spoken.
Why do I love training in bad weather? Because training in bad weather means you’re a badass. Period.