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The Nature of Rule VV

The Nature of Rule VV

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It never gets easier, you just go faster.

– Greg LeMond

Rule #5 looms above the other Rules in terms of sheer relevance to Cycling; it is the fundamental building block upon which this sport is built. The Five is what drives us, it is the force that springs from a well that flows deep within each of us. It must be discovered, and then we learn to use it. Like all wells, our individual Five Well is but an access points into a vast source, one that flows unseen between many other wells and is spread over enormous distances. The Five binds us all together as brothers and sisters along the path to La Vie Velominatus; we may learn to access The V and we may learn to use it but we can never control it.

If Rule #5 is the fundamental building block of our sport, then Rule #10 is its fundamental application. There is a climb I frequently ride that starts from the Twentynine Pines Campground on the Teanaway Road North Fork Road out of Cle Elum that snakes up to Esmeralda Basin at the foot of the Enchantments (which is possibly the most beautiful place on Earth). The climb isn’t difficult in itself; 355 meters gained over 15 kilometers on good gravel at a modest alpine elevation of 800m.

One of the beautiful aspects of climbing is that a moderate gradient can in many ways be more challenging than a steep one; steep slopes will force you to tap into your reserves very quickly, but they also offer no alternative but to continue grinding away. A moderate gradient has more to do with will and determination; the slope doesn’t take its pound of flesh in itself – the difficulty of the climb comes from the willingness of the rider to push themselves into the red through sheer determination.

The climb to Esmeralda Basin starts fast along a faux-plat with lots of washboard that forces the rider to dodge along the road in search of the best surface. By the time the gradient starts to increase, the legs will be dull from dodging through the bumpy terrain and the mind will already feel tired from the strain of concentration, much like it does at the end of a secteur of pavé. At this point, the washboards are more scarce, but the quality of the gravel surface also deteriorates. The high speeds can still be maintained, but this requires immense focus as you still need to pick your line carefully while maintaining the force of the effort and resisting the ever-increasing desire to relent.

The last five kilometers are steeper and on the worst surface, with rain having carved erratic ruts and mud, gravel and debris collecting in loose deltas along their bases. But the various trailheads along the way means the road near the top is lined with cars which make you feel like you’re climbing to a summit finish at the Tour de France; the final push is made easier via a bit of adrenaline from this fantasy, but it only speeds the journey into hypoxia. Into the parking lot at the top, panting like a rabid gorilla cause strangers to peer at you askance wondering if you are dying or just crazy. To most of them, the idea does not occur that you might be both.

It is no coincidence that Rule #5 plus Rule #5 equals Rule #10; how hard a climb is follows from how hard we are willing to push ourselves. There is no such thing as an easy climb; it isn’t the gradient that causes one to suffer – it is magnitude of the effort.

// La Vie Velominatus // The Rules

  1. Keep it up.

  2. A-Merckx

    Add kilos to your body frame and every climb is simply mind over matter and keeping the pistons pumping and grinding whilst mentally fighting the thoughts of changing the cassette/ratios to make it easier the next time.

  3. @frank – another typically excellent and reflective piece. It seems almost axiomatic that the climbs never actually get easier if you are pursuing the V. We establish goals to get to the top faster than the last time or in a different gear or perhaps…..without stopping. If, with each ride, we try to better our last, the climb will always feel as if the Man with the Hammer is behind the next tree. Attaining these goals is rarely accomplished in a straight line up and to the right. I encounter setbacks and disappointments, but, like other Velominati more accomplished than I, the measure of the will is in the next ride. Your article is inspiring as there are many hills in our region and I truly love the feeling when arriving at the summit; but somehow, the climb itself is, for me, even more rewarding than the view or the descent. “Resisting the ever-increasing desire to relent” – brilliant stuff.

  4. The hour is never shorter than the hour

    The summit never moves from its perch

    The curves of the path never straighten

    It never gets easier, you only go faster

  5. The best rules are the ones with which compliance demands trips to the pain cave. (Rule 9 is my personal favorite.) Any Fred Wanker can kit up in flawless Rapha with his flipped stem slammed to his headset and his quick-releases angled attractively. All the Dura Ace in the world won’t un-drop you OR your hairless legs.

    Some people strip-mine their V-reserves dry and go fracking for more, because there’s more hill to climb, or more road to explore, or because home is far away. Some people coast downhill at 25kph on Sundays. You can look the part, but if you’re with cyclists who work, and you haven’t done your pain cave time, it always shows.

  6. Res Firma Mitescere Nescit

    Becky

  7. @sthilzy

    Res Firma Mitescere Nescit

    Becky

    IS THAT A CREATOR JOKE?

  8. Brilliant piece Frank, there’s a local climb that’s generally the measuring stick used to judge climbing ability that’s 5.5k long at a steady 5% from start to finish.

    To begin with, improvements were easy to come by with increases in riding time & consistency. Now however, they require a commitment to spend 15+ minutes at the bottom of the pain cave sans torch for even the most minute time saving…but the satisfaction of a tough goal achieved is so much sweeter.

  9. It is that point where we are both the Hammer and the Nail when we truly find out what we’re made of..

  10. @Mikael Liddy

    Brilliant piece Frank, there’s a local climb that’s generally the measuring stick used to judge climbing ability that’s 5.5k long at a steady 5% from start to finish.

    To begin with, improvements were easy to come by with increases in riding time & consistency. Now however, they require a commitment to spend 15+ minutes at the bottom of the pain cave sans torch for even the most minute time saving…but the satisfaction of a tough goal achieved is so much sweeter.

    17+ minutes for some of us :(

  11. Nice! Making the transition, with the arrival of autumn here, to more cross rides and fewer road rides. Keeps things new and fresh, which I like. But, ouch, always forget how hard even a modest climb is when you’re on loose gravel. Argh, those are leg breakers.

    A few years ago was at an LBS when the next-door bar owner commented to me and the mechanic that he likes running more than cycling. “With cycling, you just can’t get a good workout in.” I’ve still never gotten over the stupidity of that comment. Yeah, right. Go trying riding up a mountain Sur La Plaque, then tell me if your heart rate became elevated.

  12. Good thing that I read this today. 6 weeks into a recovery from a broken clavicle and scapula. Rule 5 sure but is a bitch.

  13. Looks like a great climb, Frank. I’ll have to try this one before winter really rolls in.

    Have you tried the climb up to Mowich Lake in Mount Rainier NP? Also gravel; starts in Wilkeson at around 240m and climbs up to 1500m in about 35km. It’s beautiful, and only about an hour or hour-fifteen to get to the start from Seattle — if the traffic is good…

  14. I love the long climbs. Nothing compares to the mental stages you progress through km to km.

  15. There is no such thing as an easy climb; it isn’t the gradient that causes one to suffer – it is magnitude of the effort.

    This.

    @Mikael Liddy

    …but the satisfaction of a tough goal achieved is so much sweeter.

    And this.

    After a ride when I had great legs, I find it so demoralizing when I review my performance over particular sections of the ride and find that I have not improved over my personal best, but either tied or missed it by seconds. I could just accept it, but I know that there are gains to be had. Learning to explore the depths of the pain cave is in and of itself a lesson in V. There are always new chambers and antechambers to explore if you have the will to visit them.

  16. I would like to comment and say something awesome about the many lesson to be learned from Rule #10. But any comments made would be simply inferior to this fine article. Chapeau!

  17. @Fozzy Osbourne Likewise, they’ll know when *you* have out your time in the pain cave. It’s satisfying as hell to show up to the group ride after missing a month or two (due to various pieces of life), and simply kick some proper ass. That’s when all of the Sufferlandrian Holy Water spilled to the floor pays its dividends.

  18. @The Grande Fondue

    @Mikael Liddy

    Brilliant piece Frank, there’s a local climb that’s generally the measuring stick used to judge climbing ability that’s 5.5k long at a steady 5% from start to finish.

    To begin with, improvements were easy to come by with increases in riding time & consistency. Now however, they require a commitment to spend 15+ minutes at the bottom of the pain cave sans torch for even the most minute time saving…but the satisfaction of a tough goal achieved is so much sweeter.

    17+ minutes for some of us :(

    I like to play around near the entrance to the cave for a bit before diving headlong in to the pool at the bottom.

    17 is about as well as I can go when I’m solo (as evidenced here), PR is 15.57 but that was with some grimpeur mates to chase.

  19. Nice, and timely.

    Over the past three months I have changed the way I trained. I used to lots of long hard efforts (20 by 20min with 5min rest) with a few short effort sessions from time to time. Also used to do, once a week, two times a 6km @ 10% avg climb. It’s redline from the bottom and stay there for 25min. For a number or reasons I don’t do those long sessions any more and focussed more on shorter efforts, up to 5km TT’s and 1km hill repeats. I have seen some good improvements in races especially when chasing attacks, or responding to moves. Thing is though I feel that I am generally slower and suffering more to keep a good position in the bunch, pulling softer, and less turns. Results were the same but I couldn’t shake the feeling racing was getting harder.

    Then it dawned on me; I’ve lost (or loosing) the knack of suffering, or more specifically, for long periods. I am note sure if I will re-incorporate 2×20’s into my training (actually I know I won’t) but I do need to remember I do know how to suffer, how to stay in the depths of the pain cave for an hour at a time. Tomorrow is the last race of the club champs…. I plan on renewing my pain cave “Access All Areas” pass.

  20. @frank

    “It is no coincidence that Rule #5 plus Rule #5 equals Rule #10; how hard a climb is follows from how hard we are willing to push ourselves. There is no such thing as an easy climb; it isn’t the gradient that causes one to suffer – it is magnitude of the effort.”

    By this same equation Rule #10 plus Rule #10 equals Rule #20 : which ultimately, refer one back to Rule #5.

    See, the circle of life.

    All is well with the universe !

  21. How do you know its the bottom of the cave? Often we never fully plumb its depth. Unless the bottom is when you’re lying by the side of the road

  22. @Puffy interesting. I’ve had the reverse come from an inadvertent change to my riding patterns. Previously my riding consisted of ~200-250k per week on various routes through the hills on my doorstep depending upon what I felt like on the day. As I don’t race, there was no need for any structured training, it was just a case of making sure I was fit enough for specific rides/goals.

    Since the VMH has gone back to work 3 days a week, I’ve substituted one of the pre-work rides with 3x20k post-work flat, windy, TT style rides along the coast to pick up the velomitoddler & the car from the in laws place. During what I considered to be a pretty lax riding period over winter those 3 were the ever constant, with the amount of climbing rides I did varying depending on how many times I woke up to the alarm.

    What I’ve noticed recently is my climbing form is better than ever because of additional strength & endurance I’ve picked up doing rides that involve keeping myself at a higher tempo for longer. Besides their predilection for EPO abuse, I’m starting to see how Danes & Dutchies are able to develop some climbing legs despite having no hills to climb!

  23. @DeKerr

    The hour is never shorter than the hour

    The summit never moves from its perch

    The curves of the path never straighten

    It never gets easier, you only go faster

    That is the +1 badge right there.

  24. @Puffy

    You nearly lost me at 20 x 20 min efforts.

  25. @Mikael Liddy

    @The Grande Fondue

    @Mikael Liddy

    Brilliant piece Frank, there’s a local climb that’s generally the measuring stick used to judge climbing ability that’s 5.5k long at a steady 5% from start to finish.

    To begin with, improvements were easy to come by with increases in riding time & consistency. Now however, they require a commitment to spend 15+ minutes at the bottom of the pain cave sans torch for even the most minute time saving…but the satisfaction of a tough goal achieved is so much sweeter.

    17+ minutes for some of us :(

    I like to play around near the entrance to the cave for a bit before diving headlong in to the pool at the bottom.

    17 is about as well as I can go when I’m solo (as evidenced here), PR is 15.57 but that was with some grimpeur mates to chase.

    How do you know its the bottom of the cave? Often we do not plumb or discover that depth. Unless the bottom is when you are left lying by the side of the road. Great piece.

  26. @Brianold55

    @Mikael Liddy

    @The Grande Fondue

    @Mikael Liddy

    How do you know its the bottom of the cave? Often we do not plumb or discover that depth. Unless the bottom is when you are left lying by the side of the road. Great piece.

    Did a recent foray into France on a Sportive and the last 20 K or so turned into a brutal onslaught of a headwind. Turned some longish but not too steep climbs into real brutes (as measured by not being able to hold top gear on the downhills). So in the last 20 KM we were well into the cave with the guy I had hooked up with and working well together, but on the climbs we were passing quite a few folk who presumably were from the short ride just sat at the roadside with that blank, vacant stare into the distance of abject exhaustion. They were definitely lying in that pool at the bottom of the cave.

  27. @Brianold55 “How do you know its the bottom of the cave?”

    When vision gets a bit fuzzy on the periphery and your ears quit working is always a good sign.

  28. @Puffy

    Nice, and timely.

    Over the past three months I have changed the way I trained. I used to lots of long hard efforts (20 by 20min with 5min rest) with a few short effort sessions from time to time. Also used to do, once a week, two times a 6km @ 10% avg climb. It’s redline from the bottom and stay there for 25min. For a number or reasons I don’t do those long sessions any more and focussed more on shorter efforts, up to 5km TT’s and 1km hill repeats. I have seen some good improvements in races especially when chasing attacks, or responding to moves. Thing is though I feel that I am generally slower and suffering more to keep a good position in the bunch, pulling softer, and less turns. Results were the same but I couldn’t shake the feeling racing was getting harder.

    Then it dawned on me; I’ve lost (or loosing) the knack of suffering, or more specifically, for long periods. I am note sure if I will re-incorporate 2×20’s into my training (actually I know I won’t) but I do need to remember I do know how to suffer, how to stay in the depths of the pain cave for an hour at a time. Tomorrow is the last race of the club champs…. I plan on renewing my pain cave “Access All Areas” pass.

    There’s room for all of them. The pain cave is a big place.

    One of the (many) things that has surprised me working with a proper coach is that he will often just do things two or three times at most, and that seems to have an effect.

    For example in the leadup to an important race we might do a couple of weeks where one of the sessions are 40-20s (40 seconds max effort, 20 seconds rest – 10 times x 3). But a little bit further out we were doing 3×15 minute efforts with 4 mins rest, or one memorable excursion to the cave was 3 hours at 85-90% – we did that twice and it nearly killed me.

    They’ll only happen once in a week’s program and only for a few weeks before we move on.

    You have to keep changing it around, otherwise you lose as much as you gain.

    And recovery can’t be overstated. Training = Stress + Recovery.

  29. @Brianold55

    @Mikael Liddy

    @The Grande Fondue

    @Mikael Liddy

    Brilliant piece Frank, there’s a local climb that’s generally the measuring stick used to judge climbing ability that’s 5.5k long at a steady 5% from start to finish.

    To begin with, improvements were easy to come by with increases in riding time & consistency. Now however, they require a commitment to spend 15+ minutes at the bottom of the pain cave sans torch for even the most minute time saving…but the satisfaction of a tough goal achieved is so much sweeter.

    17+ minutes for some of us :(

    I like to play around near the entrance to the cave for a bit before diving headlong in to the pool at the bottom.

    17 is about as well as I can go when I’m solo (as evidenced here), PR is 15.57 but that was with some grimpeur mates to chase.

    How do you know its the bottom of the cave? Often we do not plumb or discover that depth. Unless the bottom is when you are left lying by the side of the road. Great piece.

    I have a pretty good idea what the bottom of the cave feels like (it’s just too dark to know what it looks like). Final race of the year concludes with a 5.6 km 8% avg grade, summit finish. The proper way to introduce yourself to this place within the cave, is completely head first. I knew I reached that dark corner in a dizzying experience, attempting to keep pace with the lead pack. My V-meter was telling me, these numbers are too high for you to maintain for 20 minutes, but my body was saying, “…..what’s the big deal, I feel good, I got this….” So for 2 km, I was riding out of my mind. Then in a moment, without any warning, I was dizzy and delirious. I looked at the ground to get some focus, and watched as the pavement moved below me liked an old jumpy reel to reel filmstrip. Composure is lost…. lead pack rides away….

    So, my hard charging self, ran smack into a wall, somewhere deep in the cave, (and this is no bullshit) I almost fell over two or three times, dragging my wasted ass along the painful grade. I’d swerve at the last second, just enough to stay upright, nearly taking out other racers, ready to be yelled at, “Hold your line asshole!” But thankfully, never a peep. They must have been feeling their way through the same dark place I was (or they simply felt sorry for me as they watched me teeter totter across the road). I am convinced The Man With The Hammer had a hold of my seat post, tugging on it, whispering in my ear, encouraging me to give up. In truly ugly fashion, I finished, complete with photographic proof, I scratched and clawed my way back to the entrance of the cave.

  30. I dunno…with support like this maybe the ride would be easier?

  31. @Tobin Cracking. Love it.

  32. @frank Those strange looking trees don’t seem to be growing vertically by about 4 degrees.

  33. @unversio

    @frank Those strange looking trees don’t seem to be growing vertically by about 4 degrees.

    Te He…..

  34. @Teocalli

  35. @Steve G

    A-Merckx

    Add kilos to your body frame and every climb is simply mind over matter and keeping the pistons pumping and grinding whilst mentally fighting the thoughts of changing the cassette/ratios to make it easier the next time.

    @Mikael Liddy

    Brilliant piece Frank, there’s a local climb that’s generally the measuring stick used to judge climbing ability that’s 5.5k long at a steady 5% from start to finish.

    To begin with, improvements were easy to come by with increases in riding time & consistency. Now however, they require a commitment to spend 15+ minutes at the bottom of the pain cave sans torch for even the most minute time saving…but the satisfaction of a tough goal achieved is so much sweeter.

    Yes, this precisely.

  36. @Fozzy Osbourne

    The best rules are the ones with which compliance demands trips to the pain cave. (Rule 9 is my personal favorite.) Any Fred Wanker can kit up in flawless Rapha with his flipped stem slammed to his headset and his quick-releases angled attractively. All the Dura Ace in the world won’t un-drop you OR your hairless legs.

    Some people strip-mine their V-reserves dry and go fracking for more, because there’s more hill to climb, or more road to explore, or because home is far away. Some people coast downhill at 25kph on Sundays. You can look the part, but if you’re with cyclists who work, and you haven’t done your pain cave time, it always shows.

    Goosebumps. Love it.

  37. @Ron

    But, ouch, always forget how hard even a modest climb is when you’re on loose gravel. Argh, those are leg breakers.

    Up in Winthrop Washington there is the most horrendous sandy gravel I have ever ridden. Its all just barely cohesive enough to give traction when you’re seated on the climbs; if you have to move en danseuse, you are pretty much fucked. I love it.

  38. @TheVid

    There is no such thing as an easy climb; it isn’t the gradient that causes one to suffer – it is magnitude of the effort.

    This.

    @Mikael Liddy

    …but the satisfaction of a tough goal achieved is so much sweeter.

    And this.

    After a ride when I had great legs, I find it so demoralizing when I review my performance over particular sections of the ride and find that I have not improved over my personal best, but either tied or missed it by seconds. I could just accept it, but I know that there are gains to be had. Learning to explore the depths of the pain cave is in and of itself a lesson in V. There are always new chambers and antechambers to explore if you have the will to visit them.

    I find that the better my shape is the slower I tend to go, at least relatively. Having good form means you can fake it a lot better. You have to seriously ponder the depths of your suffering to go as fast as your form deserves.

  39. @Puffy

    I do need to remember I do know how to suffer, how to stay in the depths of the pain cave for an hour at a time. Tomorrow is the last race of the club champs…. I plan on renewing my pain cave “Access All Areas” pass.

    Vos said something recently about how she has to prepare herself for an effort like the Mur de Huy, to be ready to remember that it will hurt like crazy but will be over as soon as the event is finished.

  40. @Brianold55

    How do you know its the bottom of the cave? Often we never fully plumb its depth. Unless the bottom is when you’re lying by the side of the road

    Here’s the bottom.

    @Mikael Liddy

    What I’ve noticed recently is my climbing form is better than ever because of additional strength & endurance I’ve picked up doing rides that involve keeping myself at a higher tempo for longer. Besides their predilection for EPO abuse, I’m starting to see how Danes & Dutchies are able to develop some climbing legs despite having no hills to climb!

    HA!!

  41. @frank

    @Brianold55

    How do you know its the bottom of the cave? Often we never fully plumb its depth. Unless the bottom is when you’re lying by the side of the road

    Here’s the bottom.

    Style/class is collapsing off your bike chain side up?

  42. @Teocalli

    @frank

    @Brianold55

    How do you know its the bottom of the cave? Often we never fully plumb its depth. Unless the bottom is when you’re lying by the side of the road

    Here’s the bottom.

    Style/class is collapsing off your bike chain side up?

    Just because you’re knackered doesn’t give you the right to be a savage, my friend

  43. @frank

    @Ron

    But, ouch, always forget how hard even a modest climb is when you’re on loose gravel. Argh, those are leg breakers.

    Up in Winthrop Washington there is the most horrendous sandy gravel I have ever ridden. Its all just barely cohesive enough to give traction when you’re seated on the climbs; if you have to move en danseuse, you are pretty much fucked. I love it.

    I love this reasoning: “Fuck this climb, I’ll stand up. Oh fuck. I have no rear traction. What do I do now? Fuck.”

  44. @Teocalli

    Did a recent foray into France on a Sportive and the last 20 K or so turned into a brutal onslaught of a headwind. Turned some longish but not too steep climbs into real brutes

    Steep climbs usually don’t have headwinds, because they’re steep. More proof that shallow gradients can be real bastards.

    @Ccos

    @Brianold55 “How do you know its the bottom of the cave?”

    When vision gets a bit fuzzy on the periphery and your ears quit working is always a good sign.

    For me, my chin starts itching. Its almost like everything else in my body already hurts (the chin-itch comes well past the point where my head starts to feel too heavy to hold up and when my ankles and wrists are screaming).

    Its definitely the chin-itch for me. Maybe if I learn to push past that my ears will itch.

  45. @ChrisO

    This is the Merckx-honest truth right here:

    You have to keep changing it around, otherwise you lose as much as you gain.

    And recovery can’t be overstated. Training = Stress + Recovery.

  46. @unversio, @Teocalli

    Take it up with my photog, the VMH. I dare you. I’ll buy the popcorn.

    @Tobin

    I dunno…with support like this maybe the ride would be easier?

    FUCKING. LOVE. IT.

  47. @Ccos

    @Brianold55 “How do you know its the bottom of the cave?”

    When vision gets a bit fuzzy on the periphery and your ears quit working is always a good sign.

    This is a real thing BTW.

    There is one 4(ish) minute climb here that starts of at 3%, ramps to around 20%, levels off to around 5 and then hits a downhill.

    The only way to get a good time is to hit the ramp hard and then hang on until the downhill. That downhill is important because when I start getting tunnel vision I know I’m going to be able to roll down the other side. With no downhill I worry I’m going to collapse.

  48. Nice piece! Climbing…like time trialing or breakaways. Go as hard as you can without blowing yourself up; and sometimes you must push beyond THAT to discover that you can go harder and survive what you thought would destroy you. Unless that risk is taken over and over, you have no idea what true suffering is, and what your real ability is. Face the fear of going beyond the beyond. Go to Europe and ride amongst the locals….up hill, all day, day after day. You will know your true nature. Or not.

  49. ” and resisting the ever increasing desire to relent” you summed it up in 8 words Frank…Chapeau!

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