The First Ride Back

cooke
Cookie, crumbled. Photo: Sirotti/Cycling Fans

It’s the ride you’ll do the most. The hardest ride you’ll ever do, too. You’ll do it so often that it should be easy, but it never is. Its frequency is such that it really should morph into all the other rides of its ilk, therefore negating the actual nexus of this necessary, evil ride. But it never does, it’s always stuck out there on its own, no matter what the duration between it and the next one is, could be months, could be only a week, but it’ll never leave, like that mate who stays for a couple of nights yet really should be paying rent after the first month, or at least offering a 20 for some food. This is the modus operandi of the First Ride Back.

As you get older, the FRB becomes more regular, unlike yourself. Jesus, my latest FRB really shouldn’t have qualified for its status at all, but such is the fickle nature of fitness at an ‘advanced’ age that just six days off the bike is enough to send one into panic, that the hard earned fitness is somehow leaving the body at a rate many times faster than it was acquired. Even with a pretty solid few months of riding under the belt, the effects of six days off, caused by an errant finger meeting a spinning disc rotor, sounded a death knell to me. A couple of opportunities came and went, adding to the mental mire as well as the (mainly perceived) physical one. Jumping back into the Tuesday night jaunt brought the daunt. Begging for hostilities to secede always falls on deaf ears, and plea bargaining for no hills is as well received as a stripper at Sunday school.

I recall reading an article by recently retired Baden Cooke some years ago where he spoke of his own FRB, an annual rather than weekly or monthly occurrence for him. Unlike mere mortals, he would no doubt have a pretty good base to draw upon, and even after a month or two off the bike (and probably partying hard as Cookie was known to do), he would still have the kind of condition most of us could only dream of. Yet he suffered the same mental and physical barriers as a normal rider does, but with a distinctly different approach, namely a 300km ‘hell ride’ from which he’d return some seven hours later with a sense that his season was now ready to start. A 50km jaunt with a couple of efforts thrown in seems almost laughable by comparison, but mirth never seems to enter the equation until the bike is racked and the celebratory beer is poured.

By the conclusion of the FRB, everything always seems much better, no matter how badly you’ve suffered, how far out the ass you were, what portion of your lungs you’ve coughed up. Just when you think you could take no more, the surVival instincts kick in and wring one, two, three last droplets of the Essence of V from within, and gives pride a swift kick up the ass for good measure. The next day you are renewed, and can’t wait to do it again.

Just not any longer than a week away, ok?

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79 Replies to “The First Ride Back”

  1. This resonates!!  But for me it always seems to be, and has recently certainly been, the FFRB; First Few Rides Back.  These days I get madly worried if I miss any individual training session.

  2. I always feel that at the beginning of the FRB my legs feel amazing, just crushing the watts and that I can do no wrong.  Then 35km later, just standing up for a little hill sends excruciating pain down through the guns.  Its only once you get home that you realize you need to do it all over again in hopes that the pain comes later, hopefully after you have dropped everyone else.

  3. Yeah, I hear ya and it reminds me of a long story that’s relevance is only revealed at the end: 

    It was during my year of surgical internship and I had just started my one month rotation on the Surgical ICU ward.  We had this old guy who had been in a car accident, operated on the night before and was now on the vent in the ICU with a breatjing tube in his throat.  I was not there for the operation, just picked him up on my first day in the SICU.  I took care of him every morning and night on rounds, ordered all the meds, checked his labs, x-rays, etc for days, and then, weeks.  We tried multiple times to wean him off the vent but he could never do it.  Through out the month I often wondered about him, what he was like, what he thought about, what were his hobbies as I drew more blood, checked his labs, got pimped morning and night by the Attendings about him day after day.  Finally, the day before my rotation was to end we were finally able to wean him off the vent and extubate him (take his breathing tube out).  We all waited with bated breath to hear his first words:  Would he be incredulous to still be alive, would he wonder about a loved one, would he perhaps be thankful.  My senior residents and I gathered around him and waited as he looked up at us through groggy eyes and with a wrasping voice said,  “My ASS hurts!” quickly followed by “You know that night nurse?  She’s a REAL BITCH” and then he laid back and went to sleep.

    So, relevance?  I have finally climbed on the bike (rollers) again starting this month after a many month layoff and my ass hurts!!!

  4. @Buck Rogers I’m back at it after a long hiatus now too, and surprisingly, out of all the things that do hurt, my ass is not one of them.

  5. After taking 7 weeks off the bike this fall to help my brother deliver a brother deliver a boat across the Atlantic followed by a few more weeks to get my affairs in order upon my return, it feels like every ride since is the FRB.  With winter weather and lack of light, I manage to get two or three hours a week in a good spin class and maybe 50 – 60 miles on the actual bike.  Every time I throw a leg over the bike, I can’t help but think – will I fall apart on this ride?

    I haven’t so far, but I still can’t get over the feeling.  Having the Seattle Ronde to train for and a little more Rule #9 compliance will help me get over it I hope.

  6. The FRB is what keeps me on my toes, in constant fear or injury or illness. It forces me on vacations or business trips to spin for hours on hotel exercise equipment, while my family members bathe in the sun. The fear of the FRB has become my cross to bear.

  7. Just suffered a nasty flu, and had a shocking ELEVEN days off the bike, the most since last April. After three days back on the medieval torture device, the familiar and comforting dull ache has returned to the guns. They say that no one actually likes the pain, they just learn how to deal with it.

    I don’t know… I actually like it. And I missed it.

  8. A related phenomenon for those of us of advanced age is “Food is Really a Bitch” not to mention alcohol.  It has been tough to maintain climbing weight around the holidays.  My training sloughed off, but did not stop.  I was able to maintain a good bit of riding time throughout the fall and have hit it again hard since Christmas.  Thankfully, in Northern California that is possible.  My flat work has been good, but the climbing times have slowed – lugging uphill the additonal 10 pounds (10? maybe 15) I gained since mid-November has been a grim reminder of how much I like to eat and drink.  When you hit 50 or 60 it takes forever to work that nasty junk of the trunk. In order to improve the climbing only one thing will work at this stage – lose the blubber – every ride must have a goal to achieve this and every meal must have a governor.  I am again practicing my “push-aways”.  Great write up Brett – thanks for the inspiration.

  9. This is why I’m a community member here: articles that resonate and like-minded folks who “get it.” Winter here in SE Wisconsin is proving a challenge to external rides. Frigid temps and snow and ice make road rides a tricky proposition. I rode outside first week of December and then didn’t get out until first weekend in January. I have a trainer in the garage, but that’s merely a second-class substitute for the real thing.

    Two rides in this year so far – both in the low 60kms. Both done in cold, windy temps with some icy patches on ride #2. Both purposely done without food. Both finished with the man with the hammer on my tail but not quite catching me. The sense of satisfaction from these rides – despite the filthy bike, gear, frozen toes and general proclamation to all who saw me from their warm cars that I’m crazy – was immense.

    There will be more rides like these for sure, but these are what lay the base for the good months when the weather gods look down benevolently, the legs spin effortlessly, the gear is minimal and the kms just keep clicking by. First ride back, but best foot forward.

  10. @Buck Rogers

    egg crate saddles…..

    (Oh, and Dr. Rogers, if you are indeed a doctor, tell me the three main indications for inserting a tracheostomy tube.  Then go get me coffee)

  11. @xyxax

    @Buck Rogers

    egg crate saddles…..

    (Oh, and Dr. Rogers, if you are indeed a doctor, tell me the three main indications for inserting a tracheostomy tube. Then go get me coffee)

    “There’s only one indication for it.  And don’t give me any of that ‘securing the airway bullshit'” (one of “my” doc’s who’s a Professor of Anesthesia dressing down a Paramedic student who had just botched a intubation). I’ll let you guess the right answer, but I don’t wanna hijack Brett’s fab article………..

  12. I always take Oct-Nov off the bike as a way to “reset”. I usually start the FRB slowly, mixing it up with skiing.

    This year, however, I had the misfortune of tearing the labrum in my hip. So after a steroid injection (ya ya, I’m on PED’s now……not really) I got back to it last week. Slowly, per the Orthopods instructions. The first 7-10 days always suck. It’s really all in your head. Most of it is disappointment at the struggle to get up those steep bumps in the 42/19 that you were killing in the 53/17 in August. One thing that experience teaches us though, is that like LeMan say’s “it never gets easier, you just go faster”. Faster just can’t seem to come fast enough.

  13. @xyxax

    @Buck Rogers

    egg crate saddles…..

    (Oh, and Dr. Rogers, if you are indeed a doctor, tell me the three main indications for inserting a tracheostomy tube. Then go get me coffee)

    There’s a reason I went into Ophtho, Dr xyxax!!!

  14. Roger on that. I spend 2 weeks a month offshore with only a treadmill and a shitey stationary bike to try and keep any semblance of “form”  I try to convince myself I have, and to read in words that the FRB is not just my own personal bete noire, well it makes me feel a wee bit better. Thanks.

  15. @Buck Rogers

    Yeah, I hear ya and it reminds me of a long story that’s relevance is only revealed at the end:

    It was during my year of surgical internship and I had just started my one month rotation on the Surgical ICU ward. We had this old guy who had been in a car accident, operated on the night before and was now on the vent in the ICU with a breatjing tube in his throat. I was not there for the operation, just picked him up on my first day in the SICU. I took care of him every morning and night on rounds, ordered all the meds, checked his labs, x-rays, etc for days, and then, weeks. We tried multiple times to wean him off the vent but he could never do it. Through out the month I often wondered about him, what he was like, what he thought about, what were his hobbies as I drew more blood, checked his labs, got pimped morning and night by the Attendings about him day after day. Finally, the day before my rotation was to end we were finally able to wean him off the vent and extubate him (take his breathing tube out). We all waited with bated breath to hear his first words: Would he be incredulous to still be alive, would he wonder about a loved one, would he perhaps be thankful. My senior residents and I gathered around him and waited as he looked up at us through groggy eyes and with a wrasping voice said, “My ASS hurts!” quickly followed by “You know that night nurse? She’s a REAL BITCH” and then he laid back and went to sleep.

    So, relevance? I have finally climbed on the bike (rollers) again starting this month after a many month layoff and my ass hurts!!!

    Went to sleep literally or metaphorically?

  16. I can’t wait for the FRB after my recent broken hip which was itself done on a FRB – a cold and frosty morning, damn you rules #5&9!!!

  17. My last FRB was almost 3 weeks ago – the account at the V Bank was over-drawn that day! – vowed there won’t be another FRB for a while. I need careful Tapering-Management this year to avoid the dreaded FRB

  18. @scaler911

    I always take Oct-Nov off the bike as a way to “reset”. I usually start the FRB slowly, mixing it up with skiing.

    This year, however, I had the misfortune of tearing the labrum in my hip. So after a steroid injection (ya ya, I’m on PED’s now……not really) I got back to it last week. Slowly, per the Orthopods instructions. The first 7-10 days always suck. It’s really all in your head. Most of it is disappointment at the struggle to get up those steep bumps in the 42/19 that you were killing in the 53/17 in August. One thing that experience teaches us though, is that like LeMan say’s “it never gets easier, you just go faster”. Faster just can’t seem to come fast enough.

    Glad to hear you are on the way. The methodical return can be a useful journey, but it’s also understood that “the time=space continuum can start to mess with you” as you’re racing to where you need to be. Nice when day 1 becomes day 10 and then day 100.

  19. @brett Kudos! The sentiment is a perfect one. Riding today started me thinking “this is faster than before and we (2 riders) look feel pretty good — keep going with this…” We both had had our day 1 about two weeks ago and we are getting back swiftly. You touched on an essence of cycling here: “The next day you are renewed, and can’t wait to do it again.” And will be ready to do it again. Even the thought that 2014 USA Cycling will be renewed next week added to the ride today — “keep doing this…”

  20. @xyxax

    @scaler911

    Yes, no hijacking, but I’ll bite: positive wallet biopsy?

    @Buck Rogers

    just pimping you for old time’s sake. Felt good.

    Sending you my shrink’s bill for sending me into a PTSD episode from rounding while an intern!

  21. @xyxax

    @scaler911

    Yes, no hijacking, but ….

    Hijacking a thread???  Isn’t that what we are SUPPOSED to do around here?  This is fuck’in Johnny “Short Attention Span” Bravo theatre, right?

  22. @withoutanyhills

    I can’t wait for the FRB after my recent broken hip which was itself done on a FRB – a cold and frosty morning, damn you rules #5&9!!!

    Good luck with the Double FRB and also glad you will be on the way.

  23. Wow, the timing of this article is spot on. It’s been 4 months off the bike for me. Last Sunday did my FRB and it fucking hurt, mentally and physically. Crazy how much form one looses in one week, not to mention 4 months. Lesson learned – do whatever it takes to stay in shape when off the bike.

  24. I had a nasty FRB last week. And it was worth nothing as we are in the midst of 4 days in a row of 40 degree days (thats over 108F to you Septics) so i aint riding (too hungover in the cool of morning due to the use of beer to combat dehydration – which combats it like the Dutch combatted the Germans) so i will have another FRB tomorrow.

    Things could be worse – could be in Adelaide (where all the cyclists are) where it will be 46 today!

  25. @Buck Rogers

    My senior residents and I gathered around him and waited as he looked up at us through groggy eyes and with a wrasping voice said, “My ASS hurts!” quickly followed by “You know that night nurse? She’s a REAL BITCH” and then he laid back and went to sleep.

    Oh. My. Fucking. God. Too good. 

    There are volumes of philosophy to be written about this. 

  26. @brett

    Another fab article, timely for both the time of year and (for some of us) the stage of life.

  27. @Buck Rogers

    So, relevance? I have finally climbed on the bike (rollers) again starting this month after a many month layoff and my ass hurts!!!

    I can relate to that too.  Per my post/photo elsewhere fortunately on my breaks from the bike do not lose me fitness courtesy of “skinning up the white stuff” however there is always the “my arse is going to hurt after this” when I get back home and get out the bike again.  I think I’ll avoid asking for suggestions of how to keep the arse hard while away from the bike.  Oh damn I just did.

  28. @Buck Rogers

    @xyxax

    @scaler911

    Yes, no hijacking, but ….

    Hijacking a thread??? Isn’t that what we are SUPPOSED to do around here? This is fuck’in Johnny “Short Attention Span” Bravo theatre, right?

    Talking of which I once read an article about why newsreal items in the US are a max of three (3) minutes whereas in the UK they max at 5 minutes……

  29. Haven’t read the other posts, but I feel like this entire season was a wicked blend of being both stronger than ever (I could do anything on the cobbles at Keepers Tour, if felt like) and then having periods of great training followed by forced time off the bike. Then coming back, training hard, and off again.

    After the Heck of the North and riding with a 1/4 of slurry in my chammy for 7 hours, I was forced off the bike for a whole month to let things heal.

    Coming back is just part of the beauty of being a Cyclist; you start off feeling weak, then slowly you claw back. For me its the same every time; I hold back, don’t push hard on the climbs and then suddenly, I’ll go on a ride and just be ready to kill it and bury myself. That is the beginning of the form at that point and its such a rush to feel that way and then to feel the pain and puked lung at the top of a big climb and be able so tell yourself that you’re back on the path.

    Its a process I’ve come to cherish. But I cherish it less than being in koont-krooshing form, as William calls it.

  30. @frank

    … to feel the pain and puked lung at the top of a big climb and be able so tell yourself that you’re back on the path.

    Also referred to as Lung Burn.

  31. @unversio

    @scaler911

    I always take Oct-Nov off the bike as a way to “reset”. I usually start the FRB slowly, mixing it up with skiing.

    This year, however, I had the misfortune of tearing the labrum in my hip. So after a steroid injection (ya ya, I’m on PED’s now……not really) I got back to it last week. Slowly, per the Orthopods instructions. The first 7-10 days always suck. It’s really all in your head. Most of it is disappointment at the struggle to get up those steep bumps in the 42/19 that you were killing in the 53/17 in August. One thing that experience teaches us though, is that like LeMan say’s “it never gets easier, you just go faster”. Faster just can’t seem to come fast enough.

    Glad to hear you are on the way. The methodical return can be a useful journey, but it’s also understood that “the time=space continuum can start to mess with you” as you’re racing to where you need to be. Nice when day 1 becomes day 10 and then day 100.

    Thanks! It’ll come, and like Frank was saying, one day, you start a long climb after some time off and you feel the urge to bury the pin. I suppose what’s interesting about that first time (all over again) is that I leave the house with a general direction in mind, but something deep down, and without conscious thought leads me to the hills. Usually the longest steepest ones around town. A little doubt sets in when first turning onto it, then the rhythm sets in and you just keep pushing harder. And harder. Do I turn off at the midway and skirt the hillside? Nope. Gotta hork up a lung or get the dry heaves if I’m doing it right. Quitting is for pu…..quitters…….. Then I know I’m back on the path……..

  32. @xyxax

    @scaler911

    Yes, no hijacking, but I’ll bite: positive wallet biopsy?

    @Buck Rogers

    just pimping you for old time’s sake. Felt good.

    Ha! That’s really funny actually. The answer was “you don’t have to intubate anyone ever, you only do it to free up your hands so you can do other stuff”. The point of the exercise was to teach the medic that it’s more important to move air than to get a ETT in.

  33. Seven days without riding makes one weak.  FRB tomorrow.

    @wiscot

    This is why I’m a community member here: articles that resonate and like-minded folks who “get it.” . . .

    Spot on.

  34. After a long lay off the FRB I always tell myself take it easy, just have a spin, stay on the small ring. On that FRB always ends up heading home sur la plaque and souplese that it takes me ages to get back to the FRB form.

  35. @Teocalli

    @Buck Rogers

    @xyxax

    @scaler911

    Yes, no hijacking, but ….

    Hijacking a thread??? Isn’t that what we are SUPPOSED to do around here? This is fuck’in Johnny “Short Attention Span” Bravo theatre, right?

    Talking of which I once read an article about why newsreal items in the US are a max of three (3) minutes whereas in the UK they max at 5 minutes……

    News reels ? Is it 1954 and nobody told me ?

  36. This morning one of the guys in our racing team was asked why he wasn’t riding this weekend (hence the vague connection in my mind with First Rides Back).

    Forget weddings, family emergencies and saddle sores. He has to train his falcon for hunting season.

    Top that.

  37. Not FRB but FSRB for me. After a few spins out over the holidays I went out on Sunday with my regular training buddy for what was definitely the first SERIOUS ride back of this year, for me anyway. Not that long, not that hilly and not that hard – relatively, but on a breakfast of a buttered muffin and an espresso it put me squarely in the back of the pain cave. While I was working my socks off my buddy just seemed to be coping with that bit less effort leaving me chewing on the bar tape. Times were well off PBs, there were literally no positives to take away from it, but that turned it into the perfect kick up the arse I needed to get my training going. There will now follow many evenings taking myself to increasingly dark places so that I can come back stronger. It’s going to hurt, and I’m smiling about it.

  38. @Marcus

    I had a nasty FRB last week. And it was worth nothing as we are in the midst of 4 days in a row of 40 degree days (thats over 108F to you Septics) so i aint riding (too hungover in the cool of morning due to the use of beer to combat dehydration – which combats it like the Dutch combatted the Germans) so i will have another FRB tomorrow.

    Things could be worse – could be in Adelaide (where all the cyclists are) where it will be 46 today!

    yeah, went for a longer ride yesterday due to a late start at work & figured I could get away with avoiding the worst of it by leaving at 5.30 & getting home by 10.30. Was already 30 degrees when I set out & had hit 41 by the time I’d ticked off 100k & arrived back in the city at the office.

    Consumed something like 7 litres of water during the rest of the day & my piss was still brighter than the maillot jaune…

    Most disappointing thing about today was that anything over 46.1 would have been our hottest day on record,  didn’t event get close (peaked at about 44 at 3pm).

  39. @Buck Rogers I’ve said this before in a reply to one of your Book of Faces posts, but for some reason I’ve got Johnny Cash singing Ring of Fire in my mind.  This is a worrying pattern!!!

  40. The great thing about doing a lot of cross riding in the winter is that when I do the FRB on a road bike, I feel really darn strong, which is nice. Pedaling in mud and riding knobbies makes rolling on smooth tires on smooth tarmac a breeze.

    It’s amazing how quickly the doubt rolls in though, and yep, a ride you’ve done hundreds of times seem monumental.

  41. I thought purchasing a trainer would mean the FRB would be less of a FRB……

    Not so much.  While it does feel like I’m pedaling into the wind solo on the trainer, for what inevitably feels like a mind numbing eternity, there is just no replacement for sitting atop my steed, speeding across the rolling blacktop with my mates.

    The length of time leading up to FRB, merely determines if I’m desperately sucking wheel or actually up front, laying down some V….

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