This is the third installment in From Zero to…? A firsthand account of taking a normal sucker (me) and putting me through a tough training regemen to try to get stronger on the bike. Chapter 1. Chapter 2.

It’s hard to believe I’ve rounded the bend of Week 7 in this three(ish) month experiment of Make Lacy “Feel” Stronger. Having mostly intangible goals makes noticing an improvement (or lack thereof) somewhat challenging. Some days I feel like a superhero on the bike. Other days I feel like I have lead weights tied to my quads. They just don’t want to move!

The last couple weeks have been spent building up my “engine” as my coach, Spencer, would say. I’ve been packing in more interval sessions on the trainer as well as on actual rides. It seems like every couple weeks I have a little victory as well as a sobering realization. I’m definitely learning to hate bigger rides less. Two weeks ago I did roughly 23 miles and 3800′ of climbing. That may seem like small potatoes to some people, but that was a fairly long day for me. Fortunately, one of my girlfriends is an ex-pro road racer, a CX phenom, and a total masochist, so she is PSYCHED to do these death marches with me. It’s a total blessing. While I want to barf on the climbs she just chatters away telling me all kinds of stories from her life. It’s kind of like an autobiography on tape, only way more interactive. If you don’t have a Mindy in your life, you should all find one!

The Chuckanut death march route.

I was happy with how that big ride went. Aside from a few moments of utter pain, I felt pretty strong overall. I know I didn’t break any speed records on the climbs, but I was pleased with my ability to stay consistent ascending. We even did a bonus loop just so I could have a little ripper of a descent. Spencer says it’s important to balance these big, challenging days with reward. I guess I’m really just like a dog. You want me to do something hard? Give me cookies (or in this case, Organic generic Pop Tarts. They are delicious and I can pronounce every one of the ingredients!) Even better than completing the big ride was the fact that I didn’t feel awful the next day. I ate everything in site, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I stretched and stretched and drank a lot of water. I’m learning to eat more “whole foods” that help aid in recovery and energy. I’m adding in more natural proteins and good fats. Avocados, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and dried fruit have replaced energy bars and mini bags of Swedish Fish.

I’m not kidding about those Pop Tarts. Pure joy!

As all things that rise eventually fall, I did have a real struggle, too. On a recent interval day where I had to do 4×8 minutes at 80% power, I had a near-panic attack. Since I work full time, teach yoga, and have a healthy social calendar, I have to squeeze in every ride/workout before or after work. The Pacific Northwest is dark in the winter. The sun rises at 8 am and sets at 4:30 pm. This means that no matter when I ride, it’s dark. It gives an illusion of it being late and I think it tricks my brain into feeling tired. So, it’s a constant battle to stay motivated and switch from “tired” to “strong” in my mind. This interval session got the best of me, though. On the first leg after a ~2o minute warmup I hit the cranks hard. The gravel road turned sharply uphill. I timed the ride all wrong. Pushing power up a steep hill for that kind of sustained time sucked the life out of me. My breathing was panicked. My heart rate was too high. I felt like there was no way I was going to complete it. I felt like I was going to cry and fail- two things I do not enjoy. I’ve had panic attacks on climbs before that forced me to pull over and take a long rest and remind myself that biking is fun. Yet I have a tendency to be intense and take things way too seriously sometimes. I’ve learned this lesson on rides before so when I felt this emotion washing over me I was able to calm myself down and keep pushing up the hill with fervor.

After the first interval I found a less intense grade for the remainder of the ride and was able to complete the workout satisfactorily, but I still felt a bit shaken after that initial incident. It’s weird doing these workouts alone in the pitch black. My only other companions were two bats that kept darting in and out of my light beams. I was oddly glad they were there to distract me from the pain. Eventually, I made it to the top of the climb and enjoyed a cruisy rip down one of our longer downhill trails. I got back to the car and struggled to even walk. Everything hurt-even my shoulders from pushing so hard up the hills. But whatever, I guess this is my engine going from a V6 to a V8. It better be working because that ride totally sucked.

What’s next? Another mega day. Tomorrow’s plan is 4+ hours of moving time and 4500′ on the bike. I’m oddly looking forward to it… or perhaps I’m just looking forward to more of Mindy’s and shoving more Pop Tarts down my throat. Wish me luck!