I thought practice made perfect…..
As most of you know, I really love to compete and the only real competition I get to engage in these days is on the pool table. I love the mano a mano of a good match. I even enjoy competing against myself when practicing; attempting to set a new high run or effectively accomplishing a drill gives me some juice, too.
I’ve always been the kind of competitor that enjoys practice. Back in my early days of golf, I would hit shot after shot trying to get it right. The summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I hit a thousand balls a day with a pitching wedge in the field behind our house. From inside a hundred yards, there wasn’t a shot that I couldn’t play back then. I could hit it high or low, make it stop or roll, hook it or fade it and all with pretty deadly accuracy. By the end of the summer, there were almost no grooves left on the face of that wedge in an area that was centered on the club’s sweet spot. I had, literally, worn out the club. Sigh. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
So lately, I’ve had little time to practice my pool game. I’ve been traveling on business and preparing for my company’s national sales meeting has taken a great deal of time, too. (For those of you that asked, it was a huge success for my team and me! We are being heaped with praise for helping to make the meeting a huge success. You know what that means, right? Next year is going to be even tougher. You’re only as good as your most recent performance, I hear.)
What’s weird about my not having any practice time is that my pool game not only hasn’t suffered, it’s jumped up a notch. Over a four week period, I didn’t lose a single league match and my rating (it’s a handicap league, designed to make it fair for all teams) had become the highest in the league. Since I’m the League Operator, this made for some interesting discussions last week.
“Dude, you’re a ten?” was the most common response to seeing the league stat sheets that come in the weekly packet. There were actually four or five people that made of point of coming over to ask me if it was correct. My response remained static.
“You don’t have to sound so surprised! Handicaps are all based in math and it just proves that nearly every data set has an outlier. I’m the outlier this month!” A few people intimated that I was cooking the books to raise my handicap until I pointed out that doing so would make it more difficult for my team to win as we’d be unnecessarily spotting more weight to lesser teams. Why would I do that? (I’ve come to understand that most pool players rarely allow logic to dictate their points of view.)
In any case, I’ve realized that what has been carrying me to better performance has been a much increased focus when playing. A lack of intense focus is something I’ve struggled with in pool and golf, all my life. Reaction games, where you don’t initiate the action but react to it, have never given me a problem. It’s initiating the action, giving me time to think about doing it correctly, is where I’ve floundered.
For some reason, my mind has been clear and I’ve been well focused every time I’ve approached the table for the past month or so. I’m trying to figure out what is causing this new found success so I can maintain it! Is it due to a lack of practice? Is it stress in the rest of my life is taking my brain away from performance anxiety? Have I been reaching Optimum Beer Level prior to playing? (OBL is considered by many players to be a key to performance.) If I find out and discover it can be replicated and taught, I’m so going to write a book about it and make millions.
I returned from the sales meeting in Las Vegas last Thursday evening. Six days in Sin City had taken a toll on me, despite our successes. Friday was our middle daughter’s graduation from college (summa cum laude – highest honors - she takes after her mom) and by Saturday morning I was finally free to take a ride.
The weather forecast was for a beautiful day in the low seventies and the team at Accuweather was right on the money. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, the wind was negligible and the temperature was just perfect!
I filled up my water bottles, stuffed a couple of Honey Stinger waffles in my jersey pockets, stretched out my back and legs, and saddled up for a long ride. I was planning for at least a three hour tour. (Look out, Skipper!)
My plan was to head up into Montpelier on the same road I had taken a few weeks ago (past Hopeful Baptist Church) but then stretch it out further by combining that route with my regular lap into Goochland County before returning to Hanover. I could do this by swinging onto Spring Road, following it past my best friend’s house, and then over to my regular route.
I estimated this new loop to be about thirty miles and I planned to complete it and then tack on my flat “suburb” loop through Henrico County which would make the ride about forty five miles in total. I can usually do that in less than three hours but the first half would be pretty hilly and I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t go over my time. MB gauges the time I’m gone and I don’t want to contribute to what she refers to as “road carnage” thoughts. (Once I haven’t returned when I say I’m going to, she begins to wonder if I’ve become a statistic, thus the road carnage allusion.)
I rode the first couple of miles trying to get my breath. I’ve noticed that the early part of a ride is, for me anyway, totally out of breath. I refer to it as the wheezing geezer stage. No matter how I try, I just huff and puff trying to get enough air in my lungs. Does everyone do this? Am I doing something wrong? After about fifteen or twenty minutes, I seem to catch my breath and can actually carry on a conversation if needed. I need to do some more research on this. Anybody know what this is called? Is it anaerobic exertion?
I rolled into Montpelier on Bethany Church road and turned onto Route 33, heading northwest. I was enjoying the weather, the lack of traffic and wind, and I felt really good. My pace was decidedly faster than normal and I didn’t know why; I decided to keep it going and see what I could do.
I was sailing along at about 22 miles per hour when I realized I was about to miss the turn onto Hopeful Church road. There was no traffic so I was able to brake in time and make the turn with very little speed scrubbed off. I pedaled on.
When I came to the downhill section of this leg, I dropped down over the bars and accelerated to the bottom. This enabled me to really fly up the first rise on the other side with little effort and keep my speed above my typical 15 mph average. I found myself really hammering through the little rollers that make this part of the ride a challenge and before I knew it, I was at Hopeful Church in only 52 minutes. Wow! That was over five minutes faster than the last time I did this route. I thought about that as I stopped for a quick snack and killed the first water bottle. Was I going to bonk in a little while have to make the call of shame to MB? (Can you come get me? I’ve got nothing left….)
I swung back onto the seat and headed down Taylor’s Creek back toward town. When I got to Spring Road, I hung a right and started up the slight rise that makes up the next quarter mile or so. It didn’t seem to slow me down much. How strange!
I crested the hill right in front of my best friend’s house and almost expected to see him in the front yard; he would make some hysterical comment about bike shorts if he saw me. No such luck.
I continued up Spring Road, not really remembering much about its rise and fall. I hadn’t driven on the road in probably three years. Suddenly, I was facing the hill that leads up to where I would hook up with my regular route on Vontay road. That hill ends at, what the locals refer to as, Ray’s Quick Stop.
(This is a very Southern thing. Ray’s Quick Stop used to be a local pizza place until it closed 7 or 8 years ago. Nothing has been in that building since, despite the fact that the owner gave the outside a facelift a few years ago. But it’s still called that by the locals. Ask for directions down south and you may hear something like, “Go to route 624 and turn where Jimmy’s Red Barn burned down” which is not useful if you never saw his red barn before it burned down. Unless the remains are still there. Oh wait, maybe it is useful!)
Anyway, this hill is probably a half mile long and has a steady rise to it totaling around 130 feet which is only a 5% grade. That’s certainly not Tour de France material but to someone like me, it’s a lung buster. By the time I got the top, I was blowing hard trying to get enough air into my lungs. Fortunately, no one was there to see me gasping like a fish on the dock as I rolled over the top, thrilled that I could stop pedaling for a few seconds.
I recovered faster than I expected and continued on. The next few hills went by quickly and I seemed to be suffering less than usual. That seemed odd since I should have been more tired having covered more ground than I normally do, with more hills in the mix.
When I turned onto Dogwood Trail, I felt great again. This is my favorite part of the ride. It’s about four miles, mostly flat with a couple of small rollers, and the last half mile is down a nice hill where I can usually get up to 35 mph or so. I tucked myself over the bars and pushed myself hard. At the bottom of this long hill, the road suddenly goes uphill for about 300 yards at a very steep grade. Today, it kicked my ass. I didn’t have to walk but I thought about it. Hard. I managed to shove myself through the pain and headed down the next slope. Another short climb and then the long hill down to Pouncy Tract road.
There was no traffic coming so I took the road as fast as I could pedal and headed down to the bottom of the last downhill section before the long climb up into the little village of Rockville. That climb is about a half mile but is a gentle grade and has become a non-event for me. (It didn’t used to be though.)
In Rockville, I stopped for another snack and caught my breath before heading down the hill.
When I reached South Anna Drive, a cross road that takes me back to my house, I actually turned onto it with the intention of cutting my ride short. I was tired and not sure I could do the flat lap I had planned. I went about fifty yards before my pride kicked in and made me turn around. “You’re not wimping out here, pal!”
I headed back onto Pouncy Tract and made the ride up to Ashland road at a smooth pace trying to get some legs back. I caught the light green and turned at a good speed, making the climb up the little hill much easier than normal. Once over that I powered my way up into Glen Allen and Henrico, then across to the Short Pump area and then turned around and headed back toward home on Pouncy Tract again.
At this point, the wind began to kick up and, as luck would have it, was almost dead into my face. Now it was only about 5 mph but that’s enough to slow you down a couple of miles per hour. Rather than accept that, I bent over the bars again and bored a hole through it whenever I’d feel it hit me in the face.
About fifteen minutes later, I was turning back onto South Anna drive with about two miles to go until I pulled into the driveway. As I was turning, I saw another cyclist coming from the other direction also turning onto South Anna, about 75 yards behind me.
He looked to be in great shape and my first thought was that it was some young buck who was going to blow by me in seconds. I could see in my mirror that he was pedaling pretty hard. I stepped up my pace to see how long I could hold him off.
He caught me at the top of the hill, about three quarters of a mile up the road. As he pulled alongside, I mentioned what a gorgeous day it was for a ride. (Without wheezing or gasping for air. This is a big deal. I usually can’t respond when they say hi to me.) He agreed and then he pulled ahead. He wasn’t a young buck, probably closer to my own age, but he was in terrific shape with a very young face surrounded by grey hair. Obviously a cyclist, his calves were huge. Dammit.
I swung onto his wheel and refused to be dropped as we headed down the short hill before the final rise onto Howards Mill. As we got to the stop sign, he began to move to the right for his turn and I moved to the left for mine. I wished him a good ride as we parted. Without gasping or wheezing, again. Wow!
I powered down the big hill that ends at the South Anna River and then rode up the other side to my house, pulling in about 2:44:35 after I’d left. I had managed to ring up an average speed above 16 mph on my hilliest course. Despite that, my legs felt great! Maybe this was my breakthrough ride.
As I told MB later, “You know, the world cycling championships are going to be in Richmond in 2015. If I keep this up, by then, I’ll be ready to watch.”