Reaping the rewards of indoor bike training

Every Tuesday morning at 7:10 a.m. I head into my "gain cave" in the garage wondering what Coach Kristin Armstrong has in store for all of us who join the KX3 Weekly Freestyle Group Ride on Zwift. I know one thing. I'll feel the somehow-wonderfully enjoyable suffering during the structured group workout, and then I'll transform into a superhero when I climb off my bike 60 minutes later. 

I've engaged in training with a coach in the past, and I am definitely one who thrives on structure when it comes to exercise. I appreciate the tangibles—working with the data to see my improvement, know when I can push harder, or understand when I need to back off and rest. I've always loved a bit of competition—sometimes amongst others yet even more so with myself—just seeing how I can realize my greatest strength and potential.

But like with anything, my energy and commitment can ebb and flow. Just like some days you eat every fruit, veggie, and lean protein under the sun, and some days you eat pumpkin chai muffins and pizza. I know which days fuel me optimally and encourage me to get after it, and which days lead me directly to the sofa without passing go, like a sloth unable to get out of my own way.

I've typically been more of the longer, endurance-driven athlete. Riding consistently for two to three or four hours has been my jam. The KX3 weekly structured workouts have been a healthy jolt to my engine. The over-unders, sweet spot intervals, and most recently the microbursts, for example—they are the vitamin-packed berries, leafy greens, and good fats of my exercise routine. And they are the sessions that build my energy and serve up the "gains" on on a well-earned platter.

As March flew into April and we rolled from winter into spring, I couldn't wait to take my bike out for a ride after work. I live in a small mountain town, and the return of riding outdoors after ski season makes a person as giddy as hearing the happy birds chirp outside early in the morning, or seeing the first daffodils peeking out of the ground.

I was eager to see how the work I've been putting in on the trainer this winter would pay off on the road. My husband and I ride together more often than not. He's an animal. A naturally gifted athlete and strong as strong can get. For his 50th birthday in November, I introduced him to Zwift with his own training station, and out of the gate I knew I had created somewhat of a monster. He chases every sprint jersey, every KOM. And I had a feeling I'd be doing a lot of chasing on our first ride out.

We had one of our go-to loops planned. 32 miles. Six miles of headwind on the pavement until we hit the scree then the gravel, roll through the plains and foothills for about 14 miles, and then 12 miles of flat jogs to the right and left and right and left again, along the farm roads and back up the valley to home. I knew exactly when we would approach the short, punchy climbs and I strategically planned my sneak attack. I was determined to maintain my momentum and climb on par with my favorite riding partner.

I envisioned the microbursts during our last KX3 workouts and I could hear Kristin explaining the purpose and intent of the efforts. I reminded myself of the physical adaptations and the mental focus we had filled our tanks with all winter. I did my best to relax my upper body, take off my "shoulder earrings," breathe steady and pull through my pedal strokes to gain power and speed. 

We crested the first mini-climb and while I didn't capture the QOM, I was within yards of his rear wheel. The second one we matched cadence and effort and rolled over the top together. The third and final longer climb—I think it's just shy of one mile in length at a consistent grade—still no QOM, but I hit my PR. Eight minutes and 16 seconds on the Strava segment. But the best part? I felt stronger than I ever have on that whippersnapper of a climb. We stopped at the top to refuel and revel in the moment.

I could feel how this spring I've got a jump on the season. I appreciate more than ever the focus and intent of our KX3 Tuesday mornings, and regardless of the summer temps rising and the call of the outdoors, I know this one hour will always be an important commitment to keep my body engaged, my mind sharp, and my engine firing on all cylinders.

Next time I might have to bring my superhero cape. You never know when you'll feel like you earned the opportunity to bust it out.

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