Icy Mountain Passes and V02 Intervals in December

I’ve been over mountain passes five times in the past two weeks. Twice as a passenger, three times as a driver. I prefer driving.

Winter is here now and my weekly pilgrimages to Bend, Oregon have taken on a different meaning. Gone is the sheen of sweat from the desert heat. I no longer put the road bike in the back, opting instead for something with fatter tires or – better yet – a pair of running shoes and ear warmers. The simplicity of running stills me, especially in the winter. When I want you to go away, I just tie a bow I learned in kindergarten and take off.

It takes 30 seconds to sprint my way to alone. Then I can settle in and pay attention to the way the icy air enters and leaves my lungs. You have to watch your footing in the winter, especially in Bend where the snow and ice have already been visiting and still linger in places. Something about the challenge of traction is intriguing to me. Like coming over the mountain pass, sometimes you’re in control and every once in a while you’re not. You have to learn not to panic.

Just across the street from my apartment is a park so pristine it almost looks like a backdrop. I stood on a bridge over the river there once in the middle of the night and watched the moon in the silvery, still surface of the water. Someone said this place is the beating heart of bend and I thought about how that might be true. This is a town of people enamored with landscape: crowded against the banks of a river, surrounded by mountains. In the winter they run with their arms open to the snow. They scream, “skiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” and grab for wax and make plans with friends for early morning excursions or weekend adventures. At night they crowd into breweries and tell adventure stories.

Bend will make you feel like you can never possibly do enough. I promise.

Intervals in December

The running only lasted about a week. It was an important mental break – 9 days of unstructured activity. Hard gym workouts and bipedal morning neighborhood tours. When Cyclocross Nationals was over the entirety of Oregon’s ‘cross community breathed a collective sigh of relief, hung up their bicycles (hopefully after a good overhaul) and went to the liquor cabinet to get a sip of whiskey.

*Clink* Job well done.
*Clink* Until next year.

Then they cozied up for a few days to enjoy the end of the big cyclocross push.  I got caught up in the feeling, too – it was nice to relax and enjoy the onset of the holidays. It was nice to go through a week without the weight and promise of a Sunday race lingering in my thoughts, taking up important space. I exhaled and rubbed my belly and smiled.

And then the break was over – and there were intervals waiting. Oregon may be done with ‘cross but, this year, I’m not.

My season was partially hijacked by a weird lung problem that kept me out of the races for most of October. I couldn’t breathe when I tried to do hard efforts and the docs said that, though I did not have athletically induced asthma, I was exhibiting asthmatic symptoms. They wagered that this could be fixed with some rest and a regimen of steroids.

I sucked the steroids into my lungs dutifully twice a day for a month until it went away. Then I started racing again in earnest. My first real race back at it was at PIR on October 24th and from them on I finally started getting faster, little by little. By the time the USGPs came it felt like mid-season and I was rolling into good fitness, but the Oregon calendar was all but over.

Never fear, California is here. Those crazy bastards race until the very end of January and, since I have a place to crash in San Jose, I figured why not work from there and race out the remaining 5 races in Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Monterey?

The trick is trying to keep a little snap in the legs during almost a month without any races. I asked Damian to help me figure it out and he dropped a crazy interval build on me that will either kill me or have me flying by January 8th.

Twenty 4-minute V02 intervals in three days? Ok, fuckit. And there’s more where that came from. It’s an experiment that will either break me or teach me not to break.

Winter is a time when I need something solid and focused in my life. These intervals and this build have given me more “SHUTUP LEGS!” moments in one week than I have had all year.

In a state of mid-interval agony and anger I suddenly realized that SHUTUP LEGS is about so much more than cycling. Turning off internal voices is handy in so many ways. We can SHUTUP our heart or SHUTUP our procrastination or SHUTUP our self-doubt.

And we can SHUTUP the voice that tells us it’s stupid to go do V02 intervals on Mt Tabor in the dark and pouring rain on Christmas evening. Because what the fuck does it know, right?


Thanks again, Jens.


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