I lied. The last column wasn't my final post about Reve Tour. I guess I can't help it.
Last week while I was working on the print feature that will run in the November issue, I spent every day poring over notes, receipts, Strava files, maps, business cards, tweets, emails and other records of note. Things came back to me in the middle of the night: conversations I'd had with people, body language, the shape of rain clouds, a tree we sat under during lunch, a crepe that someone handed to me at the end of the queen stage. The remembering was clarifying - and difficult.
Reve Tour was made up of long days strung together, one after another, with hardly a pause in between. The ride was made easier, perhaps, by the fact that we never stopped to think about it very much. In the process of charging ever onward, we became experts at forgetting quickly. To manage the demands of today's stage, the previous ones must be pushed out of the mind.
I'm good at this type of thing: this immediate disassociation in the name of self-preservation. I can sever myself from the most intense emotions and I can do it quickly. A friend and I discussed this a few days ago in the context of his mother's untimely passing. He mourned for exactly one week and then was done. "I almost feel guilty." he said, "But you know what it means? It means we're resilient. We can get past anything."
"Either that or we're completely full of shit and we're going to lose it some day when this all comes back to get us." I responded. His mother has been gone for several years. We wondered out loud together when the unraveling would occur.
He was right about one thing - it is an effective coping mechanism, at least in the short term. The only real problem with forgetting is that I get paid to remember. Unfortunately, in my memory, the ride in France gets easier and easier with every day that passes. The images in my head get a little blurry, the edges of recollections start to fray a little. Selectively, my heart holds on to the fun moments, the laughing times, the good days. It's not news that memories are imperfect and malleable. Which is where the notes and records come into play. The most revealing thing about the process of going back was the realization of the enormity of the effort involved.
It's not possible to truly quantify suffering, but with power data we have tools that enable us to quantify effort, stress and fatigue. We rode the Tour mostly from the gut, favoring to tap into the spiritual side of the will rather than dwell on science (a smart move since the fatigue numbers would have scared the living crap out of us), but throughout the efforts we had Quarq power meters measuring our output, assigning numbers to our stress, recording what "impossible" looked like in numbers.
Sometimes I used the power information to moderate my ride up a climb when I knew we had a long day ahead of us. Sometimes when Kristen and Kate were dragging us across the flats, they would use power information to set a steady pace that didn't fluctuate over shifting terrain, which saved us from unnecessary punchy accelerations. Occasionally I used the numbers to reassure myself that, although I felt dead, I was actually still alive (and putting out a respectable effort). But, for the most part, the power of power became apparent in the fallout, when Russell Cree of Upper Echelon Fitness sent me an email urging me to send him files so he could take a look.
I was in Tuscany and halfway through a bottle of Castello di Ama chianti classico, but the data nerd in me recognized his need for number porn. I shot him a quick email with the data and went back to my recovery drinking. Then my phone started to blow up. Cree could not believe his eyes. The TSS scores! The fatigue levels!! Inconceivable! Unbelievable! IMPOSSIBLE!
His texts got me excited. So excited that I walked away from the bottle of Chianti. (That's saying something.) I sat down and started digging into the files. He was right. They were crazy. Did that really just happen? A TSS 566 day followed by a TSS 504 day? Holy smokes! We shot messages back and forth until we were both worn out from the sheer, delightful nerdiness of it all.
At the end of our exchange, I realized why so many people thought we would fail: according to the data, the ride actually was out of reach. We should have fatigued to the point of failure. We should have fallen apart. We shouldn’t have been able to keep riding the way we did.
Which is why, while we can celebrate the insights of our beloved science, we should never let it predetermine our outcomes. Our power meters were critical to our training and incredibly useful during the Tour – and the information those files have provided since I’ve been home has been key to framing a collection of emotions and memories against very real measurements – but human will cannot be quantified in watts and perseverance cannot be converted into statistics.
Put your head down and ride your bike.