250km of fear – Week #4.2

Today is August 7th. The start of my training camp in altitude. I am super excited 🙂 This promises to be an amazing experience athletically speaking for sure but also socially and spiritually.

I write « socially and spiritually » because I am going to be all alone. No family and no friends but also no internet. This will be the perfect time to recharge mentally, meditate and let new ideas rise.

I first thought about training in altitude 2 months ago. Very quickly, opportunities showed up and allowed me to set this up.

Obviously, I believe in the Law of Attraction but I noticed (in my case, at least) that it only works with triathlon and what’s related to triathlon. I am amazed by the quickness with which this triathlete life evolves.

I want and wanted many things but never felt like this Law of Attraction thingy really worked.

Whereas in the case of this triathlon life, it’s just…

I think the secret resides in the fact that I am obsessed by triathlon and what goes with it. I think about this all the time. Sometimes I even surprise myself because the Olympics are often my first thought when I open my eyes in the morning.

I believe it’s in such context that the Law of Attraction truly comes into play.

 SWIM BIKE RUN OVERALL
 4.2  2:59 – 7.3k 20:01 – 442k  3:15 – 26.3k 26:15 – 475.6k
 4.1  6:08 – 15.4k 17:27 – 380k  2:33 – 29k 26:04 – 424.4k

This training camp in altitude (4430ft high) will last 5.5 weeks. I will go back home, at sea-level, 2 weeks before my A race of this season: The French Nationals in Nice, on September 28th.

Altitude training is interesting for athletes because the higher you go, the less oxygen there is. This naturally boosts your body’s production of red cells and therefore your body’s capacity to transport oxygen.

In theory, one’s body first needs 10 days to acclimatize to altitude. It then requires 3-4 weeks minimum to really feel the benefits of altitude (even if most studies, coaches and athletes say that « a bit is better than none ». Then you should go back at sea-level between 3 weeks and 10 days before your race, in order for your red cells production to peak on race day.

Beyond these numbers, you should do what you can, try and see what works. This is the first time I am coming this high to train seriously.

Seriously…indeed…because this training camp starts with a 250k bike ride from Aix en Provence to Briançon.

My longest bike ride ever goes back to last month : 165k in 5h50. Today, therefore, I am heading towards a place inside of me that I don’t know. I am excited by the challenge but also afraid.

I am leaving at 6am. I got 2 bottles of vegetables/fruits juice, 7 cereal bars, enough to fix my tires, 20 euros and my cell phone. I think I will reach destination between 4pm (25km/h average) and 6pm (20km/h average). My mother is worried for me. She encourages me to call for help if I can’t reach Briançon. My father, him, thinks I’m a joke if I only average 25km/h.

It’s 7am and the first hour goes well: 21.7km with an eye still asleep 😉

It’s 8am and the second hour goes even better. I ride 25km and have fun downhill trying to find the most aerodynamic position.

I drink and eat regularly but the challenge is difficult because I don’t know at which speed I « can » ride. I need to keep some energy until the end.

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It’s 9am and unfortunately, despite trying to save my energy…6 hours of black hole await for me.

First simply because I am starting to feel tired. Second, because I simply don’t know if I am going to make it ‘til the end or not. My brain is going back and forth between : « 22,2 km/h average, you’re gonna be there at 6:25pm » AND « 7 hours on the bike and you’re just halfway! You’re not gonna make it. Ride until 6pm and call for help » AND « NOOOO! I don’t give a damn, I am gonna make it. Even if I have to ride until 10pm, I will make it ».

It’s 3pm and I must face the truth. I may not finish this ride. I don’t have a lot of strength left in my legs and when it’s downhill I can’t even push on the pedals and go faster than 14km/h!!

I am afraid. Afraid because I am alone, on a bike, on route 942 in the middle of nowhere. No, this doesn’t feel like the « wall » you feel when you run a marathon, surrounded by other runners and people.

Here, I am alone with a soul called Gregory Berge…and 5.20 euros…enough to buy a bottle of water at 4pm and another one at 6pm.

It’s 3:22pm I believe when my heart starts beating again. In fact, I just saw a sign that says « Briançon 88km ».

Despite the physical and psychological pain, my cycling computer still shows an average of 22.3km/h. So as if I was going back up from an apnea at 80 meters, I take a deep breath and realize «Man, 88km! Keep on going and you’ll be there in 4 hours! You can be home at 7:30pm!»

From that point on, I start aiming at my final destination rather than going forward aimlessly, wondering if I should keep some energy or not. Hours and kilometres go by. I’m even going to reach home before 7pm! Yes!! Gas stations also go by. I buy 2 bottles of water.

Briançon is 3930ft high. However, signs show that we’re still 2460ft high. I’m starting to be afraid again because I can’t help but think that sooner or later, a 1500ft wall is gonna to face me!

I’m on a straight line with an uphill, 500m ahead. I turn my head right and what do I see? A bakery! I decide to invest my euros in an almond cake with coconut and raspberry 🙂

This uphill was just a tiny bump but suddenly, at the bottom of a village called « L’Argentière la Bessée », 35km away from Briançon, THE WALL rises in front of me…but I don’t know it yet.

During the first 100 meters, I climb and secretly hope it’s only a short hill. During the following 100 meters, I feel strong. During the next 100 meters, I realize that the hill…is not about to stop anytime soon. 100 more meters and I’m starting to see a few switchbacks. I see a bus with a 30 degrees tilt above me, going downhill and I can only imagine the next curve. I am terrified. I am going 10km/h but more than the physical pain, it’s the fear which makes me want to stop, get off the bike and finish walking…but if I do, it’s the beginning of the end. No, no, stay on the bike, soul called Gregory Berge.

After 5 endless minutes of hope of seeing a flat road, the wall is over 🙂 Only about 10 more easy kilometres before reaching Briançon.

That’s it. I can see the sign «Welcome to Briancon»! Now 7 more and last kilometres to reach the small village where my apartment is.

I exit Briançon and after one last round-about, the road turns left and the road goes…up again. On the side, I can see the official signs from the Tour de France mentioning «Col du Lautaret», the distance to summit and the average climb of the next kilometre.

Back when I was still home, near Marseille, thinking about this training camp, the names of the peaks awaiting for me was making me dream:

«Le Lautaret», «Le Galibier», «Sestrières», «le Télégraphe», «les Deux Alpes» et «L’Alpe d’Huez».

But here, with 250 kilometres in my legs and 11h of bike tattooed on my ass, I am terrified by the sign I just saw and what it means.

But 30 minutes later, I finally reach my village. I see a bakery and stop.

«Hi madam 🙂 I have 1.40 euros, what kind of sweet can I have?»

We speak and exchange about my trip…

«You need some energy! Take any cake you want! »

One of the «sweetest» sentence I heard all day long 🙂

I am home. How happy I am. What a feat it is to me. The pain is over. So is the challenge. The only things now left inside of me are the pride of overcoming one more of my body’s limit, the funny stories, the delicious and gross cereal bars, the deflated tires, the 45 minutes without a drop of water, the landscapes and the face-to-face with myself at 3pm.

A year ago, I didn’t have a bike. I didn’t know how to swim and I hadn’t been running for 6 months. But I had an invincible faith in my dream to qualify for the triathlon of the Olympic Games.

Your dream is possible. The craziest dream you have inside of you is possible.

I’m not talking about your small dreams, your hobbies, your leasures, no…

The most amazing dream you have inside. The one that both fascinates and frightens you.

It’s possible.

And you have one life to make it come true.

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