Blog: half-an-hour in hell

The pain and satisfaction of a turbo trainer interval session

5.30am. The garage is like an ice box on this Monday morning in January. The RCUK test rig stands centre stage, attached to a turbo trainer, as incongruous in its mudguards as I am in shorts and short-sleeved jersey in the depths of winter. I turn on the Garmin 510, twist it into position on the handlebars, and climb aboard for 30 minutes of pain.

My half-an-hour in hell will be broken into six, five-minute intervals: two-and-a-half minutes ‘on’, with two-and-a-half minutes of ‘active’ recovery (spinning at 100rpm). The ‘on’ sections involve 90 seconds of high resistance, low cadence, out-of-the-saddle power work, before returning to the saddle, dropping a gear (while retaining the same resistance) and pedalling like fury for the final minute, turning up my heart beat still further.

The satisfaction of finishing an interval session on a turbo trainer justifies the pain

Music is my only distraction, a collection of northern soul classics that offer a tempo to encourage hard effort and a mental distraction from the task at hand and the absurdity of pedaling on the spot. Marlena Shaw invites me to wade in the water – a tempting offer, especially when my legs are on fire and my heart is about to jump out of my chest.

The recovery sections provide little respite, and seemingly less as the session wears on. All too soon the two-and-half-minutes of seated, high-cadence, low resistance spinning have passed, and it’s time to click forward the resistance lever mounted on my crowded handlebars and rise again from the saddle. I’m ‘climbing’, but the view is less than inspiring. An Alpine landscape is notably absent. The view extends to my own tortured expression reflected from the garage window.

Sweat pours from my forehead and down my face. The Garmin 510 reports a temperature of five degrees, but I’m no longer cursing the cold conditions. A low ambient temperature is now welcome guest. In the absence of a fan, regular mopping of the brow with a towel is required.

The final interval arrives with a mix of relief and torment. Despite my flaming lungs and legs, my mind will not let the matter lie: “Only one last hurdle lies ahead. Give it everything. You’ll be glad.” And so the final interval, already the hardest, also becomes the most psychologically intense. The chart, however, does not lie. It will be my weakest.

Jelly-legged and with chest rising and falling with alarming frequency, I allow myself a glance at the Garmin. It’s over, for another day at least. I bring the resistance to its lowest setting, click down a few gears, and sit  up, hands off the bars and legs slowly turning while I bury my face in the towel. The hum of the trainer reports my falling cadence and within moments it seems, I have reached a complete stop. I climb off the bike, and walk back into the house, which now seems heated to absurd proportions. The shower awaits, and the satisfaction of the Garmin upload.

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