A Case for Suffering: Amateur hour

A Case for Suffering: Amateur hour

Words by: Chris Case
Photos by: Brad Kaminski

I did a time trial—once.

I borrowed a 1990s vintage KHS with a curving seat tube from my friend, Nick Legan, jumped aboard, tucked into an aero position, and never looked back. That was years ago.

So when I started thinking about new and creative ways to do painful things to myself on a bike, in order to write stories for my column, “A Case for Suffering,” I knew I had to take on the “hour.”

It was something I had no business doing: I had never been to a velodrome or ridden a track bike before, and my time trialing skills were nonexistent.

Initially, my plan was to build up any old track frame I could find, ride around in circles as hard as I could for 60 minutes, and write about the pain. But once Legan caught wind of my idea, he helped me understand that there was a much more sophisticated and rewarding way to proceed. Since this would all be new to me, my eyes would be wide open to the science and technology that comes along with one of cycling’s toughest events. My summer immediately got a lot more serious. The pain and suffering would come later.

Over the course of eight weeks, I absorbed advice from a host of talented and intelligent friends and colleagues in the cycling industry, including those who hold national records and list multiple Olympic Games on their resume. The response from manufacturers was incredible, with Felt, Mavic, Shimano, Challenge Tires, CeramicSpeed, Kask, Bell, Panache, and Stages all offering generous assistance.

And the Boulder Valley Velodrome in Erie, Colorado, became my second home. I couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding project.

For the first time in my life, I worked with a coach to fine tune my threshold power, and tried to adapt to an entirely new way of riding, in a position that had me feeling like a contortionist. With limited time to get up to speed, I managed to squeeze in seven structured training sessions on the track. And then it was time.

On the morning of September 26, I set off on what would become the most physically demanding hour of my life. It wasn’t so much the excruciating pain I felt, but the withering delirium and emptiness that crushed me. It was amazing fun — until it wasn’t.

In the end, I thrashed myself to go 45.927 kilometers — unofficially a new 35-39 age group national record, though without USA Cycling officials to verify the attempt, it will not be recognized. (In fact, there was a delay in the verification of the length of my ride and, thus, the 46.177km you see in the video has been recalculated, dropping my distance by a lap.) In the November issue of Velo magazine, on newsstands on October 27, I share the details of my descent into madness, as well as the incredible wealth of knowledge about the physiology, technology, and psychology that I gathered along the way.