PSA: There exist people who are not able to handle direct honesty or evaluate themselves well. If you are one, it would be best to skip this post. While it is not my intent to shame or berate anyone, some do not possess the ability to address reality on reality’s terms and will therefore misinterpret the intent of this post. If this describes you, there is no sense in reading on. You will end up with an unnecessary and unintended resentment. Best to move along to something that suits your character better.
This series is not, thank God, my Anthony Weiner lapse into idiocy, where I find it necessary to post a bunch of pec, bicep and glute photos that show how awesome I think I am and look (truthfully I’m not all that impressive, but it’ll do). Thankfully I am not such a sad person emotionally that I must show off physically to compensate for the screw that’s loose mentally (got that Tony?). That said, part one dealt with frequency or how often I must ride in order to maintain my awesome boy-ish figure (if not for the unavoidable signs of aging; gray hair, crow’s-feet, receding hair-line, etc., there’s no way you’d guess I’m over 40). Part two was about attitude. I opened myself up a bit to illustrate what I must do mentally to maintain fitness. To sum it up in a short sound bite: “There isn’t much traffic on the extra mile”. For part three, I thought I’d look a bit at intensity. I’ve been going through a remarkable change in the last several weeks, centered around an incredible uptick in miles and intensity week over week and month over month. Here’s the week over week illustration:
My normal week is, depending on weather, between 100 and 150 miles. In the summer time that’s closer to 150. The two weeks in July, the 8th to the 21st, were broken up by a vacation down to the mountains of Georgia where I concentrated on short but challenging climbs and less intense rides with my wife… In short, I was on vacation – I wasn’t exactly looking to tear it up. When we got home though, the mileage and the intensity really started ramping up. The color differences on the graph are as follows: The darker yellow (small slivers at the bottom of three weeks) signifies mountain biking. The lighter yellow, cycling transport, or my version of a light intensity ride (17.5-19 mph average). The Red signifies cycling sport or, you guessed it, red-line hard cycling – I use the sport designation only to track high-intensity solo workouts or group rides where the average speeds (on open roads) will be in excess of 20 mph. Let’s look at month over month now:
The pink signifies indoor trainer workouts and green is running… Now this was an incredibly bad summer weather-wise. We’ve had loads of rain – so much so that it actually harmed some of the State’s crops so my overall mileage has been down over last year, especially through June and July, but you can see the spike this August… I’ll easily end the month with around 750 miles (if not a few more), my best month ever by almost 70 miles, yet I’ll hit that having taken off seven days. Last September, my second best month ever (next to the previous month at 684 miles – just couldn’t get it to fit in the graph) I only took four days off all month. Now, I gave the month over month breakdown to add context, for when I try to break this down point by point – and please try to remember, this is an opinion piece… It is not necessarily based on science, just my experience.
How many people have you seen out there who are amazingly fat and out of shape, walking and/or jogging as if their life depended on it (well, let’s face it – it does), sweat dripping off of their faces, huffing and puffing, working hard? How about on a bike (which is probably a better method of fitness to look at for this post)? Not many. I’m looking at the ladies who put on makeup before they “run”. Now, not discounting the fact that if we exercise in zone two we burn more fat, I find the calories in/calories out approach much more appealing because it doesn’t take ten years to knock the fat off. My weight loss, and invariably my fitness, were dependent on my willingness to put forth an effort crossed with my willingness to eat a decent, balanced diet. The harder I worked and better I ate, the slimmer I got until I’m at a point where I have to eat more than I’m comfortable with just to keep my weight up (I know, this is a good problem to have). That worked excellently last year when I finally gave it the effort I needed to get the body I’ve always wanted. Last year, more than 250 miles per summer month were dedicated to red-line riding. This year, until August, I kept the cycling sport workouts down to around 200 miles per month but ratcheted up the intensity in hopes of getting to the next level in terms of speed. August showcased the payoff. I’m riding 1-1/2 to 2 mph faster this August compared to last August and loving it.
My wife and a few friends were hanging out making jokes out of excuses that we’ve heard and even uttered as it related to riding Lead Bike for the 8km race-walkers in the Crim yesterday. Keep in mind, the walkers start ten minutes after the runners… I had to start punching a hole for the lady who eventually won within one mile of the start. In other words, a lady walking at a 10 minute mile pace caught runners within a mile who had a ten minute head start. Folks, here’s the harsh reality: You may get into shape at that pace before you croak, but it’s doubtful. The dreadful truth is this: People who get into shape comfortably are almost as rare as unicorns – they give up first, complaining that “exercise doesn’t work”. Exercise works just fine, they don’t, and therein lies the rub. Now, remember the context folks, before we get bent out of shape… We are dealing with extremes here. While I don’t disparage a twenty-minute mile, I don’t agree with the premise that this is a type of exercise that will bring about desired results either. It’s something, that’s for sure, but once you’ve broken the cobwebs lose (with the aid of your doctor of course), if you want to lose that ass this century you’d better try a little harder than two hours for a five-mile “jog”.
Now, that said, and going back to my data for the last month… In July I thought I’d plateaued, hit a spot where I just couldn’t get any faster. The reality that I had to come to grips with was that I had plateaued and that I didn’t want to work any harder than I already was to get faster. A gentler way to put it would be that I just didn’t have the time or desire to put the energy into improving. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I was okay with this. After all, I thought, there are folks out there who only wish they could ride as fast as I do – on a slow day. Then we went on vacation in the mountains and I tried a climb that I’d done last year at the same time and made it three times farther up an insane mountain road than I did just the year before. I tried again with the same results, and again… Four times farther than the year before. Then one last time before we left – six times farther than my best effort from last year. That got me a little bit excited… Here I was just a few days before thinking that I was as far as I could go – and then this. Well, to keep an already long story from getting out of hand, I hit August refreshed and recommitted. Three centuries, three weekends in a row and I had a personal best by five minutes, a very solid effort only missing the prior week’s performance by ten minutes and then I blew the doors off that first century by 19 minutes, cranking out a 4h:36m 100 miles – in a week that I’d put in over 200 miles. Folks, I’m not supposed to be able to do that, but there it was.
So here I am, coming into the fourth weekend in August and I was pretty beat. I rode hard on Tuesday and then again on Thursday, but I took Monday off (as I have been for a couple of months now). Wednesday was slow and short. Yesterday we put in 26 miles but they were very slow. Today will be long and slow followed by another needed day off tomorrow. I need to ratchet things back a bit to rest up. I don’t have to take time off of the bike necessarily, but I do have to take it easier for a minute to get my legs back. I know this, but damned if I’m not sitting there yesterday evening trying to figure out how I can squeeze a few extra hard rides in because I don’t want to lose any momentum! I won’t, in the end, add any extra fast rides, but that’s the discipline needed to drop the fat. I am an all or nothing kind of guy (as are most people when you boil it all down). I can take, and need, easy days to let my legs recover. I have to be careful though, that I don’t take my foot too far off of the gas pedal; 200 pounds and misery is waiting for me if I do.