Archive for October, 2010

One of the great things about humans is that we can make up some great stories. We do it all the time, often without realizing it. Mostly we make up stories about ourselves and our experiences. I don’t mean that we make up a bunch of stuff and pass it off as reality — I mean that we arrange our experiences in such a way as to attempt to make sense of them and to define who we are or hope to be. In that vein, I need to formulate a cycling narrative that will help me get back to riding fast.

I have a family, I’m 45 years old, and also about 20-25 pounds too heavy. I know that I can be relatively fast based on some decent results in the 35+ A cross races a few years ago. Back then I felt like I had some room to get even better. So I want to figure out how I can recapture some of the magic from that season. My family and I are going to be making some changes in the coming months that should improve our quality of life and I know that having balance there will help out quite a bit. I know that I need to, and in fact can lose weight. That alone — with decent fitness — will make an enormous difference. But my biggest and perhaps most controversial decision is that I am going to quit training.

Yeah, you read that right. No more training — at least training my body. I’m done with trying to put together a training plan and scheduling workouts. What I am going to do is ride my bike with an understanding of training principles. I intend on varying ride types and intensity. I will listen to my body and make sure that I’m taking it easy when I need to. But there is no way in hell I’m going to go out with the intention of doing some number of intervals some amount of time at such and such power or HR or perceived effort. I’m done with that.

No power meters, no HR monitors. I have the luxury of a variety of terrain in close proximity to my home and work so I can pick out what type of ride I want to do. I can ride flat and easy, I can ride rolling terrain, I can ride hills (steep hills!). And I can choose when to ride hard and when not to. Honestly, I think my biggest worry will be that I won’t ride easy enough often enough.

Instead of a structured training plan for my legs and lungs, I plan on training my brain. I think I can make some significant gains though psychology of effort. These gains will translate into race advantages as well as motivators in my week to week cycling. I think that the most under trained organ for bike racers is their brain and I intend to improve my mental ability. And when I say psychology of effort, I don’t mean all this macho bullshit about pain and conquest. I’m really talking about motivators and the way in which how you frame your situation can have a significant impact on your ability. I also want to investigate some interesting concepts regarding metering of effort and placebo effect.

So there’s my narrative. Ride my bike and think positive!

Since I plan on writing some posts here this Fall, I figured I should let anyone who might read this know what’s been going on with me. I’ve had a few health problems since I posted almost a year ago. The first setback was the H1N1 flu plus pneumonia. I was already coming to grips with the fact that I was finishing at the very back of the race in the 35+ A group. When my “comeback” was cut short with the flu plus pneumonia, I was felt pretty low.

In an effort to mix things up and get in shape, I decided that I’d get back into running. I bought new shoes and started hitting the streets. Things were actually going well and I was feeling positive about my overall fitness. ?Then after the first of the year, I developed?tendinitis?in my right?achilles?tendon. I have some theories why I might have developed that malady which incorporate a combination of factors. However, the bottom line was that I couldn’t run any longer.

I could still ride and I did so sporadically. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself which left me unmotivated. My wife suggested I take an indoor rowing class. Back in the 90?s at a time when I was in excellent shape, I had used Concept2 ergometers as part of my training?regime?so I was pretty familiar with indoor rowing. Since it was something I could do 1) that didn’t aggravate my achillies and 2) kept me out of the rain, I decided to give it a go.

The new rowing machines with resistance provided through fluid inside a big pod on the front were pretty slick. I enjoyed the classes and even thought about moving to boats in the spring. Unfortunately, I injured my back doing rowing intervals. It turns out that I have a broken vertebrae and that leads to a condition calledspondylolisthesis. In essence, one of my vertebrae slides out of alignment over top of another one which causes the disc between them to degenerate faster. The disc in question is my L5-S1. It turns out that rowing puts stress on my spondy in about the worst way possible so I have no future as a rower (lol).

I’ve had problems with a sore back before (not uncommon with my condition) and I expected it to get better with some rest. However, it took a long time to resolve and it was also accompanied by some numbness and pain in my right leg and foot. I had probably damaged the sciatic nerve where it exits the spine between my L5 and S1. About a month after my injury, I moved 18 yards of bark mulch around my yard over the course of a weekend. I felt sore the next few days like I would expect to after that kind of physical exertion. But Wednesday morning, I woke up to severe pain. The pain was awful. Sleeping was a chore. I had additional loss of strength in my right foot.

Two courses of Prednisone, more than a few Vicodins, lots of rest, and some physical therapy later, I felt almost normal. It took about 10 weeks after the onset of the acute pain before I felt able to ride my bike. If you tack on the 4 weeks between the original injury, that means I had spent 14 weeks with virtually no physical activity (not counting moving the bark mulch).

The good news is that my rounded back position on the bike doesn’t further aggravate my spondy. I got back on the bike July 6 and have made steady progress since. The bad news is that inactivity and a love of food left me a fat blob. Those first few weeks of riding had me going pretty slow. I knew that I wasn’t going to be fast so I picked a gear I could spin and avoided the hills. The difference between then and now has been significant though I still need to shed more weight.

I am healthy now and just as importantly, I feel positive about what I’m doing. I changed jobs while I was recovering from my back injury and I like my new position better than my old one and the commute is a breeze. My family will be making a fairly large change this Spring and I’m looking forward to that as well. My quality of life and that of my family is on the rise and that helps me immensely.