THAT friends, is the name of the cardio zone that I've been riding in for over a year now. I've boned up, done the homework for a fair portion of the weekend, broke out the old posts, re-read the old training bibles, busted out the old heart-rate monitor books (next purchase, perhaps?) and have re-educated myself on HOW to get into shape again. Yeah, as opposed to beefing about it for months on end on this blog and to anyone that will listen, it's time to put the science behind the talk.
Today marks day-one of the official "check yo-self, boyeee!" training.
Episode one, the return to the fitness center. You're paying for it - whay aren't you USING it? Yikes. I once found out much the hard way that unless you are a fully conditioned elite athlete, it's quite difficult to control one's heartrate on a bicycle ride. Yeah, you can find that perfect stretch of flat road where only wind resistance and effort dictate the output of your cardiac muscle, but around here those are hard to come by (yes, even for Kansas). Once upon a time I wore a heart-rate monitor (HRM) for a few rides, and found more often than not that staying in the fat-burning range was nearly impossible for any extended period. I set the target range once for 65-75% of maximum, and at the end of a three hour ride I found myself "in-zone" for a whopping 18 minutes. Good job. :)
It's harder than it sounds -- at least it WAS.
So, cut to today, I have learned from that experience and decided to maximize the most of my training -- QUALITY, not quantity -- and that means HRM training inside the walls of the gym. This isn't a bad thing, considering the snow has already come to the area, so it's a good excuse to stay inside where its warmer and drier. First stop, a quick warmup on the exercise bike. I hate exercise bikes....unless you can bring your own saddle, which you can't here. Still, I tollerate it, juse to get a baseline. The goal today, try to get into the fat burning recommended zone of 65% of maximum, which the computer says for me (based on age) is 120 BPM. Easy enough. But, to say that my body is used to cycling, and perhaps it's not as effective on me as it used to be, that's an understatement. It took five minutes just to get UP to 120 BPM, and I was spinning like mad to keep it there. It's hard to tell, without wind resistance and rolling resistance - but it seemed like a lot more effort that I normally put into riding (on a flat). Yeah, if there had been hills involved, PING - I woulda been right up there pretty fast. But, on the stationary bike, no wind, no road -- MAN, it was like stirring a bowl full of air. Maddening spinning. The machine keeps telling me that it will adjust resistance to keep me in the zone, but the minor changes I can feel don't seem to do it. Wow.... okay... this explains a few things.
So, I finish out my 20 minute spin-fest on the bike, and move over to what was recommended to me - the total-body elliptical trainer. I've always been a little leery of these contraptions - although I've heard good things about their benefits. The running, and the thoughts of joint damage from running too much while overweight, has me worried. Yeah, the cardio comes up REALLY fast, and stays high - but I always feel like hammered Jello afterwards, and my joints end up being a little sore. I can't risk any damage, seriously -- I'll run on a track again when I get back into the 160 lb. arena. Until then, this thing seems interesting, this elliptical machine. I step on... and it's like skiing, gliding... interesting... OH wait, I can use my arms? Cool... I "turn off" my legs and pull along with my arms... ZING! Heart rate comes up to taget, and beyond.... OK, *NOW* we're starting to see where our strong points and opportunities are. Very cool. So, I can give my legs a rest here, work my upper body in what is something of a rowing machine, curling motion - all while focusing on keeping my heart rate in a fat-burning zone.
What was also interesting - once I got into the heart-rate zone for fat burning, it was hard to stay there --- on the DOWN side. In other words, as soon as I engaged my arms, it shot up 10 BPM. Return to the legs, it would drop. Okay, can you say body imbalance? No WONDER the bike wasn't working anymore! Conditioning? Check. Overall fitness? Errr.... no. This is good data.
Yeah, too many numbers -- we've been here before. I've run the gamut from not having a computer on the bike, to having one of those fancy Polar HRMs with the built-in cyclo-computer, etc. I've found a balance now with the bike - granted for brevets and perms, I need urn-by-turn mileage if for nothing else than confirmation of the route - but HRM on the bike, I'm not going back to that. I'll continue to enjoy the ride, and ride by feel --- but what the numbers in the gym will do will re-program my head to be able to recognize when I'm pushing too hard, and when I'm not pushing hard enough. Gains are needed, and that's the way. I can't keep training in no-man's land, without good recovery, and without gains. I'm just tearing myself down, and my fatigue level lately reflects that. Any idiot can ride 200k... am I riding a SMART 200K? Am I training, or merely surviving it? Am I pushing a pace, or just wallowing in the 15 MPH range.... or the high 13 MPH range??? The lights are coming on.... let this be a lesson to those that would simply pile on the miles and eat like your caloric needs never change. "Training" is sometimes good. It doesn't mean that I have to stop enjoying the rides. Some people's bodies can do this - but mine can't. I have to dig out of the rut or I'll be the most accomplished 235 lb. randonneur in the nation. Don't want that.
Mentally, emotionally, let's talk about food and portion control. While I have my HRM baselines drawn in the gym today, and I have something to start gauging improvements from, let's talk about nutrition. I'm terrible at it. While food has always been a go-to for me with regards to stress and comfort, I managed to successfully put that part of my psyche to bed back in 1997 with a successful Weight Watchers run, and subsequent 100 lb. drop. Since then, stresses in life have been harder than ever, and I think I dealt with a LOT of it - including my father's passing - with food, and - er - drink. I've always enjoyed beer, but I think I've drank more in the past year than ever before. Clearly, just changing up the training game won't fix everything - so I have to get myself straight again in the consumption arena. I don't need as much food if I've become that efficient on the bike, and I don't need to "load" as much. I can still enjoy an occasional brew, but these six-pack weekends need to stop. I've said it before, but it's a real issue. I don't think that I "NEED" it, certainly -- I'm lucid enough to realize that. I'm not self-medicating. But it's a caloric load and a metabolic hit that I need to curb and reserve as a treat for a well-behaved week, or bi-week, or month...if at all. The same way I wouldn't eat a pan of brownies in one sitting, so should it stand that I shouldn't drink my fill just because I "want to". I have to start asking myself what I want MORE. We're talking about more than just cycling -- we're talking about life quality, overall health, also. This transcends the bicycle. If I was doing NOTHING else physically, the way I'm behaving with regards to food and drink are not responsible, ultimately. That is an important component of my problem - and it IS a problem. One could start the whole "life's too short to limit oneself..." argument. Well, I'll give the same answer that I gave myself back in 1997 when I was heavy. "...life will be a LOT shorter if I don't change something." This is the reason otherwise "fit" people drop dead from heart attacks during 5k's and mountain bike rides. It's gotta be the total package for best results. I'm getting too old for sub-par results.
So, I don't have any witty close to this whole discussion -- only that this is one step, realization, in a long path back towards what I ultimately deserve and want. I deserve to be healthy. I deserve to be successful. My kids deserve a healthy father, as my wife deserves a healthy and happy mate. It's finally time to wake up again, and start doing my part. I'm worth the effort.