Friday, March 7, 2008

Learning all about cycles…and cycling!

I had on my list of goals last year to compete in a triathlon. I didn’t end up doing this, but instead chose to do a 400-mile ride to Lock Haven, PA to pick up my M.Ed. in person. That event was supremely satisfying, not only because I got to actually see the campus and faculty of the institution that awarded me the degree, but because I was able to prove to myself that I could, in fact, become physically and mentally fit enough to ride the distance.

I didn’t end up finishing the blog entries about the trip (I’m not sure that anyone else would have been interested in what happened over those 5 days, anyway, and I didn’t need to put it all down into words to remember it), but the experience left me with an incredible sense of accomplishment. Sure, there were a couple of moments when I questioned whether I would actually be able to do it (that first day was the worst!). I grumbled when I had to change my second flat in as many days and when I got soaked to the bone, but this nothing compared to standing with my bike at the top of the Rhinecliff Bridge in Kingston, overlooking the Hudson River after climbing for 20 miles straight up from it or pulling into Lock Haven just as the Carroll announced the noontime hour. I will forever keep the very personal memories of that journey close to my heart, and I am grateful for what the trek has done for my self-confidence (and my leg muscles), but I do not want this event to be a singular, isolated one. I want it to be the first step toward a more active, more fulfilling lifestyle.

The next step takes me back to my original goal: A triathlon. I decided to dedicate myself this year to being ready to compete in an Olympic-distance race (there’s a local event that qualifies, which is convenient) and at least one smaller sprint-distance race in the early part of the summer, as preparation. For those who don’t know, an Olympic-distance triathlon is 1.5k of swimming, 40k of biking and 10k of running. The sprint distance version is half the Olympic version. I have my work cut out for me. I put on a good 15 pounds after my ride last summer, which I’ll have to take off again. I’ll have to go back to a base training schedule, but work quickly to get beyond it while at the same time not injuring myself. I’ll need to make a serious, concerted effort to get into the water (I run and ride right now, but I don’t have a regular swim component in my training regimen). I’ll need to “taste bitter”, as Shaolin monks say, so that I can get to a peak level of health and fitness that will carry me through a summer of heavy, physical training.

There’s a lot about doing this that I’m going to enjoy, but it will not be easy to get from my current state of fitness to something that will survive an endurance event. Fortunately, spring is nearly here! The temps have risen steadily during the last week. The snow is melting. The birds are back (we saw geese yesterday)! I’m feeling a lot more motivated to take care of business knowing that the end of the dark time is at hand.

Gearing up for this triathlon has reminded me that fitness, like so much in life, is cyclical. Longtime endurance athletes already know this, but I’d forgotten it until recently. It puts a lot of things into perspective, though. Consider the following provision of Murphy’s Law: That it takes months and months to get to peak fitness (or any fitness, for that matter), but only days to lose it. If fitness is cyclical, then the body simply cannot maintain a high level of peak fitness indefinitely. Whew! Doesn’t that make you feel better knowing that you were never supposed to keep the chisled, bikini-ready physique you worked so hard for last year? Me either. But at least now I know how to approach my weight, fitness and workout routines. If our bodies maintain fitness highs and lows, I can prepare for that. I can even figure out how to maintain a high base level of fitness for a long period of time that will fluctuate with things like the seasons, stress, illness and injury.

Realizing this cyclical nature of fitness has really opened my eyes again to how I need to train for this event, and how I need to approach exercise differently in general. I used to work hard to get into peak shape and push, push, push to hold onto it for as long as I could. If I got derailed for some reason, I’d end up going all the way back to the starting block. I don’t have to do that anymore. Now I know that, if I plan to work toward a particular event (in this case, a triathlon), I’ll get fit much faster than if I don’t. Once the event is over, I need to be prepared for a decline in fitness, but I don’t need simply to go all the way back to base fitness. I can come down slowly by training lightly after the event so that I actually end up at a higher level of base fitness than I would otherwise.

The thing I really have to do is make the commitment to be active every day. It’s something that, like blogging, I’ve been struggling with, especially during the most stressful time of year--the dark season. Last year I did better with it than I have for a long time, but I still got into that depressing funk that often leaves me completely unmotivated to do anything but vegetate. I’m committed to doing better this year.

This brings me back to cycles—well, to cycling at least. Of the three disciplines involved in a triathlon, cycling is my strongest by far. It’s the one I can do most easily during the winter because I have a trainer in my office onto which I can attach my racing bike. I’ve gotten back into the saddle over the last several weeks, and it’s been a great help in helping me get started. It’s the activity I like to turn to first, for solo fitness. I’ve already hit 100 miles, and I’m excited to see 1,000 by the end of the summer.

What do you do for fitness? Do you enjoy being physically active? Do you play sports (competitive or individual, casual or more than that)? I get that not many people would be interested in endurance sports, but I’m curious to know how different people feel about exercise and such in general.


Mrs. Chili said...

I DON'T dig endurance sports. I understand why people do it, but I don't feel the need for that sort of thing for myself.

I am reasonably physically active, though I could do more (couldn't we all?!). I currently teach four yoga classes a week and one step class, though I realize that I need far more cardio than I'm getting.

One of my plans is to start walking once the weather breaks - I've got a couple of playlists on the iPod that are perfect for good, brisk walks. I'll walk Beanie to school on the days that I'm not teaching and do a few laps around the track behind the school before I take the long way home. I should be able to get in twenty or so miles a week - that can only be good.

Laurie B said...

Good for you Wayfarer!

This year I've been an office chair potato, or a sit in the hot tub potato. Neither of which has done one good thing for my strength and conditioning. I'm very relaxed though!

I've just agreed to go back to work at my local golf course a few days a week (once they start doing the Spring clean up stuff) and the research we do for the LU will get us outside and bending and lifting and walking pretty soon. Tai chi is a wonderful internal practice and my balance is much better than it was, but it isn't a cardio workout at all.

I'm with mrschili, walking is on the list but without the playlist.

Kizz said...

I hate working out. Hate it and have come to realize that I'm never going to like it, that's just the way it is. I don't get any sort of enjoyment or thrill out of feeling the stretch or the burn. Also, I'm clumsy. I may have broken my toe last night...going to bed. Yeah, really.

I take a low/no impact dance class once a week and I do enjoy becoming better at what she's teaching but I'd be lying if I didn't wait on that floor every week and hope that she calls in sick so I'd have an excuse not to go. I also walk. A lot. Probably a little over 2 miles a day.

The Grammar Snob said...

I'm going to get you in touch with Mr. Snob....he's a biker, a runner, a tennis player. Oh, and he had open heart surgery a mere 8 months ago!

Wayfarer said...

Chili and Laurie, I'm with you on walking. No matter what time of year, it is the one activity that seems to give me the greatest benefits to health and sanity. It's too cold to go running, but I will still bundle up and go for a brisk 40 minute walk!

Kizz, I'm so sorry about your toe! I think being active is all about doing what's fun. It's a whole lot easier to do stuff when it releases all that lovely dopamine. I get, though, how for some people running or whatever just doesn't do that.

GS, I look forward to the introducion!