Use It Or Lose It

Not riding much lately, and I can really feel it. Not as fast, way less endurance.One of the side effects my kitchen remodeling project is having — besides disrupting our meals and our household routines — is its effect on my cycling. Often, when I would expect to head out for an hour or so, I’ve had to scrap the ride to be at home when the carpenters or painters were in. Although my wife runs her business from our home office, she spends time nearly every day out of the house, making sales calls or running events. My riding has effectively been cut back to Saturdays and Sundays only.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be a big deal, but on Saturday’s ride, I could really feel it. I chose a neighborhood route that would net about 19-20 miles. It’s mostly a flat route, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Whenever I did try to put some effort into my pedaling, nothing happened. On the Veloway, where I push it in a couple of sections, I was halfway through those sections before I realized I wasn’t pushing.

A glance at my bike computer showed my average speed for the route was well below my usual. And to top it all off, a feeling of tiredness washed over me. I couldn’t wait to wrap up the ride and head home.

My poor performance could be ascribed to a variety of causes. My diet lately is terrible, since we’re getting take out for dinner every night. My weight hasn’t suffered as much as I thought it would — I’ve gained three pounds — but the food isn’t doing much to build my reserves. My hours have been thrown off because of the remodeling project, and I’ve been getting about an hour’s less sleep than I should. And finally, as I alluded to a few posts ago, I’m just not riding as much.

The lesson is: Use it or lose it. The falloff in my riding has caused me to lose my certain level of performance. Not that I’m fast or anything — I’m not, as regular readers of this blog know well — but to feel that I’m putting out more effort on gentle hills, and climb them even slower, hurts.

What’s the cure? That’s easy — ride. I got out early for my Sunday morning ride. This was done solo, because I had to be home earlier than the club ride would get me there. It was much hillier than the Saturday ride. And you know what? I attacked the hills with verve. I shifted one gear higher on the flats, and got up out of the saddle to get a good start.

The good news is — even with a period of sub-par performance, getting back to normal is fairly easy to do. I’m looking forward to better riding in the weeks to come.

Cycling With Gout

I am proud to note that once again, I am suffering from the “Disease of Kings.” Yep, I have another gout flare up.

I have had them before, but this time, it’s different. This is my third attack in about four weeks. The first one lasted only 24 hours. The second one was with me a full week. This one got me on Friday, and we’ll see how long it lasts.

Gout is the crystallization of uric acid around a joint — often the big toe. That’s what I’ve been dealing with. It swells the joint, inflames it, hurts when it’s touched, and makes walking difficult. It’s accompanied by quite a lot of pain.

Walking the dogs around the block this evening was agony. I’m not looking forward to going in to work Monday — I’ll have to connive to stay parked at my desk, rather than walk around the building. Thank goodness I don’t have to move between buildings on Mondays.

A shot of my two feet shows right away which one is afflicted. The left foot is swollen around the joint, and the swelling has moved up the instep a bit, too. (I stood on the sides of my feet a little to show off the problem better.)

gout

But there’s one activity that isn’t adversely affected by gout: cycling. I did a short ride with my wife Saturday morning, and was looking forward to getting out again Sunday. I was even able to cut the grass, wearing fairly stiff-soled hiking shoes. But inactivity makes the pain worse, and when I got up Sunday morning, I could hardly move. I made an excuse to skip the club ride, but pledged that when I had medicated myself and had a decent breakfast, I would ride.

I decided to stay relatively close to home, in case things didn’t work out as I’d hoped. I needn’t have worried. The rigid soles of cycling shoes are great for gout sufferers, because they inhibit the toe joint from hinging. I did a couple of quick laps around the Veloway, attacked a hill going back into the neighborhood, and racked up a nice 26-mile ride before calling it quits.

After showering and getting dressed, I found that I could walk more easily than I could earlier. The increased circulation of blood from the cycling must have had a salubrious effect. It was only after several hours parked in front of the TV watching football that I reverted to the agony of Saturday night. I limped around the block with the pooches, and downed some Ibuprofen for the third time when I got home.

When you get a gout attack, odds are good that you’ll get more. Now, my job is to control the level of uric acid in my blood. Cherries are supposed to help. There are some foods I should minimize. One of the worst things for uric acid turns out to be beer. Cutting beer — even temporarily — will be my biggest adjustment (I really enjoy drinking craft beers!).

Various cycling forums are loaded with posts from gout-suffering cyclists, so I know I’m by no means alone. I’ve taken heed of some of their tips, and will be checking with my physician at my annual physical in a few weeks to see what else he might recommend — there are some effective pharmaceuticals for the treatment of gout.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to a more-or-less regular cycling schedule. Maybe that will speed up my recovery.

Want to Lose Weight? Try Short Sprints

We all probably have different reasons for riding bikes. It keeps us fit, it’s fun, it’s good for the environment, yadda yadda — but I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of people who ride and throw off all kinds of weight as a result.

I gotta be honest — that hasn’t happened to me (although I’m sure it’s not biking’s fault). But then, I happened upon a report of a study done in Australia that tried to find the least amount of exercise you can do for the biggest impact. Forget long slow distance. It’s sprinting.

sweatyThe researchers studied 40 overweight men for 12 weeks — and put them on spin bikes. The men exercised three times a week, but their routines were strenuous — they’d sprint for eight seconds, then pedal easy for 12 seconds, then repeat — for 20 minutes. Now, I’ve done intervals from time to time in the past, but I’d go hard for at least 30 seconds before slowing down. It’s hard to believe that a repeat as short as eight seconds would have any effect.

It did. In the study, the participants lost an average of two kilograms of fat — about four and half pounds — and gained 1.1 kg in muscle mass. Spread over a week, you’re only working hard for eight minutes if you try this regimen.

What’s cool is that the fat loss came where it’s most critical — in the fat that surrounds internal organs and is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. A control group that did no exercise lost no weight. Both groups were told to stick with their regular diets.

Although this study involved only men, previous studies have reportedly shown similar results in women.

On the bike yesterday afternoon, I thought I’d give the short sprints a try. I didn’t put a clock to it, but I did count off “One Mississippi, two Mississippi,” up to eight as I pedaled hard, then counted the same way to twelve while pedaling easy. It was weird. By the time I got up to full speed, it was time to back off. The twelve count goes by fast too, and I had to get up on the pedals again. In order to reach the speed I was targeting, I stood on the pedals for four seconds, then sat for the remaining four.

Eight seconds of effort doesn’t tire you out. But cumulatively, you feel it. I did the exercise over a mile-and-a-half stretch of straight road, then stopped when I came to a red light. That didn’t get me the 20 minutes of exercise the study participants did, but it did give me a feel for the effort. I have a hunch that 20 minutes would really make itself felt.

The short, fast sprinting is supposed to work on two levels: it releases a group of hormones that cause muscles to burn fat, and it keeps lactic acid release to a minimum.

Once I’m fully recovered from the effects of my fall (riding is really helping speed up that process, by the way), I intend to try the 8/12 repeats on a more structured basis. It’s a kind of riding I’ve never really done, but the novelty of the approach might make it interesting. I hope so. After my short sprint tryout yesterday, my weight today was one pound more.

Time to Drop Some Poundage

Today’s club ride went out on the Fitzhugh route again. I say again, because we just did it two weeks ago, and we don’t usually repeat a route so soon. But after yesterday’s rain, the weather forecast called for stiff wind from the northwest, so our club president suggested a route that would give us a tailwind on the way home.

I felt good about riding Fitzhugh. Last time, I had little trouble with the rollers that characterize the route, and felt strong for most of the ride. But with only one other B rider showing up, in a group of 24, I figured I’d be hard-pressed to keep the peloton in sight.

We did a good job of sticking with the group until we got into Granada Hills, a neighborhood about three or four miles from the start. As its name implies, it’s not flat. Pretty soon, I saw the last of the pack rounding a corner at the top of a hill and disappearing. By the time Brian (the other B rider) and I got to the intersection with U.S. 290 that marks the end of Granada Hills, they had lost us completely.

That was okay. Fitzhugh is an out-and-back route, and I knew we would meet up with them again as they were on their return leg. But I was a bit concerned about my riding today. I didn’t anywhere near the pep I had the last time, and it was a struggle for me to top the rollers.

We made it out to the intersection of Ranch Road 12, which is the traditional turnaround for B riders. I’ve gone beyond before, and rode out to the A turnaround, but didn’t feel like it today. I was tiring already, and we had to battle the rollers on the way back. On top of it, a light mist was coating our glasses, and it looked like we would be contending with wet conditions on the way back.

Brian and I took turns in the lead on the way back. I was well warmed up by now, even though the temperature was falling, if anything. I found it a little easier to pull myself up the hills. But when we got to the gas station at Fitzhugh and 290, I was glad to stop a bit.

In a couple of minutes, another of our group pulled in. New York John doesn’t like to ride in the rain, and he turned back before the rest of the A group. We set off for home.

John took the lead most of the way. He’s smaller than me, and his bike is lighter. While he pedaled at a good pace, it wasn’t too fast for Brian and I to keep up with. But on one slight uphill stretch, John easily cruised well ahead of us.

Brian has an excuse. He works on offshore oil rigs, and doesn’t get a chance to ride regularly. “When I’m home, I ride every day,” he said. “But it seems like I can’t get any better. I’ve got my pace, and that’s it.”

I, on the other hand, do have a regular riding routine. I haven’t been getting better either, but today bothered me. I just didn’t have the energy to keep up with John. And I had to confront the unhappy reason for that. I’m overweight.

Right now, my weight is more than it’s been all summer.  It’s clear that I finally have to do something about it, because I know from experience that if I were to drop just 10 pounds, I’d be riding better.

So that’s what I’m going to work on. I want to drop 20 pounds by the end of the year. It’ll be difficult, but I think I can do it. I promise I won’t turn this into a weight loss blog, but I will let you know from time to time how I’m doing.

There’s Hope For Us All

For the last few days, I’ve been kinda down about cycling. Some minor equipment malfunctions, some nagging aches, and less time in the saddle because of the requirements of the job have combined to push cycling out of the foreground of my consciousness. But then I come across an article that convinces me to get out there and ride — and keep riding.

You’ve heard of Senior Olympics. It turns out those games have cycling events. It never occurred to me that that might be a possibility. All you have to do for inspiration is scan the results columns or find some pictures.

Link Lindquist

For example, I discovered Link Lindquist when I came across the results for the USA Cycling Road National Championships held early this month in Bend, Oregon. Link took third in the Individual Time Trial, over an 18-kilometer course. But he didn’t stop there. He was also the oldest competitor in the criterium portion of the championships, where he also placed third. Link is 84.

That’s pretty impressive. But he still has some catching up to do. Dave Ward of Massachusetts was still competing — and winning his age class — at the age of 91. Here he is (right) at that age in the 2007 Senior Olympics.

What? You’re not up for racing now, you say, and you’re certainly not going to be up for it when you’re in your 90s. I can relate. That’s pretty much my attitude right now. I like to go for longish relaxed rides, where I’m not worried about putting the miles behind me. If I can explore new areas while doing so, so much the better.

Well, there are a number of bicycle touring companies that offer tours for seniors. In the case of bikers, that means anyone over 50 years old. The tours are well supported, and in many cases offer posh accommodations. But plenty of people opt to head out on their own.

Bike clubs are certainly an option. I’m in a club with several 60-plus riders, and we all generally do pretty well. We’re not going to keep with with the A group — uh, come to think of it, several of those 60-plus riders are in the A group!

Tom Goodwin

In fact, you might find your club’s ride leader is in the senior-senior category. The Sacramento (Calif.) Wheelmen’s Tuesday and Thursday morning rides are led by Tom Goodwin. He’s 83. According to his fellow riders, he can still kick butt on younger riders in the hills.

I might not kick butt when I’m 83. I might not even go on group rides anymore. But you can bet I’ll still be riding a bike when I’m that age.

Heck, I think I just came out of my funk. I’ve gotta get out there this weekend and attack some hills. And ride far. And just ride.

It’s Amazing How Fast You Get Out of Shape

Rode this afternoon with my wife. It was my first ride in a week. In fact, it seems that the only riding I’ve been doing for the last month has been on the weekends, and this week, I didn’t even ride Saturday, because of a day trip out of town.

All that time off the bike is finally catching up with me. Man, am I out of shape! The out of town trip was to visit some relatives, and four of my cousins were there – so we took the obligatory cousins pic.

I’m not running it on the blog, out of deference to them. Suffice to say, it shows five American males in their mid to late 50s, all with substantial girth. In a couple of cases, the gut hangs over the belt buckle.

My wife looked at it, and said, “Well, you have the skinniest gut of them all.” Her definition of skinny differs from mine. I ain’t skinny. I suppose I am the least rotund.

My weight, which usually goes up in winter anyway, is true to form.  I’m about 10 pounds over my good summer biking weight.

That contributed to the way I felt on today’s ride. Oh, I felt good enough – but it seemed that I was putting much more effort into the ride than I normally would.

Disirregardless, the ride served as a needed wake up call.  I know I can get back on track by doing two simple things:

Riding more.

Eating less (junk).

All the nifty organized rides that I want to be on have opened registration. Time to start signing up. Time to get back in shape.

What’s Your Biggest Health Improvement From Biking?

I picked up my mountain bike from my neighborhood bike mechanic this evening.  It had been shifting poorly, and he took care of it.  Getting the bike was important to me, because I’m still not riding my road bike.

In case you missed it, the front derailleur on my road bike broke over a week ago.  I haven’t received the replacement yet.  Maybe it’ll be all set in time for the weekend.

But as long as I have one bike in operating condition, that’s a good thing.  Because biking is good for me.

How do I know?  I look at the numbers.

I recently had my annual physical exam.  I have some health issues that I pay close attention to.  My cholesterol has been high as long as I can remember.  So has my blood pressure.

I could count on a typical blood pressure reading of around 151/90.  My cholesterol used to be as high as 250.

Just 36 hours after I rode in the Outlaw Trail 100 last month, my BP was 113/69.  A year or so ago, my doctor would have been happy to get it to around 135/85.  In fact, for awhile, that was our target.  Now, we’re shooting for much lower readings.  I’m normally in the 120/80 vicinity these days.

Is it all because of biking?

Not completely.  I’m on blood pressure medication, but at my last physical, the doc told me to stop taking one of the two types of pills I was on.  He says that while the meds brought the BP down, it’s the biking that is keeping it in the target zone.

He was also pleasantly surprised to note that my resting heart rate is 56.  That’s all due to biking.

Ditto the cholesterol.  I take medicine for that, too, but it’s the smallest dose made — 5 milligrams.  The doc says it might as well be a placebo.  He credits biking and diet for my recent big drop.  Oh, I forgot to mention — it’s now 158.

(I’m still not super careful about diet, but I do eat smaller portions than before, and I don’t snack as much.)

How about weight?

I don’t have a super weight-loss story to tell, but I have lost about 12 pounds from what it was at the beginning of the year.  One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get below 200 pounds.  I’ve done that, but I didn’t stay there.  Right now, I flirt with it.  By year’s end, I should be there permanently.  More gratifying to me than the weight loss is the girth loss. I’ve gone from pants with a 40-inch waist to pants with a 38-inch waist.  And depending upon the brand of pants, some of those 38s are fitting too loosely.

So that’s why I was glad to get one of my bikes in operating condition this week.  I’ll be out on it soon.  While the main reason I bike is for the fun of it, the health benefits can’t be ignored — especially at my age.

How about you?  What kind of health benefits have you enjoyed as a result of your biking?

 

I Must Be Improving

Sometimes, I feel that the last three years on the bike haven’t been leading up to much. Oh, I can tell my fitness is getting better, and I can climb hills that I couldn’t climb a year ago, but overall, I don’t feel I’m any great shakes on two wheels.

Then a weekend like this one comes along.

Bike Noob in a group during the MS150.

Saturday morning, Pat and I took a newbie friend out on the Mopac loop. Usually, I sprint ahead of Pat and wait for her at several points along the route. This day was no exception. But when I stopped at the top of a long downhill, I saw Pat’s friend, Cynthia,  coming up on me faster than I had expected. She went by me before I could get clipped in. Another rider was coming up fast too, but I pulled out ahead of him and started to gather speed on the downhill.

I glanced over my shoulder, and the other guy had grabbed my wheel.  “Okay,” I said to myself, “let’s see what you’ve got.” We caught and passed Cynthia doing 31 mph and getting faster.  I got into an aero tuck, and pushed in my highest gear. When I reached the big left bend at the bottom of the hill, I looked back again.  The guy wasn’t there.

I waited for Pat and Cynthia at the top of another hill.  A rider in a blue U.S. Postal jersey led Cyn up the hill to me.  When he pulled even, I asked, “How ya doin’?”  He seemed surprised.  “Fine,” he said, and he spun by easily in a high cadence.

Once Pat caught us, we set out again. We caught U.S. Postal, and both Cyn and I passed him.  A little farther on, Cyn said, “That was funny when he decided to draft you.”

“That was the guy?” I asked. “He was there, and suddenly he wasn’t. I thought he might have crashed.”

“Nah,” she said. “He ran out of gas, and just stopped pedaling.”

This morning, we were together again at another Mamma Jamma training ride.  Pat was doing the 22-mile route, Cynthia, her friend Liz, and I were doing the 37-miler.  I knew from past experience that Pat would be waiting about an hour for us, and I didn’t want to keep her too long.

We got out into the country, and I fell into a comfortable pace. But that pace put me well ahead of the rest of the 37-mile group. I made it to a convenience store about nine miles into the ride, where I stopped to wait. The 46-milers, who had started a little before us, were just pulling out.

I decided I wouldn’t push too hard for the rest of the ride, and when we got started again, I fell in behind several others.  But my comfortable pace took over again, and pretty soon I was out in front.  I stopped at an intersection another five miles along, and waited for everyone to regroup.

Again we set out.  Again, I went into the lead.  I raced a dog that wanted to get in some speed work. I waited for the group one more time before we pulled back into the convenience store for another break.

The ride leader seemed content to lolligag at the convenience store, and it must have been another 15 minutes before we finally pulled out. He and I separated from the group quickly. When we reached a turn three miles down the road, he said he would regroup again. I told him I was going on.

I got back into my comfortable pace, and soon caught some of the laggards from the 46-mile group — then some more.  When I got to the starting point, Pat told me she had waited more than an hour. I loaded up the bikes and we pulled out — with no sign of the other 37-milers.

Sometimes when I ride with my club, I get discouraged about my lack of progress.  I’m always bringing up the rear.  This weekend, I was out in front so much I felt out of place.  My average speed was 15.1 yesterday, and 15.5 today, so I’m not burning up the road. But I wasn’t tired, never was short of breath, and felt good throughout both rides. It might not always seem like it, but I’m a better rider than I used to be.

Cycling and Heart Health

The news was stunning. A member of my bike club emailed word that a local man prominent in cycling circles had a massive heart attack while leading a morning group ride today. The news hit close to home, because while I didn’t know him well, he was the guy who taught the Road I course I took two years ago.

A passing motorist gave CPR, and paramedics got him to a hospital where he was put into an induced coma. One of the arteries to his heart had a 100 percent blockage, and doctors made a temporary opening to get blood to his heart.

It was eerily similar to what happened to Belgian cycling star Kim Kirchen during the Tour of Switzerland in June. He, too, had to go under an induced coma. Kirchen is now out of the hospital.

I thought cycling was supposed to make us invincible.

It turns out that endurance athletes might face serious heart risks of their own — partly because they’re in better shape.  As an article on Active.com by Dr. John Mandrola points out, cyclists are more likely to have a 20 percent blockage than the 80 percent blockage often suffered by couch potatoes. But that 20 percent blockage is more likely to lead to a heart attack, because it is more likely to cause blood to clot on it.

Hm. Never knew that. Okay, I’ve never really paid much attention to food. In fact, my wife often complains that I eat like a teenager.

That’s about to change. I’ve enjoyed the effects of losing some weight lately; but that’s stalled out for the time being. Time to get back on track. Time to notice what I put in my body. Time to get serious about total health, not just exercise. And time to recognize that while I’m relatively healthy, I am not invincible.