Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shadow of My Former Self

It's been a strange winter season. In previous years, I'd stop riding "sporty bikes" some time in December, and not start again till late March. Both winters, I would gain about 10lb over that period of relative inactivity, which I'd then easily lose before June. No big deal, and I expected the same to happen this time. Instead, when I took a break from roadcycling a few weeks ago, I began to lose weight. At first I was glad: looking slender instead of dumpy, what's not to like! Must be all that skating and walking.

But deep down I knew that it wasn't true. I was probably losing weight because I was losing the muscle mass I'd built up roadcycling. And that meant that once I did get back on the bike I would be weaker than when I'd left off. Considering that I am doing this in just over a month, that isn't good. Still, for a woman who has never been an athlete before it is very difficult to break the "weight loss = great!" association. I did not take my own sense of foreboding seriously enough.

...Until I emerged out of hibernation and went on a 12 mile ride in a strong headwind a few days ago. Yikes am I in trouble. Winded, legs hurting, just overall ridiculous. And it's been only weeks off the bike, with some half-hearted trainer attempts in the meantime. Let me tell you, I've never been so unhappy to fit into a smaller jeans size. I want my legs back!

33 comments:

  1. Great, I've suspended cycling a few weeks, too, concentrating on a walking program, while wondering how big a chance I was taking on losing training fitness for cycling. The walking has been great after a weak start and now I've really gotten strong and quicker at that. Also thinking that only gaining a few pounds was pretty decent tradeoff but sweating whether it would be at sacrifice at cycling fitness. Now, you've raised an ugly specter that it's muscle I've lost. Well, my bud's coming into town today from the Bay area with a new bike and so I'll find out how bad the news is when we do some rides together. I guess on the good side, you've prepared me for the jolt!

    BTW. hope you're coming out to the arid West a little in advance of your Furnace Creek soiree so that you can get acclimated.
    Jim Duncan

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  2. This is what it is all about: the body - condition and strenght ot the bicyclist! The bicycle talk we all love is a part of our motivation, isn´t it? But the thing that matters when we are on the road is our condition.

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  3. It's funny, because I've just been noticing the last couple of months that my pants are fitting more tightly in the thighs :) Must be all the riding that 45lb bike into the headwinds :)

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  4. Don't freak out. It's going to come back faster than you will believe. Really.

    Spindizzy

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  5. Well, you can work on switching those figure skates for speed skates and that'll maintain -- and grow -- muscle mass. in fact you'll need larger jeans :)

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  6. It will come back soon enough. It will not take the same effort to get it back that it did to get it in the first place.
    But still, it's better not to lose it in the first place. This has been a pretty mild winter; it's a shame not to get out in it.

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    1. I know. It was pretty good until late Jan. The patches of ice on the roads scared me off and I decided to take a break for a few weeks. Still, this is more roadcycling I ever expected to do in winter; it was a great "off season."

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  7. Just a general note here:
    I recently came upon your work and enjoy the writing and photos. I am new to cycles. It will be nice to draw advice and inspiration from you.
    Thank you,
    Jefe

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  8. Don't you have a spinning setup inside your home for winter time?

    That is the best way to stay in shape for summer riding.

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    Replies
    1. I had my bike up on a trainer, yes. Did I use it? Well...

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  9. I can understand your tradeoff, fat, muscle loss is a balancing act. Incorporating a short 3 mile run and doing speed intervals is great to maintain your muscle mass. Lifting dumb bells, try 10 lbs at first is another way to keep your arms strong for "sport" riding. For better or worse a long commute this winter is about all it takes for me to keep trim. The prairie winds seem to blow in all four directions which makes things interesting! Sprinkle in a couple weekend 3 mile runs and I'm ready for some touring this spring and summer. P.S. having four bicycles set up with the same handlebar keeps my muscle "memory" intact so that transitioning between road, commuter and single speed is virtually stress free. google REV2 handlebar for more info.

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  10. BeLOIEVE me,having been off the bike a bit (and only sporadically on the bike when on) myself,I feel you,my friend! :(

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  11. Of course you'll get tired in a strong headwind especially if you try to go fast going say 6 m/s in a 6 m/s headwind is like biking at 12 m/s in no wind. However people relate their speed to their surroundings and will inevitably push to hard in a headwind and get lactic acid buildup.
    A few weeks off shouldn't have a large negative effect.
    Just don't go all out and train for the Death Valley thing right up until the end, rest a few days before the event and eat lots. That way you'll be rested and you'll have filled up your muscle with glycogen.

    If you want to stop muscle atrophy add some reps of heavy exercise for the relevant muscle (jumping as high as you can from a crouch can work in a pinch). Combine this with some intervals on the trainer like 15 min warm up, 3-4 min (if you can handle it) of intense pedaling (preferably at 90-95% of maximum heart rate) pedal slow for a few minutes do another 3-4 min, repeat, you should be able to do it like 4 times (4min*4), then cycle slowly for another 10-15 min or so. If you feel like throwing up you are going to hard. 2 of these per week should help in keeping your stamina. Another good exercise is running up lots stairs fast (don't run down).
    The good thing about these kinds of intense exercises is that they are more time effective which is good on boring trainers etc.
    For lots of people Death Valley will probably be the start of their cycling season why not see it as a chance to get back into shape instead of having to "perform". Chances are you'll go to hard at the start of the camp and you might not be able to enjoy it fully.

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  12. Try a well motivated spin class and you'll get indoor miles in and put some serious sweat on the floor,its a quick fix to get your legs in shape if you don't have a lot of time to ride or the weather prevents you from riding. When get out find the biggest hills and put some hurt on! Glenn in the NW Being from zona watch out for the dry desert and nose bleeds.

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  13. Don't worry you will be back up to pace within one or two weeks, provided that you are just riding casually. Anyway, what is the point of weighting yourself? That scale is now for bicycle equipment... ;)

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    1. Good point and I don't actually weigh myself, just notice that all my clothing is loose. Too bad there is no English verb equivalent of "to slender up" like the French maigrir.

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  14. With the strange winter you have had an extended season to ride your road bike. Don't worry about it as you will bounce back quickly. Your body has now been trained for a certain amount of output and strangth and it will remember. For years when I did not bike in the winter because it did not occur to me to(and I lived in brutal winterland), I had long months of being snow bound. It only ever took a week or so to get back the leg strength and I would swim and walk over the winter to keep fit. If you are not adverse to indoor swimming pools(icky chlorine germs and I all I know-iiick!) you could swim instead. My husband just got a kinetic trainer and it's great, but he's too exhausted when he gets home from work to really go at it, and year round we bike the same distances as always, so muscle loss isn't the issue. So far it is a nice stand for the beautiful bianchi. So, hop on the trainer!

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  15. Shawn and I have now been home longer than we were on our tour last year. I don't have a job, and the grocery store and the place I go to yoga are both within a short walk, so I can have a whole week go by when I don't get on the bicycle at all, and I have almost totally lost all that fitness that was so hard-won. I guess there was no way to really keep it up unless I was willing to ride 50-mile days on a fully loaded bike 6 days out of 7...

    But losing it all was depressing. And I have gained about ten pounds.

    I want to train for a 200k brevet, though. I should probably give myself a specific event to train for, a few months from now. Tomorrow I'm going on a short-ish training ride with a good steep hill in the middle, just to get off my butt and get started!

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  16. Thin is good. The less the mass, the easier the ascent of Hells Gate.

    Track sprinters look like conventional musclemen. Or a lot of them do. There are also skinny competitive sprinters. Most racers are drastically skinny.

    This sport accommodates a huge range of body types. If you think like a sport rider it really doesn't matter. By any standard you are slender and lighter than most of us.

    If you want to think like a performance rider then be happy you lost the weight and try to regain form without the weight.

    Last season's bulking up may have happened because you started from a low base. More generally bulking up comes from resistance training. Which equates in cycling to pushing big gears. Bulky muscles are not much desirable for cycling. If you are a performance rider now low gears and light weight will always be better. Unless and until you want to be a sprinter.

    At your age coming back to form takes a few weeks. You can afford to not worry about winter slumps for another decade.

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    1. I was definitely pushing high gears.

      How does one "regain form without the weight"?...

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    2. Spin, spin, spin.....

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    3. Anon 2:47 succinctly has it right. Try going on group rides that push your limit. Stay in back, keep out of the wind, and roll it out at 100-110rpm. Try for even higher before you shift. It's very difficult to stay on target for this on solo rides.

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  17. I know what you're feeling! I swear some of my trousers feel tighter now in the upper thigh - but the scales don't say I've put on weight and the little bits of definition tell me it's not fat! It's annoying, but it's good, and it's hard to reconcile the two!

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  18. Love the shadow picture! But it looks like you're wearing a dress? And what bike is that?

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    1. Wearing a dress and a frilly jacket; riding a Mercian.

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    2. 'frilly,' love that word! what's it decorated with?

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    3. The shadow picture is not from my 12 mile windy ride, I was just riding my fixed gear bike around town. I was wearing the jacket pictured here, with a short stretchy skirt and wool tights.

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    4. So you don't have a problem riding the Mercian in a skirt?

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    5. Oddly no. I raised the handlebars a bit, and despite the drop bars that bicycle is surprisingly versatile. I've been riding it around town for exercise whenever I have a spare half hour, in whatever I happen to be wearing at the time.

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    6. cool. thanks :)

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  19. The same thing happened to me, except the part where I was in shape to begin with. I was in very below-average shape until I sat out bike riding for about 10 weeks and then this weekend went out for a very easy ride. It didn't help that I was playing with my seat height so kept stopping every 2 miles to adjust my seat (and thus work a whole different set of un-used muscles.)

    A lot of people like yoga in Seattle - maybe that could help. I can't do yoga very well but I do like it OK (even though everyone says everyone can do yoga).

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  20. My brother is a pretty dedicated cyclist and he also weight trains at the gym. This approach seems to keep him in condition, even when the weather isn't exactly favorable.

    I've been weight training at the gym for almost 20 years, though it may not be obvious. I've found that it really helps me physically and mentally. (I can probably bench press more than my computer oriented nephew.) I also do brisk walks with my dog.
    So my exercise program includes the gym workouts, walking, and biking depending upon the circumstances. I think it's important to have a varied fitness program and not just rely on one activity for conditioning.

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