To improve or even to maintain fitness, do you have to hurt yourself whilst training? I’m not training for any other reason than to enable me to continue to enjoy sport, especially mountain biking. Since, due to my age, I’m past my athletic peak it’s more about stopping the decline in my ability being too rapid. I currently want to improve my fitness after I noticed that I wasn’t as competitive as I was over the last couple of years so I need to up my training. It was our 29th wedding anniversary yesterday so it seemed rude to go out when we should be enjoying each others company, so it’s been 8 days since I rode my bike. I did, however, have the toughest ever trip in my pedal powered boat in the middle of the week and even considered another sail today but soon decided that a bike ride would be best.
I wanted today’s ride to be worthwhile training so chose to ride 5 off road laps of my nearest hill, Healey Nab. Each lap has around 200 feet of ascent on a variety of gradients and it’s a great place to test yourself with a number of timed laps. Today, though, my intention was to work hard from the start of the ride, vary the effort and stop only occasionally. Riding at various levels of effort without stopping for rests will, I’m assured, encourage my body to learn to recover from periods of hard work. This ability to recover is very important when riding off road in our area because there are plenty of steep climbs, which take no prisoners. I’d hate to lose the ability to attempt some of my favourite routes through a decline in fitness. I could feel the accumulated effort by the second lap and wondered if I might have a more enjoyable ride if I only completed one more lap. I thought that 3 laps wouldn’t fulfill the function of the ride. It just wouldn’t be hard enough which has all too often been the problem with my rides over the last 18 months so I thought I should ride at least 4 laps.
I have got used to spinning the pedals at around 90 rpm but was making sure that I still felt the effort in my muscles. I think I got too used to riding at a higher cadence, which promotes breathing, but not working those muscles hard enough by simply not using enough turning force. Today I kept the pedals spinning but also worked them hard and realised that if I really do want to get fitter I need to be exhausted by the end of the ride. I did slow down a little and reduce the effort later on but completed 5 laps. The last climb was tough but I was willing to suffer what could be described as pain to get to the top for the final thrilling downhill.
No pain, no gain? Well it’s self inflicted pain so I was in control of just how bad it was going to be. I also knew that when I stopped pushing myself as hard I’d get the fulfilling glow of all those endorphins flowing around my system. As I write this an hour after my ride I still have a good feeling that you can’t get (or maybe shouldn’t get) from anything which you can buy in a bottle. I’ll take the pain any day, if that’s what it truly is, to gain a good feeling and a boost to my fitness.