In yesterday’s blog (my weekly cutting progress report) I briefly mentioned that over the weekend I went on a 3+ hour, 26-mile mountain biking trip. This wound up being a noteworthy ride for several different reasons, so this morning I want to talk about it in a bit more detail.
When I woke up Saturday morning I was feeling great! I was in the mood for a long bike ride, and I wanted to put my cardio improvements to another test. I decided to do my favorite cardio-oriented ride, which is a total of 26 miles: 8 miles paved, 18 miles off-road at Wekiwa Springs State Park. You may recall that the last time I rode this trail (about 3 weeks ago), I was surprised to find that the improvements to my cardio were not as drastic as I thought they would be. Also, there is a ~2.7 mile section of trail that is particularly challenging from a cardio standpoint (lots of big roots, thick mud, wet leaves and so forth) that I like use as a timed speed run. Three weeks ago when I did this timed speed run I finished a full minute off my personal record, which I found very surprising (and disappointing).
Before I talk about the ride, I need to note that on Saturday I wore my Timex Ironman Heart Rate Monitor for the very first time on a mountain biking trip. I found the data it provided useful and fascinating, and will be wearing the HR monitor on all future bike rides.
The first four miles of my 26-mile journey are paved. For the most part the paved portion of this ride serves as a fairly easy warm-up for the off-road stuff ahead, but there are two fairly challenging climbs along the way. As I crested the second major hill I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling. I wanted to push harder and harder, and the energy I needed was just there. The feeling was indescribably good. I could already tell it was going to be an incredible ride.
The first part of the trail has a lot of sugar sand and some hills. I was pushing the pace pretty good, and less than 1/2 mile into the off-road part of the ride I glanced down at my heart rate monitor: 183 BPM. I was breathing fairly hard, but the cool thing is that I didn’t feel winded or at all tired. As I continued my heart rate never fell below 160, and it hit 190-191 a few times as I plowed through some of the tougher areas.
This may sound silly, but I love it when I’m riding through the long stretches of uphill sugar sand and I see bike tire tracks with shoe footprints alongside them. I’m so competitive that the mere indication that someone failed to make it through the sand pushes me harder. There was a time when I could not make it through all the sand without stopping, but that was a long time ago. I remember the first time I made it through the entire ride out there without needing to dismount… man, that was a great feeling! I’ve become so adept at dealing with sugar sand that I can’t even remember the last time had to briefly drop a paw out there, let alone dismount.
So when I got to Marker 18 (the starting point of my 2.7 mile speed run), I stopped for a couple of minutes to catch my breath and drink some water. Even though I was more than 11 miles into my ride, my legs felt fresh and I had energy to spare. I was going to break my personal record of 22m 08s, I just knew it.
The first part of the timed section is tricky: lots and lots small stumps line both sides of the trail. Accidentally hitting one with a tire or pedal earns you a free ticket over the handlebars (believe me, I know). After making it through Stump Forest (as I call it) then the roots, mud and leaves become the major challenges. About a quarter mile in I was breathing extremely hard, and I glanced down at my heart rate monitor: 192 BPM. Wow, I knew I was working, but that’s right at my maximum heart rate! I pressed on, and as I continued it seemed like every time I looked down at my watch my heart rate was around 190 BPM. My legs felt amazing, and I actually felt like the pace I was on was sustainable. I really felt like a machine.
About 2 miles in I was finally starting to feel some fatigue, and I realized that my breathing was not as hard as it had been up until that point. I checked my heart rate monitor and was shocked to see that it read 183 BPM–I felt like I was on break at 183 BPM! I told myself, “Dude, half mile to go – kill it!” I pushed as hard as I could, and my heart rate was pegged at 192-193 BPM every time I checked my watch. When I got to Camp Cozy I hit the split button on my HR monitor and on MyTracks (the Android GPS app I use to track my rides). I finished the trail in 21m 41s, shattering my personal best time! I was really happy about that, especially because the trail conditions were far more difficult than they were when I set the old record.
The real shocker came when I looked down at my heart rate monitor and saw my average heart rate over the course of the 21m 41s: 187 BPM. Damn! I knew I was busting my butt, but having never wore a heart rate monitor out on the trails before I had no idea how hard my heart was working. Honestly, I didn’t even know I was capable of sustaining such a high heart rate for that amount of time.
Here’s the thing. When I was a competitive swimmer in high school I was pretty well rounded, and could hold my own at pretty much any stroke or distance. I was a fast sprinter, but where I really excelled was distance events such as the 400, 800 and 1,500 meter freestyle. I seem to have been blessed with some natural ability to endure long distances at very high energy output.
After my awesome speed run (and somehow avoiding puking, which I very much felt like I was going to), I couldn’t believe how quickly I recovered. I had 12 miles left to go, and I was looking forward to it! Normally after my timed run I take an easier trail back to Marker 18, but I decided to take the timed run trail again as a “cool down”. Funny, I felt like I was loafing on the way back but my heart rate was in the mid-170s the entire time and I was barely breathing.
My average heart rate over the entire 3+ hour, 26 mile ride was 165 BPM (and that includes stopping to rest).
So, what changed over the past three weeks since my fairly lackluster performance on the same route?
- I’m lighter.
- I’m stronger.
- My muscle endurance has improved.
- I have been doing extended (45-minute) medium-high intensity cardio sessions.
I think all four of these things have played a role in my improvements, but I feel the extended medium-high intensity cardio sessions have helped the most–especially now that I’ve seen just how high my heart rate is for long periods of time out on the trails. They say if you want to get better at something then you do that something over and over and over. Well, those extended medium-high intensity cardio sessions are the closest thing to what I’m doing on the trails.