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One of my top 10 lifetime best cardio workouts; Maintaining a high heart rate.

Monday, January 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Daily Blog

January
23
2012
Bike on a Trail for January 22, 2012. Interesting tree.

Bike on a Trail for January 22, 2012. Interesting tree.

I’m going to cover a few different subjects in today’s blog, and I’d like to kick things off by talking about yesterday’s incredible workout.

Anyone who’s been training for more than a short time knows that no matter how prepared you are and no matter how much effort you put in, some things are out of your control. There are days when you’re firmly in the zone and there are days when, well… you’re not. Over the past 9+ years most of my workouts have been good to very good, some have been stinkers and some have been pretty darn outstanding.

Every so often, however, I have a workout that I would describe as transcendental; a workout so amazing that it earns a place on my mental trophy shelf. Yesterday was one of those special workouts….

Yesterday’s training was a cardio workout, and I decided to go mountain biking. I also decided to do a relatively short ride of just 20 miles, but that I was going to ride extremely fast for those 20 miles. I planned my route out in advance, and purposely I threw in two remote trails that have a large number of roots and some sticky mud (it’s been extremely dry here lately, but there are a couple of low-lying areas on these remote trails that are so deep in the forest that they are always muddy).

I left everything I had out on the trails yesterday: I rode as hard and as fast as I could, and I held absolutely nothing back. Check out my cardio stats at the end of the ride:

My total moving time was just shy of 2 hours.

My total moving time was just shy of 2 hours.

Average heart rate over 19.86 miles and 114 minutes.

Average heart rate over 19.86 miles and 114 minutes.

I hit my maximum heart rate about a half-dozen times.

I hit my maximum heart rate about a half-dozen times.

In the past I’ve finished fast timed runs of around 20-40 minutes or so with an average heart rate of ~182 BPM many times, but sustaining an average of 93% of my maximum heart rate for almost two hours straight is a new accomplishment for me. Over the course of the ride I maxed my heart rate (196 BPM) at least six times, and there were some sections of trail during which my heart rate never dropped below 190 BPM.

When I got back to the trailhead my legs were jello and I was utterly exhausted, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt better in my life. I’m no stranger to the endorphin rush (so-called “runner’s high”), but this was like nothing I’ve ever felt before.

So now I’d like to talk about a related subject, and that is maintaining a very high heart rate over a fairly long period of time.

The first mile or so of bike trails from the aptly-named Sandlake trailhead at Wekiwa are mostly made of sugar sand. It takes a lot of effort to plow through the sand, and so my heart rate climbs into the 170s and 180s less than a minute into my ride. I always find myself breathing extremely heavy at this point, and the pace/effort seems unsustainable for long distances. I’ve found that my body is lying to me, and the trick to overcoming that feeling is to not let up and keep pushing as hard as I can. After fighting through that initial feeling of “no way!”, my body settles into what I’m doing and stops fighting.

I’ll elaborate a bit…

As I just mentioned, when I first set off on a mountain biking ride even a relatively low heart rate of 170-175 BPM has me breathing heavy. After pushing through that “wall” and my body adapts to the exertion I feel like I’m practically coasting when my heart rate is around 180 BPM–no joke. For example, there are extended sections of trail at Wekiwa during which I’m sustaining ~190+ BPM and breathing very hard; when I emerge from those areas and find myself on flat hardpack, I’m able to increase my speed, but my breathing becomes slow and controlled even with a heart rate of 180 BPM. 180 BPM is even higher than the heart rate that had me breathing hard at the very start of my ride, but after my body has had a chance to acclimate to the exertion 180 BPM feels like I’m taking break. It’s astonishing how well our bodies adapt to extremes!

I am very interested in hearing thoughts on this subject from cross-country mountain bikers, road cyclists, cyclo-cross competitors, marathon runners and other endurance athletes. Please post your comments and experiences below.

OK, week three of my cut begins today. I’m feeling exceptionally good on the back of yesterday’s workout, and I’m going to keep building that momentum this afternoon by cranking out an outstanding leg workout.

John Stone Fitness Comments

9 Responses to “One of my top 10 lifetime best cardio workouts; Maintaining a high heart rate.”
  1. I’ve had that happen in a few MTB races. I’ve pushed through my normal riding zone and it starts to feel effortless, it doesnt hurt, and you go much faster. I can never pull it up when I want to, it seems to happen at will. All the times it has happened though I’ve paid for it a few days later by being extremely sore.

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  2. I think it’s the shift in your bodies use of different energy pathways, and it takes awhile for your body to kick from ATP/Anerobic to your very developed and efficient aerobic pathways to help. Perhaps your body is very good at tapping and burning bodyfat as well (I would suspect it is) – that pathway takes a little bit to get fully stoked and running as well – if I’ve understood what I’ve read on the internet.

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      • I would first have to take a look at intake of nutrition during two hours of exercise, temperature, humidity, and also watts et al. I would recommend researching the following topics. Oxygen debt, Krebs cycle, Cori cycle, gluconeogenesis. Thanks again for the kind words.

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  3. Hey John, I notice that when I put the bike in the big ring and 5-6-7-8 on the rear cassette my speed increases but my heart rate goes down and I feel great. When I spin a faster cadence I tend to blow up quicker. Some times the trail just calls for a spin (slow steep up hill) but for me I tend to feel better in the big ring. I sometimes do high tension workouts, BIG RING and highest (smallest cog in the back) gear in the back. Start from stop and do sprints to maximum heart rate. Trains the legs for power and it has helped me with sustaining more watts on the bike. Also slow speed big ring work with constant stress throughout the cadence. Good Luck. Hey if you get a chance check out my journal and tell me what you think about the former me when I was a personal trainer and fit as hell. “I’m Back tankhead returns”

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    • Hey Tank, actually I’ve been quietly following your journal since your return to JSF. First and foremost, my hat is off to you for going public with your backslide. That’s actually a big step towards correcting it. Also, I’m really enjoying your photography. Keep ’em coming.

      I’ll be keeping my eye on you for a future JSF Transformation Spotlight of the Month. I believe you’re up to the task, and it’s only a matter of time now. Prove me right, please.

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  4. I feel like you describe regularly when my nutrition is in check including ride nutrition and when I’m at a very low body fat percentage (sub 10% usually does it-which I mostly keep all the time now). I attribute this to my low body fat level not being able to suck up my carbs and leaving them all for my muscles to use! If I’m over 10% bodyfat I very noticeably have lower energy levels while riding. Perhaps it’s just a power to weight ratio thing when I’ve been over 10% in the past but the effect seems very large to me so I believe that it’s something more than just that.

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    • If either or both of your theories are correct then I’m going to be considerably more cardio-efficient and even more more energetic when I get down to ~165 pounds and between 6-7% body fat (and go back to eating maintenance calories)! Not only that, I’m going to be training my cardio system very hard over the next few months, and that’s going to help, too.

      I do think my clean, all-natural diet (and no alcohol) is playing significant role here as well. Even though I’m in a caloric deficit I feel fantastic right now. 🙂

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