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