*UPDATE* Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use Study

12/21/2010: Preliminary results were reported at Indoor Cycle Instructor in October 2010. Manuscript in preparation. Once published, results will be made available on this site and at ICI.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A cycling video that made me think? No way.

I could make plenty of excuses for going 6 weeks sans blog post. Battling H1N1, medical school, studying for my medical license Boards, new boyfriend, contributing to ICI/Pro. But instead, I'll just admit that I'm human.

Sure, it's swell that I can be a medical student and do all this extra "stuff" (coaching, training, sleeping, writing...) -- but what it also means is that I don't have a margin for flexibility. Now that I've thrown all this new "stuff" into the mix, I'm forced to reckon with my sub-superhuman status. Something has to give.

The trouble is that the coaching part of my life is undeniably affected by my new life demands. My Spinning classes are mediocre (though nobody would call me on it, or perhaps even notice...). I'm not making time for my own solo training (i.e., source of ALL coaching creativity). I'm still contributing to society. But it doesn't feel good. I feel guilty.

Guilt is a powerful mover. For all my talk of pursuing things that inspire me and detaching from things that drain me, I am a creature of obligation. When I make promises, both to myself and others, I guilt myself into upholding them by whatever means necessary. So when I break promises (i.e., not blogging about all the things I've been wanting to blog about -- neat class ideas, etc.), I feel quite distressed. I feel distressed because I should be able to make time for everything.

When Gene Nacey of Global Ride asked me to review his recent on-location cycling video, Speed & Power in Italy, I should TOTALLY have declined. I didn't have time, didn't have interest, didn't have ANY baseline quality that one would want in a reviewer. I hate cycling videos. I can appreciate their utility and appeal to many people -- but they just don't 'do it' for me.

But since another one of my rate-limiting character flaws is that when people I deeply admire attempt to include me in projects of great import to them, I get so excited that I forget to keep track of the life activities that I can’t stand (i.e., sitting on my Spinner with a laptop blocking my cyclometer’s report of everything I care about, looking and listening to stuff about which I could not care less). When I’m training indoors, I don’t try to pretend that I’m outdoors – I want to close my eyes, inhabit deafening, life-consuming rhythms, and forget that there even is an “outdoors.” I’ve ridden multiple Centuries outdoors – yet when I go to the end of bringing in outdoor footage to my indoor universe, I am insanely bored within literally 35 seconds. No wonder I’ve declined every review request I’ve received to date.

So when I came down with H1N1 after letting Speed & Power in Italy collect dust on my kitchen table for two weeks, I was relieved for a legitimate justification for further procrastination. Medical school? Insufficient. 104 fevers and breathing difficulties? Sweet.

I share this because I want to capture just how pessimistic and hostile a reviewer with whom you’re dealing. This way, you believe me when I describe how good this video is.

As it turns out: this video emphasized so many core priorities of my "agenda" as a coach, that it legitimately prompted me to spend time reconnecting with those priorities. It prompted me to evaluate whether or not, despite the challenges of time and energy resources, I was effectively conveying to my classes what I want to be conveying.

So I'm going to tell you about this video -- yes, because I promised; but also, because I think it might be helpful to many of you looking to be prompted for self-evaluation (i.e., probably why you read my blog) or even to pick up new ideas for cueing language on form and intensity.

Speed & Power in Italy is a 60 minute training session comprised of four shorter segments, each building in intensity towards a powerful finish. I could describe the masterful footage (this is the most realistic filming I’ve ever seen --capturing subtle changes in terrain, alignment for drafting the rider ahead, and aspects of the scenery that felt “real” enough to trigger appreciative memories of personal outdoor adventures). I could describe the effectiveness of the structured, graphical time-counters to mark one’s progress and pace one’s self. I could even describe my fascination with the narrating coach’s breathing patterns that are secretly audible through one audio track (if listening with headphones; unnoticeable if listening through speakers – as a coach, I would love if my riders could actually hear and learn from the specific way I breathe during various efforts. Too bad that’s creepy. Here, it’s creepy, too – if one can get over the “creepy” and attempt to learn from it, one will surely get a lot out of it. If not, just listen through regular speakers.)

But I have far more important things I’d like to describe. Things that distinguish this video as an outstanding resource for athletes and coaches alike.


During the warm-up, there were a few mentions of training at “60% of your max.” I groaned – grunted, actually. Once I stopped being overly dramatic, I was treated to an excellent discussion of the uselessness of age-based maximum heart rate formulas and the introduction of a 1-10 Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale. There was a brief mention of “threshold” (lactate threshold) as being the useful anchor for training parameters. From there on out, there were no more “x% of your max” references, at least – and the RPE scale was consistently applied throughout the training session. I was impressed by the specific attention that was paid to intensity. We are reminded to “stay true to (our) numbers,” and continuously self-monitor. Bravo! Indoor cycling instructors can learn a lot from the language our narrating coach uses to explain perceived exertion and why it matters.


This program went out of its way to cue excellent riding form – upper body carriage, pedal stroke, hip alignment, diaphragmatic breathing. After a particular cue was communicated, the specific film footage would shift perspectives (from first-person view to actually looking at a rider) to be able to best demonstrate the form issue in question. Frontal, side, and rear views contributed a great deal of value-added to the effective descriptors.


While intensity parameters were suggested, there were frequent reminders to adjust one’s intensity to wherever one needed to train. I rode the entire training session at 65% of lactate threshold, for example; that’s what I needed. Consistent reminders to incorporate monitoring of intensity and cadence served to motivate and re-focus.

The options for coaching on/off (with additional options to choose from American, Australian, and German coaches, to boot!) and music on/off are ideal for accommodating individual preferences. If you’re a music snob like me (with a complete inability to self-motivate whilst being forced to endure displeasing tunes), the “no music” option will afford you the opportunity to play your own music while taking advantage of the features that are more meaningful to you. (For the record: the first track of the final segment, “Rockin’ to Rocca,” is incredible. Those three minutes weren’t just tolerable to this Cycling Video Non-Believer; they were genuinely AWESOME.)

In conclusion, Speed & Power in Italy is scientifically sound, technically excellent coaching captured in the context of exceptional cinematic talent. Whether you seek a resource to guide and complement your training, or whether you’re looking for an arsenal of ways to communicate training principles to your clients, Speed & Power will surely get you there.


Want more cueing ideas? I promise I'm going to write up two cool ride profiles this weekend, including my new 2-hour Endurance ride called "Own Your Awesome." Now that I've said the "p" word, that means that I actually have to do it.

In the meantime, check out ICI/Pro -- a fantastic resource for training/coaching tips geared to instructors and enthusiasts alike.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Medical Signs & Symptoms of Overtraining: How to Know When You're Working Too Hard

You're tired. You're sluggish. You're sick all the time. Your sleep is screwed up. You snap at your kids, your coworkers. The only time you're generally motivated to do ANYTHING is your 45 minutes on your Spinning bike, when you push yourself to "give it your all" (groan - one of my least favorite cliche expressions in life), get your scheduled endorphin rush, then go back to the real world in all its glory.

Like pornography, overtraining is something wherein I "know it when I see it." I know it because I a) see it all the time; and b) experience it all the time. In my medical world, the phenomenon of overtraining is not on the radar of most doctors. As an athlete, I know that my own primary care doctors over time have had NO idea how my training impacts my body. They're content that I exercise regularly, and that's all they think they need to know about me. They have no idea how intensity affects fitness (i.e., the person who goes to the gym to lose weight inadvertently spending 95% of her time working anaerobically, yet is surprised when she feels lousy AND doesn't lose weight), and how certain approaches to exercise can be counterproductive. It's SO underappreciated, in fact, that we're actually not taught this in medical school. But because I am fortunate enough to know better, I consider it one of my person life missions to educate my colleagues, my riders, and even patients (who teach ME so much about from their experiences) about this overtraining phenomenon.

The medical consequences of training too hard with insufficient recovery are well-described, and appreciated in sports medicine circles. It's just a matter of translating this knowledge into a form that is meaningful to people outside that circle.

I wrote an article for IndoorCycleInstructor about recognizing overtraining and what to do about it that was published today.

CLICK here to read an excerpt. In order to read the full article, follow the easy directions to sign up for ICI's free weekly mailings (an incredible resource to help you translate technical content to your classes, develop your own trainings, and keep your classes/music/themes fresh!).

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Building Confidence on a Spinner - with a 45 min profile, to boot

I've never met anyone who believes that confidence ISN'T important. I'm not investing time to even look for literature to support my assertion because I'm CONFIDENT that you all believe me when I say that confidence is an important predictor of performance.

When I began my journey as a Spinning instructor, I didn't have any confidence. And I sucked -- not ONLY because I wasn't confident, of course, but that didn't help either. I mean, I REALLY sucked. I sucked so badly that I didn't even KNOW how badly I sucked. And that's the point. One can look at the endpoint of the trajectory from "sucking" to "not sucking," appreciate the powerful emotional transformations that occurred along the way, and call it a day. But I think it's more useful to analyze the fuel -- the motivation -- behind the process.

Was it the pursuit of "not sucking" -- that is, avoiding failure? Or was the pursuit of "being awesome?" Most certainly the latter. It meant something to me to learn enough, listen enough, think enough, and otherwise "be" enough to earn people's trust to help guide them through their own personally meaningful improvements.

Think about it. When you work hard at your job, do you do it primarily to avoid being fired -- or because you genuinely want to do excellent work? When you do something nice for your kids or your spouse, do you do it primarily to avoid pissing them off -- or because you genuinely want to do something nice for them? Extending the framework: Do you hold a 30 minute training interval at lactate threshold primarily because you'd feel weak/inadequate if you didn't finish it? Or because you appreciate that the difference between 29:00 and 30:00 is a moment you can hold onto as long as you want to, to represent your confidence, your self-efficacy, your belief that you have and are everything you need to conquer the challenges of your world?

Maybe you didn't think to make that interval mean more than that interval. Maybe you didn't have to. But if you framed it that way: would it have made a difference? Would equating an off-bike purpose to your on-bike task mean anything 'extra' to you? Would it have made the time pass more quickly, more enjoyably? Would you have been more likely to accomplish your specific, concrete physical goal? Would it have left you feeling any different when you did? Would you have taken that feeling with you?

Last weekend, I rode my third Century (yes, I'm done now...), which prompted me to ask myself why the hell I've made time to train for and ride three 100-mile epic conquests within an eight-week period. There are a lot of other ways that second-year medical students can spend their free time. I may now be someone who "does" Centuries -- but Centuries aren't something that people just "do." How I've always seen it was that training for a Century (or two, or three...) equated with Operation: Real Cyclist. I never saw myself as a real cyclist before; I saw myself as someone who only started trying to do this thing a year ago, who doesn't know how to do really important things (i.e., changing a flat), who has memorable episodes of failure (i.e., hitting her head on concrete), who despite knowing a shit ton of useful technical things about being a real cyclist has no useful construct with which to translate this knowledge into self-confidence and self-efficacy. Oh my gosh. That sounds exactly like... being a second-year medical student.

So, yes, training to be a Real Cyclist was meant to parallel training to be a Real Doctor. Except this seemed more manageable. I knew exactly HOW to accomplish this kind of training. I knew exactly what I needed to learn, what I needed to practice. I had complete control over my physiological response to challenge, I had immediate feedback on my skills and adaptations (i.e., from my heart rate monitor), and measurable, objective ways to evaluate my progress. So it paralleled my larger life challenge -- yet was more "masterable." When I finished my first Century, I felt awesome. I felt like I could take over the world. I got a tattoo to commemorate the joy and confidence that comes from continuous incremental improvement ("Kaizen"). When I then encountered stressful circumstances in my medical training, I called up that feeling. "If I can do X, I can do Y," if you will.

As Y got more demanding (i.e., helping to take care of real patients), I needed X to be more dramatic. So I did Centuries #2 and #3. But by the end of last weekend's undertaking (with shooting pain from my re-torn tibialis anterior tendon and my spasming hamstring), I wasn't riding for the pursuit of self-confidence to accomplish some unknown future Y anymore. I was riding because I thought I'd feel lousy/inadequate if I didn't finish. I envisioned myself, not triumphant at the finish line, but back at the hotel sulking or driving home 3 hours thinking about how I wasted my time. There was no doubt about it: I was riding to avoid failure.

At the end of the day, I finished. But it was a miserable ride -- and when it was all over, I wasn't even all that proud. "Good job, Self," I said. "Way to not fail." Is that what I'm going to remind myself when I'm standing at the foot of a man with crashing blood pressure whose acute pancreatitis was about to kill him (which is a situation in which I found myself a few days later)? "Come on, Self, you can do this. That time when you rode that bike 100 miles and... uh... didn't fail?" Will THAT calm me down, and empower me to take a step back and use my brain to confidently save a human being's life? Hell no it won't.

It matters. The way you frame it absolutely matters. "Avoid failure: Check" is not the same as "Conquer Challenge: Check." The former doesn't build confidence. It doesn't last, and it doesn't translate. So you know what? When I drove 3 hours to ride a bike 100 miles and drive 3 hours home, I really DID waste my time.

That's not to say that athletic feats, when framed appropriately, can't translate into non-athletic confidence. I will never, ever forget a particular moment in April 2009 during Spinning MI Caroline Dawson's class in NYC, looking down at my heart rate monitor and realizing that I was about to hit my 30th minute of sustaining a 184 bpm heart rate -- which, to my knowledge, was 10 beats above the last time I'd had lactate threshold measured. I will never, ever forget that moment of appreciating the efficacy of my training to increase LT that much in a year, and the global appreciation of my strength and power. I *think* about that moment literally ALL the time in my non-fitness life. Not because it was actually a big deal. But because I framed it in such a way to make it a big deal to me. I chose to make it mean something.

I use that moment as my gold standard by which to compare every Spinning class I ever coach. My personal life mission is to inspire a human being to feel like THAT, the way Caroline's class made me feel. That's the goal. My "formula" these days for achieving said goal is to take solid scientific training principles and fit them into a "theme" for some psychological/emotional concept that I'm exploring in the rest of my life -- something that I want to explore further by devising questions and thoughts and pathways for people to ponder, something that I believe other people will find useful to explore.

If you've been following this blog for a little while, you'll remember that I've had this grand-scale life-improvement mission to get comfortable with discomfort. The past few months have been all about that, with a reasonable level of success. I can screw up an interpretation of a chest film in front of 115 people and be awkward and inadequate in an emergency department, and breathe through a peaceful acceptance that I'm ok and that the world will continue to rotate. Mindful acceptance, devoid of negative, defeating self-talk, is SO much more helpful. I'm glad that I invested so much energy actively exposing myself to uncomfortable situations to be able to practice my responses to them. And I'm glad that I successfully used more than 15 Spinning training sessions based exclusively on key sub-subconcepts of this larger point (i.e., taking stock of physiological sensations of discomfort, equating on-bike discomfort with an off-bike purpose, etc. etc. etc.) to help other people work through these challenges.

But now it's time to build on acceptance of discomfort and self-compassion, and start building confidence. Confident PURSUIT of something, not mere avoidance of failure.

I coached a ride about this the other night that went REALLY well. Here goes...

Note: I'm going to write up the training parameters as a 0-10 RPE scale here (and going forward) to be most useful to most people. I've taught my riders with heart rate monitors to equate 8/10 with Lactate Threshold and 5/10 as 80% LT as their anchoring points.

MHR formulas do not work. And since can't accurately measure MHR in most people, using MHR as an anchor point from which to take percentages is inherently inaccurate. The way I have been using % MHR is to set 85% MHR = Lactate Threshold, and reverse-calculate a MHR to use for further calculations. But by doing that, we are effectively anchoring training parameters to Lactate Threshold ANYWAY. So why pretend otherwise? I use % LT parameters in my own training, and have started using it in my classes.
This "note" is getting really long -- I eventually need to write a separate post about how I'm integrating % LT parameters into classes of mixed HRM- and non-HRM wearers. But for a truly well-written article about why MHR formulas (i.e., 220-age and 226-age) are inaccurate, I encourage you to read Gene Nacey's brilliant piece that also links to a full-text excellent, digestible account of the research behind these formulas' inadequacies that I liked so much that I disseminated it to the students taking the Intro to Heart Rate Training course I am teaching at UVM.

If you ARE going to assume that your measured LT = 85% MHR, solve the equation for a fake MHR, and use those numbers for Spinning Energy Zones, etc., here's a chart that helps to explain equating verbal descriptors with RPE, with these heart rate training parameters.
I rewrote the intro (from July 2008, when I was underappreciative of RPE) - if you've seen this before, might be worth another peek.

Now, really, here goes:

Premise: Sometimes it's tempting to believe that there is only one way to build confidence. On the bike, sometimes we think that the only way to build confidence is to push as hard as we can, for as long as we can. But in reality, there are a lot of ways to build confidence. Sometimes the most confidence-inspiring training session can be the one where you discipline yourself to maintain 80% LT in the saddle, appreciating the strength of your rhythmic, controlled breathing to modulate your response to challenge. It's all about deciding WHAT is going to bring YOU confidence in that moment, and giving yourself permission to go for it.

Structure: Climb, 6 surges -- each surge will be a change in the rhythm, where you will choose to respond in a specific way that makes you confident. Based on that newfound confidence, climb again -- with 1 more surge to the finish line

WARMUP: 4 minutes
Cue breathing. Cue form. Describe ride and expectations.

Progressive load seated to 80% LT ("5 out of 10"). Progressive load to "6 out of 10." Progressive load to "7 out of 10" (10 beats below LT). Pay attention to breathing, physiological sensations. Start to think about what brings you confidence, in various realms of your life. How do your physiological sensations reflect those experiences? Do they heighten your confidence? Distract? At what intensity do you feel most empowered, in control, alive? In the seat? Out? Where are you best focused and primed to meet your needs?

SURGES: 12 minutes
30 seconds x 3
1 minute x 3
90 seconds x 3

Let every surge equate with an opportunity to build confidence. When the rhythm changes, make a choice that will allow you to experience the specific conditions that you need in order to directly speak to your appreciation of your abiliities, strength, and power. Surge to the intensity you selected in the initial climb as your confidence-building zone.

POWER CLIMB: 8 minutes
Progressive load to chosen intensity, and your job is to sustain it. Empowered by your breathing, empowered by your belief that sustaining this effort directly translates to your enhanced belief in yourself for navigating the challenges of your world once you leave this room.

FINAL SURGE: 3 minutes
What's it going to take to translate your confidence on the bike to your world off the bike? Surge in such a way to structure an experience for yourself that will last, that you can call up when you need it most. A surge that reminds you that you are strong, that you are powerful. A moment you choose to mean something. A moment you choose to mean EXACTLY what you need it to mean.


It wasn't anything fancy -- it was plain and simple. And it worked. And you know what? Most of my class stayed seated, closed their eyes, and afterwards told me that they worked at their "5 out of 10" the whole time because that's what they decided that they needed.

Nothing could have made ME more confident to hear. It meant that they "got" that their purpose was to feel empowered to make their own choices to meet their own needs, and that those choices had no requirements other than to be deliberate, purposeful, and specific. They needed to mean something. And they did.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Own Your Discomfort" - a 75 minute profile

We all have uncomfortable moments in our worlds -- as athletes, as coaches, and human beings. As a second-year medical student who, despite knowing a ridiculous amount of useful, important medical things, knows really quite little about how to actually help really sick people in the clinic or the hospital where she spends time, I have a lot of them. I debuted a ride last night based on the past few months of my world, very specific efforts to ponder the concept of "discomfort" and what to do (or NOT do) about it. It turned out to be the most rewarding and successful ride I've ever presented. So clearly, I have to write about it.

Pardon the long background -- but I thought it was important to frame where this ride came from, so that you can inhabit it enough to devise your own personally meaningful cues if you use this training session for yourselves or your classes. Otherwise, it's not going to be any different from any other profile. This is a ride that comes from pain, self-doubt, and inadequacy. That's hard to describe in a paragraph.


As a med student, I spend 70% of my clinical training feeling anxious, useless, and awkward. When I experience these emotions, my sympathetic nervous system fires off a crazy storm of catecholemines. I'm tachycardic, sweaty, stuttery, and a big ol' mess. When I try to "squash" these uncomfortable sensations by reasoning myself out of them, however, I find that I get all the more awkward. I'm consumed by "my awkward." My brain shuts down, and I am distracted from soaking up the important subtleties of the world around me -- not to mention unable to remember any useful content once encoded into the archives of my memory, which is what typically triggers these episodes in the first place. While I acknowledge that this discomfort is normal/common/expected, that doesn't make it less uncomfortable.

As an athlete preparing for my first Century ride this summer, I knew that "discomfort" was my #1 challenge. I knew how to keep my heart rate low under exertion. I knew how to eat and hydrate effectively. I knew that my rate-limiting factor was going to be how COMFORTABLE I could train myself to be with being INSANELY UNCOMFORTABLE. So I trained for it. In addition to long rides outdoors, I included regular 3 hour, 4 hour, 5 hour training sessions on a Spinner (more tedious than spending the same length of time outdoors). I did not attempt to convince myself that I wasn't uncomfortable. I was completely miserable. Could I have reasoned my way through it -- that I wasn't ACTUALLY miserable, that I was doing so much of what I loved? Could I have done a pros/cons analysis to conclude that there was more evidence to suggest that I was actually happy? Maybe. But I didn't. I talked myself through every minute of those AWFUL trainings while explicitly acknowledging how miserable I was, and why I was doing it. What purpose would serve? What did I want to learn? What did I want to master? What would I be uniquely qualified to do for having completed this? What would the difference be between 4:59 and 5:00? I knew that if I could get through those 5 hours, there would be NOTHING that could ever possibly arise on my Century that I couldn't handle. On The Big Day, I reminded myself of that over and over and over again. "Remember your discomfort. Re-experience it. Re-inhabit it. You lived through THAT. Are you as uncomfortable as that moment? No. There is no evidence to suggest that you cannot conquer this moment."

One of the ways we treat patients suffering from panic disorder and others on the anxiety spectrum is to gradually expose them to known triggers, under safe conditions where they can experience their uncomfortable, undesirable symptoms in such a way that they learn that these experiences aren't the "worst thing that could ever possibly happen" to them. I've extended this theme to my medical school life now. I'm training myself to be comfortable with discomfort. I've started using the phrase "OWN YOUR AWKWARD," which I apply not only to awkwardness but perceived incompetency, inadequacy, and all sorts of horribly uncomfortable, negative emotions. I specifically seek out experiences that will trigger discomfort: interpreting an EKG in front of 114 people (despite knowing that I was terrible at this), giving a patient medical advice about chest pain in front of the specific attending physician (whose opinion of me matters to me more than most people in the world), asking the same character if I could accompany him to the hospital in the middle of the night JUST because it made me anxious to be there (he found this endearing). Through all of these experiences, I was awkward, anxious and inadequate. I didn't attempt to convince myself otherwise. "You are awkward. Yes, you are awkward. Roll with it. Own your awkward."

Over time, I'm actually a little bit more comfortable with being uncomfortable. So when I have these moments, my brain doesn't shut down. I acknowledge that I am uncomfortable, give myself permission to be uncomfortable, and keep on with my life. When I say something stupid/wrong/embarassing in front of 115 people, I feel the same catecholemine storm -- and I don't try to breathe it away. It's not "Shit! Panic attack starting. Breathe. Don't be anxious. STOP being anxious." Instead it's more like: "Look, catecholemines! There they are. Own them." And then they pass, pseudo-instantly. Fascinating.

Last Sunday, I rode my 2nd Century. I dedicated it to the concept that it was the ULTIMATE discomfort immersion. That somehow it would represent every aspect of discomfort that could exist -- and that, looking back on it over the next weeks and months, it would remind me that I could indeed accept discomfort and endure whatever came my way.

I wanted discomfort, and I got it. 1 mile in, my chain started squeaking and I was riding on false flats in my lowest gear (I didn't see anything visibly wrong with it, so I kept going -- miserably). At the 5 mile mark, it started pouring. By mile 10, I was soaked and freezing. At the 20 mile mark, my injured tibialis anterior tendon started spasming. I'd forgotten my sunglasses, which didn't occur to me until mud-slicked gravel started flying up into my face. I intentionally started out at 7:30AM in the middle of nowhere (50 miles from home -- I'd ridden out the day before and stayed overnight at the cottage where I lived for the summer near the clinic) so that I would be less tempted to give up and call for "rescue." At the 60 mile mark (see also: civilization), I went to a bike shop and got Triumph fixed (a spring had popped -- I didn't even think to LOOK there!) and had a hot meal (life-altering). I bought a dry shirt, new sunglasses, and a big ol' tube of chamois cream. Life was good -- for another 10 miles at least. Miles 71-85 were some of the most MISERABLE moments of my life. They never ended. It occurred to me that I was in some parallel universe where time and distance simply did not coincide. I couldn't get my HR up past 70% MHR. The friction rub on my left thigh (from my rain-soaked shorts) was getting unbearable. I hated my bike. I hated my mission. I hated EVERYTHING about this moment.

"You wanted this. You wanted to be so uncomfortable that you couldn't bear it, so that it can apply to situations that are far less uncomfortable than this one. You wanted to demonstrate your strength and patience. You wanted to learn that this "concept" you've taken on as a life theme really will carry you through every challenge of your day. This is precisely the unique condition that will best allow you to train for what you need."

Then suddenly, I saw it. A sign that, for all intents and purposes, said "HOME: 12 miles."
It was a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life. I have the chills as I write this, in fact.
A rush of warmth and gushing energy surged throughout my entire body, and I started BAWLING. I mean literally, bawling. For the first time in the ride, it was 100% undeniable that I would actually complete my second 100-mile conquest. For the first time in the ride, I justified EVERYTHING I'd been through: my emotional outpour demonstrated that this hasn't been "all talk." I'd wondered how "real" my belief that a bike ride symbolized some sort of great life truth, or whether that was just a gimmick I'd brainwashed myself to perpetuate to get myself and others to ride their bikes. No. Every tear came directly from my reality.

I was so close to realizing my goal that, suddenly, the discomfort was transformed. It became my "new comfort zone." From there on, it wasn't self-talk about how present discomfort would translate into comfort in the rest of my life. I didn't notice the discomfort. I was so comfortable with my discomfort, that it no longer inhibited my ability to achieve my goals. I owned it.

The Ride
When one of my regulars as a birthday, I invite them to select a "life theme" they want to process mindfully on a Spin bike. (This sounds nuts, I know -- but in the parallel universe in which I am fortunate to coach, I've trained people to actually enjoy this "life training through Spinning" construct I employ). So with a 75 minute session scheduled on the day of one woman's birthday, it was her turn. "How about self-acceptance?" she asked me.

A ride about the specific concept over which I've been obsessing for the past 3 months? Uhh, YES.

So here goes:

We all have situations and moments where we are uncomfortable. We all have various strategies to minimize discomfort, with various levels of success. Sometimes we invest so much time trying to deny our discomfort -- to talk ourselves out of it -- that we allow our discomfort to distract us from accomplishing the things we want in life. So today, we're going to practice another approach. Instead of talking ourselves out of discomfort, we're going to acknowledge that discomfort.

(Before class, I'd had each participant write on an index card "something that makes them uncomfortable that they're willing to invest time exploring during this ride." They taped the cards to their water bottles, for them alone to see. I do this index card auto-cueing move for every training session I coach that is longer than an hour. People LOVE it. For riders new to my long training sessions, I acknowledge its cheesiness up-front before they have a chance to write me off as "un-relatable" and tell them that this "surprisingly" REALLY helps people by the end of the ride when they're exhausted. "Surprisingly," my ass. It's enforcing that they set goals! Of COURSE this helps.)

This ride has 3 blocks:
1) Dabbling in Discomfort
2) Commiting to Discomfort
3) Owning Your Discomfort

WARMUP (5 minutes)
* Progressive loading to "4 out of 10" on RPE scale. Shoulder rolls/stretches. Cue mindful orientation to breathing, upper/lower body form, and pedal stroke.
Think about what you wrote on your index card. Why did you choose it? What is it keeping you from doing? What does it mean to you?

(18 minutes)
* Progressive loading to 80% LT ("5 out of 10"). When you reach it, maintain it -- subtle bits of resistance, lengthened exhalations, keeping the heart rate exactly where it is. When you reach the point that this place feels completely and utterly comfortable despite adding more resistance at the same level of intensity, that you are willing to entertain the concept that you can hold this all day and be perfectly happy to do it, then keep going.
* Progressive loading to 20 beats below LT ("6 out of 10")-- same.
By loading the intensity so gradually, you are training your body to allow you to get more work done without working harder. You are accepting each new challenge, adapting to it, establishing it as your "new comfort zone," and readying yourself for your next choice.

Focus on your deliberate, fluid breathing. In through the nose, long and concentrated out the mouth. Synchronize your breathing with your pedal strokes -- maybe breathing in for 2 strokes, breathing out for 3 or 4 strokes.

* Surges to 10 beats below LT ("7 out of 10"): 4x (30 seconds), 1x (60 seconds).
From the baseline of 20 beats below LT, 5 "surges" -- your choice of challenge: change in speed, resistance, or position. Recover "20 below" in between.

Focus on breathing more deliberately when you surge. FORCEFUL breaths out the mouth to keep the heart rate from exceeding 10 beats below LT. It's uncomfortable but it's a challenge that you choose to accept, and can conquer confidently.

* Recover to 80% LT. Progressive loading - subtle bits of resistance added but heart rate stays the same. When you're confident that this is your new comfort zone, progressive loading to 20 beats below LT. When you're confident that THIS is your new comfort zone, keep going.
* Find 10 beats below LT and commit to it, no matter what. If you're dropping, progressively load the resistance. If you exceed, back it off. If you need to stand up out of the saddle to accomodate a new load or new pace, do it. Drop back in when you can.
Demonstrate your patience, your willingness to make decisions to honor your commitments to yourself.

Surge: 1 minute (LT - "8 out of 10")
Your choice of the challenge that means something to you: speed, resistance, position, or no change at all. When you surge, surge with confidence. With pride. With the genuine belief that you will conquer what you decide to conquer.

BLOCK 3: OWN YOUR DISCOMFORT -- combining the two (30 minutes)
You have learned that your previous discomfort -- 10 beats below LT -- isn't actually all that bad if you a) accept it gradually (i.e., hitting all the heart beats in between); b) monitor your breathing to fuel your efforts. You've also learned that you are in complete control over defining your comfort zone. 10 beats below LT didn't feel so bad by the end of Block 2 as it did when you surged there in Block 1. (People nodded across the board, thank goodness!) So now we will build upon the skills you've developed, and apply your commitment and focus to re-define your comfort.

Same progressive loading from 80% LT ("5 out of 10") through 10 beats below LT ("7 out of 10")
Take your time over the next 5 minutes to gradually accept the challenge at hand. Spend time at each stop along the way, mindfully acknowledging your physiological sensations at each level of intensity. Does your breathing change? Does your pedal stroke change? How is your upper body? Is every aspect of your experience contributing to your ability to commit to this challenge?

* 5 surges to LT ("8 out of 10") -- recovering to 10 beats below LT ("7 out of 10") in between
Efforts: 90 seconds, 2 minutes, 90 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes
Recoveries: 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes
Technical purpose: lactate clearance intervals. By spending time in incomplete recovery just below LT, your body is learning to clear lactic acid more efficiently -- because it has to!
Larger purpose: You are uncomfortable. You are SO uncomfortable. But your active "recovery" is a comfort zone you defined yourself. You believe in your ability to be successful there. When you choose to accept a new challenge, breathing your way through it, you know that you can and WILL achieve it.
You're uncomfortable, but you lack not in confidence and determination

We alternated 90 seconds/ 2 minutes/ 90 seconds/ 2 minutes for the LT intervals because I knew that half my class didn't have HRMs, and I wanted quality control over how hard they were pushing. I described that at 90 seconds of "8 out of 10," they should NOT feel spent. Burning in the legs might have started but they should feel like they can still get a few words out, no chest discomfort, NO inability to control their breathing, and a clear appreciation that they could have kept going. At 2 minutes, they should experience close to the same -- still NOT spent.

I talked about the scientific process of modifying lactate threshold, to increase the point at which they are still using mostly fat for fuel. Reminding them of the technical purpose for their discomfort, I felt, was important. But then I also cued them to look at the index cards on their water bottles and re-affirm their commitment to spend time making peace with where they are.

Own your discomfort. Own your self-doubts, your perceived inadequacy. Own your potential.
3 minutes - LT - OWN it.

And, daaaaaaaaaaaaamn, did they ever.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"To Intervene or Not Intervene: That is the Question. See also: The Perils & Pleasures of Correcting Form

Could my title have been more obnoxiously complicated? Maybe. But it's fitting for the topic at hand: thoughts on when/how to correct form in Spinning classes.

In the interim since I've last written, I've been spending less time training for epic bike feats (my race did go well, exactly according to my training plan in my last post, despite wiping out 100' from the finish line and bloodily dragging my bike and its broken chain the rest of the way -- I was actually SO pleased with the way I landed) and more time training for that whole "being a doctor" thing. I did, however, resume teaching Spinning classes for the first time in 2 months (the longest I've ever been away in my coaching career -- and to be honest, I'm a little stale. Ick.)

The weekend before my Burlington classes started for the semester (I teach on a college campus, so group fitness classes go according to the academic calendar), I *drove* to NYC for 14 hours and taught my old Sunday AM class. (Yes, I drove into Manhattan proper. I was SO proud.) The aesthetics of NYC Spinning studios (lighting, sound, general ambiance) can be quite powerful, if maximized to their potential. I happen to be good at that, which hid my staleness until I psychologically/emotionally warmed up to the task at hand. But as a sub (I moved a year ago -- though some regulars flocked when I announced my return, most of my "old class" isn't really my class), I was mindful of how stuck I was about correcting form.

Though I cued general form tips, there were more extensive interventions that I would have liked to pursue. But didn't. Were they dire safety issues? No. But could they have improved someone's efficiency and/or comfort? Absolutely. Did I feel like, as a sub, I had enough "street cred" to effect change? No. Hence my silence.

On the morning of my first class back in Burlington, the New York Times ran a pseudo-interesting article about trainer and participant perceptions of feedback on form. It didn't say anything ground-breaking. It's common sense that there is a continuum of effective feedback, and a continuum of how people perceive feedback. But there were a couple of comments that reminded me of a theme I try to bring to my coaching all the time -- that is, gauging people's goals and expectations -- yet often forget to apply to the issue of form.

A few months ago, I wrote on my other blog about an experience I had (as a sub, no less) in intervening into what I deemed a safety issue in a Spinning class I was teaching. Though I felt intimidated and ineffective, I reminded myself of my commitment to this theme of identifying people's values and educating them about framing various choices in the context of those values. Choosing a medication, a surgery, a heart rate training zone, a handlebar height, an angle of an SPD cleat, a pelvic tilt, a knee alignment -- they're all the same. That's always what every choice is about.

I feel strongly enough sharing the above-linked post (which presents this story as part of a larger point about synergy between my "medical student" and "coach" worlds) that I'll excerpt part of it:

The other day, a woman in an NYC class I subbed was executing all kinds of safety-contraindicated stuff: mashing her legs, cranking the resistance too heavy to even turn the flywheel, letting go of the handlebars. As a life policy, my interventions begin with general guidance to the group. This is usually sufficient; "offenders" often hear what I say, appreciate the inconsistency between what they hear and what they are doing, and make the appropriate adjustments. If this fails, I describe my corrections in alternate ways. If this still fails AND I think this is a major safety risk, I mute my mic and approach this person individually. As a sub, my threshold for individual intervention is pretty high -- I'm more concerned with pissing people off and inspiring them to cause a scene. So after 6 or 7 "group" interventions and very unambiguous "this pertains to you" signaling, I gave up. I knew that speaking to her privately during class would likely alienate her, and wouldn't actually have an impact on her training practices once I walked out of the room and out of her world.

I couldn't make a difference, so why bother? I gave up on her.

Then I remembered that I wasn't wearing a particular "hat." I was just ME, the cycling coach who knows what the hell she's talking about, who also just so happens to be training as a physician. Time to start acting like one.

I'd given up on this rider who ignored my educational pleas for health and safety. Just like a doctor giving up on an obese, hypertensive patient with Type II diabetes who eats terrible, drinks too much alcohol, smokes, and doesn't take his or her meds. That's what I just did. I didn't find a way to connect, so I blamed this woman as "refractory to cues." No. I just didn't find the right cues. Yet.

At the clinic where I'm working this summer, I'm running a survey that examines patient attitudes towards medications, taking medications, their involvement in their treatment plans, etc. I included an open-ended question that probes patients' reasons for skipping doses of meds. It was my goal to demonstrate that mismatches between patients' goals/values and the regimens prescribed by their providers, or misunderstandings/miscommunications mattered. That calling this phenomenon "non-compliance" is a cop-out -- and that by asking people a really basic question about their obstacles to a desired outcome, we can learn from this and improve said outcome.

Could I apply what comes so naturally to me in medicine... here?

After class, I approached her.
"Hey, I notice you have really strong legs and a great pedal stroke," I said to the woman.
Her eyes perked up.
"But let me ask you something. I notice that you often let go of the handlebar. I'm always interested in the thought process of the people who take my classes -- when you do that, what goes through your mind?"
"Oh, well, I'm pregnant -- and I don't like reaching over. It's uncomfortable."

Really? That's all this was about? Turns out, "non-compliance" doesn't exist on a Spin bike either.

Now I understood her obstacles to heeding the information I presented; now I knew how to frame my message in a way that was consistent with her values. I showed her how to raise the handlebars so that she could hold on without hinging forward too far, and educated her about how riding without holding on places undue strain on her lower and middle back. We then had a lovely conversation about exercise intensity and pregnancy and... get this... heart rate monitoring. By the end of those 5 minutes, she really would not ONLY always hold onto the handlebar (my goal) -- but would be investing in a heart rate monitor, and thus investing in her health and that of her future child.

It was an important reminder on what can happen with a commitment to not giving up on people. It's tempting to detach, to focus one's energy on causes more likely to yield the greatest impact. But the likelihood of impact is also inextricably linked to one's belief in one's ability to have that impact. Like anything else, it's all in the way one talks to oneself.

Take-home points?
1) Believe that fine-tuning form is important.
I will refer to you two previous posts:
"Do Your Riders Know Why They're Riding?" --
details the merits of explaining each and every form cue, and includes a ride profile based on educating people about why various aspects of their form matter. I forgot this exists, and I'm going to use it in my class on Tuesday. Sweet: one less new ride to make.

"Practical Applications of Life on a Spin Bike"
-- where I described super-subtle changes I made to my form (pelvic tilt, wrist rotation, seat adjustment) that made LIFE-ALTERING changes in my ability to comfortably ride my first 70-mile and 107-mile rides outside. Just want to demonstrate that subtleties in form TOTALLY matter.

2) Believe that you are a useful and knowledgeable resource.
As a medical student, I struggle with this issue every day of my life. I spend so much time mindfully acknowledging that I know very little in the big scheme of things, and that I haven't actively earned many of the privileges bestowed upon me to learn them (i.e., the generosity of patients allowing me to practice rectal and vaginal exams) that it often distracts me from learning. But as a coach, 99% of the time I genuinely believe that what comes out of my mouth is informed, precise, and useful. When I am in that 1% mentality, that's when I don't speak up about form.

I refer you to a really long/verbose/annoying but probably one of the best posts I've ever written:
Trust Your Judgment: Evaluating Yourself... and Evaluating Others - describes my evolution from an unconfident "newbie" to a more confident, more effective (though, of course, always still evolving) coach, and suggests a few parameters for evaluating influences to which you are exposed.

3) Find multiple different ways of describing the same form cue
I took a FABULOUS, FABULOUS workshop at WSSC 2008 with Luciana Marcial-Vinson about identifying your most frequently (over)used cues and brainstorming alternatives to them. At that time, I hadn't realized how stale my cues were. Going through the process of physically writing down the things I said all the time was scary and occasionally horrifying. But by forcing myself to own my staleness, I could commit to improvement.

Common sense suggests that people respond to different things -- one way might "click" for someone and mean nothing to something else. So when we say the same thing all the time, there may be people falling through the cracks. If we deliver the same concept in multiple different ways, we have an increased likelihood of "reaching" more people. So where do you get your cues? The creative process can be accomplished in SO many different ways: Take continuing ed workshops. Take other instructors' classes. Read blogs and books and websites. Ride by yourself and think about the subtleties of what you're doing. Spend 10 minutes just being THOUGHTFUL, and you will come up with beyond-useful material.

4) Ask the questions.
I'm taught in medical school that 95% of diagnoses come from the patient's history. Not fancy lab or imaging tests -- just by asking subtle questions, and listening to what a patient tells you (and does not tell you). I think about that as a coach, too. The story I cited above in asking the "cue-refractory" woman who would NOT hold onto the handlebar about how she came to make that decision, I learned that she thought she was accomplishing x goal (i.e., avoiding discomfort in pregnancy). When I learned that, I could educate her about different means to accomplish x goal safely (i.e., raising her handlebars) AND how what she was doing wasn't actually having the desired effect she intended. Had I never asked the question, I would never have been prompted to educate her about those specific points. By asking the question, I made my feedback relevant.

Putting this all together:
Basic Cue: "Keep your feet nice and flat. Drop your heel as you pull back on the pedal, keeping your toes straight ahead."

Improvement #1: Tell Them Why
"By dropping your heel, you engage the muscles in the back of your leg for a more powerful pedal stroke."

Improvement #2: Make It Relevant
"Here's why we care about a powerful and efficient pedal stroke..." -- be sure to include relevancy for both outdoor and non-outdoor riders

Improvement #3: Alternate Description

"Think about a magnet on your heel. The floor is metal. Allow your heel to be drawn towards the floor, and pull up against that force to bring your heel towards your butt."

Improvement #4: "Intervention"
"I notice that [insert some sort of positive, empowering feedback]. That's awesome. I notice that you're pointing your toes a bit -- does it feel that way to you/are you aware that that's happening? If yes: What were you hoping to achieve by doing that, so that I can help you find a way to think about it. If no: Yeah, most people can't tell. I figured it was accidental. Here are some ways you can think about it instead, and here's why it matters..."

I need to stop writing massive blog novels when I'm supposed to be studying. I think *I* need an intervention.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Operation: Improvement (and training to get rid of lactic acid)

25 year old female with no relevant previous medical history presents 2 weeks status-post Century, tattoo to commemorate said Century ("Kaizen" in Japanese, the philosophy of continuous, incremental improvement -- a theme I adopted as a "life policy" about a year ago), and the start of her second year of medical school. Experiencing symptoms of "ridiculously painful" semitendinosis tendon, sleep/training deprivation, and writing/coaching withdrawal. Exacerbated by studying. Improves with blogging.

And so, I write.

While I have more balanced a life than many medical students, resuming school last week indeed represents a significant change to my lifestyle and priorities. Farewell, 5-hour training sessions and blog novels. Hello, incoming flood of cognitive stimuli. The start of my second year, however, already feels drastically different than when I left this realm eight weeks ago. I feel totally prepared to filter, absorb, and integrate the stimuli around me. Legitimately useful. Purposeful. Everything happening the way it ought to be. It's a nice 'place' to be in -- and a place that exists as a result of the deliberate cognitive, emotional, and physical efforts I've invested to "make it so." The opportunities I've sought and experienced, the "fuel" I've accumulated, the confidence I've built. The continous, incremental improvement.

And so it is with athletic training, too.

Despite 12-14 hour days working at my rural "dream clinic" this summer, being away from my Spinning classes afforded me the rare opportunity to focus on my own specific training goals (with specific purposes, and specific plans to accomplish them). Though my free time is now DRASTICALLY diminished, I still have another 2 weeks before I resume my Spinning classes (I'm teaching 4/week now, including integrating my "Mindfulness/Cycling Fusion" into the mainstream schedule; plus, a"Intro to HR Training" course and monthly progressively long endurance trainings. Stoked to have so much regular contact with the same groups of riders!). So I'm determined to use these 2 weeks wisely. To train with a purpose -- to train "for something."

Months ago, I wrote about the essential importance of "training for something," and in inspiring the people we train to identify their "somethings," the reasons behind those "somethings," and to understand the processes to reach those "somethings." I introduced the concept with a story about how I structured my own winter training on a Spinner specifically to get better at riding a specific false flat near my home in Burlington that used to torture me last summer. We improve our ability to accomplish specific tasks by DOING those specific tasks. And perhaps even more importantly, we increase our self-efficacy for that task -- our belief in our ability to accomplish it.

When I wanted to climb monster hills at 70% MHR, I trained for it. I practiced "progressive loading" (i.e., my "Increase and Breathe" drill) for 1.5 years. When I wanted to increase my lactate threshold, I trained for it. I practiced sustaining 5-10 beats below LT for 60-minute intervals (as a component of a more balanced training plan, of course -- but that's the part that increased my LT by 10 beats this year). When I wanted to get awesome at taking blood pressure and performing fundoscopic exams, I created opportunities to practice them almost every day for my two months at the clinic this summer.

As I prepare for my next Century (Sat. September 26 -- an organized one, this time), I have a specific thing to train for: I will finish it faster. Why? Because if I don't finish sub-8 hours, the "support" goes home for the day. Because I'll have quantifiable improvement for 6 weeks of specific work.

How am I going to do it? Get good at working at higher, still aerobic (still nowhere near LT) HRs.
I've gotten so "comfortable" at getting routine tasks done at 80% LT that it's painfully fatiguing to come anywhere near LT - let alone exceed it. I've been doing all these long, slow distances for MONTHS that I forgot how to surge and sustain sub-LT efforts that in any way approximate "effort."

Essentially, I "can't get it up." My heart rate, that is. I've gotten so good at accomplishing my routine tasks (long, slow distances) and progressively loaded moderate intensities, that my fast-twitch fibers have gone on vacation. We talk about lag/inability to increase heart rate as a sign of overtraining (along with lag/inability to decrease heart rate)-- and, yes, those are tell-tale giveaways -- but an alternate explanation for not being able to elevate HR is being out of practice. Remember, we get good at the tasks we practice DOING. I stopped "doing."

It's Goal #3 where I am concentrating my efforts now: lactate clearance/tolerance. By training 5-10 beats below LT, one improves one's ability to clear lactic acid WHILE working -- and thus prolongs muscular fatigue.

Here's what I've been up to over the past 2 weeks -- and, already, I experience a total difference in my performance. I should also state for the record that I've been taking passive recovery days after each of these.

Training #1: "Surges" to 10 beats below LT.
5 sets (3 surges per set) of 30 seconds apiece, recovering to 85% LT in between.

Later, I varied the surge length: 60s, 90s, 2 mins, 5 mins. It was pretty absurd to remember that, just 4 months ago before my immersion in long slow distance training, I was holding LT for a half hour. (Again, we get good at doing what we practice doing. I used to practice THAT.)

I also varied the intensity (surging to 5 beats below LT), as well as the activity -- Spinner, Arc trainer.

Training #2: Continuous lactate clearance -- sustained work at 10 beats below LT.
Warmed up for 10 minutes (working up to 80% LT), then held 10 beats below LT for 30 minutes. Later, that became 40 minutes. Then, 50 minutes.

Also, varied the activity. Arc trainer and, ultimately, 15 miles on my real bike indeed sustained at that "10 beats below LT mark." That was fun -- flat, traffic-free bike path (i.e., complete control over my intensity). Pretty sweet.

Training #3: "LT surges" with incomplete recovery
To force myself to get good at this, I'm doing a 15.6 mile bike relay leg of a triathlon on Saturday. I'm not a racer. I just want to get good at picking up mileage during my Century without crossing LT, is all -- so I needed something to inspire me to train for it.

A few days ago, I did a pretty neat outdoor training that parallels how I plan to attack this race: 10 beats below LT as my default pace (I'm not looking to win anything: I'm just looking to get good at riding a select 15 miles at THAT intensity), littered with LT surges (30-60 seconds) and "recoveries" to 89% LT.

Training #4: Establishing "My New Comfort Zone"
Yet again, because we get good at doing the things we do all the time, we can determine our comfort zones. When we train for long periods of time at x heart rates, we get good at it -- comfortable with it. This is why people who overtrain at super-intense anaerobic HRs too frequently (often as a result of misguided instructors "kicking their ass" in every Spinning class, in efforts to curry favor from those who don't know better!) don't actually perceive that their exertion is all that high; they get used to it! They suffer the adverse effects of overtraining, they're not making efficient use of fuel, and they're NOT going to accomplish their goals -- but they don't think that they're working all that hard. When they slap on a HRM and attempt to stay, say, below 70% MHR, they feel like they're asleep. Their PERCEPTION acclimated; the initial goal of HR training is to build a legit aerobic base wherein their heart PHYSIOLOGICALLY acclimates to getting more work done without working harder.
My point is: When we train at x heart rate, x heart rate starts to feel comfortable. So long as x heart rate is a sub-LT intensity at which our skeletal muscles have acquired sufficient cellular adaptation (i.e., can burn the right % of fuel from the right sources), we can sustain x heart rate for a really damned long time. (We can then progressively load the amount of work we can get done without working harder -- focusing on breathing techniques to moderate our physiological response to change, so that x heart rate stays right where it is... even with additional speed or load).

I got so good at sustaining 80% LT that I trained myself to get enough done there that I could be comfortable all the time. I want to be able to feel THAT comfortable at a higher intensity. Still sub-LT, still using mostly fat for fuel (though likely not as high a % of fat)-- just able to get even MORE done, and still be comfortable. 89% LT is my new target "comfort zone" -- something that feels easy and refreshing.

Today's 60 minute training on the Arc trainer was pretty neat.
10 minute warmup at 80% LT.
Load to 89% LT and sustain for 50 minutes.
Along the way, I threw in:
2 surges (60 seconds) to that "magic" 10 beats below LT (my prescribed "race pace" for Sat)
1 surge (60 seconds) to 5 beats below LT (something I could hold longer if I had to)
1 surge (60 seconds) to LT

Wow, I did NOT intend to write this much. So much for that whole "responsible medical student" thing.

Allow me to conclude by introducing you to a phenomenal resource that explains, with far greater precision and far greater detail the background knowledge behind the concepts I touched upon here. Spinning MI Jennifer Sage launched an E-book last year called "Keep It Real," a 177-page bible that details close to EVERYTHING an indoor cycling instructor OR enthusiast could ever want to know (or know how to explain to others) about how to optimize indoor cycling training to accomplish indoor and outdoor training goals. You might know the basics of the relationship between road cycling and indoor cycling, and you might indeed know even the most advanced, subtle points covered. But what I find particularly striking is the language Jennifer uses, masterfully speaking to both sophisticated trainers and lay recreational "exercisers" alike.
She gracefully articulates concepts that I've struggled for years finding the right ways to describe -- particularly as it relates to the science of lactate threshold, VO2 max, why they matter, and how to train to impact both.

Moreover, "Keep It Real" features an entire section about intensity training -- how to measure, how to structure training sessions to accomplish x training goals, and then an addendum of various training profiles (to use for your classes, or yourselves). It's fantastic. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

On the continuum of improvement, both as a coach and as an athlete, this book most certainly contributed to mine.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My 1st Century: Check.

Last weekend, I made a cameo in Burlington (I haven't been home for more than 12 hours in two months!). Upon cleaning off my ridiculously frightening desk, I found the scrap of paper that I'd scribbled my Summer 2009 Master Goals List months and months ago as a medical school procrastination tactic, after which I promptly stuffed the paper in my desk. Turns out, there were five things I was "supposed" to do. I actually did two of them so far. Neat. One of them, I think I could pull off if I extend my deadline a little bit (it's a creative way of framing a leg press goal). The other two? Not so much.

"#4) Wrap up data collection for your Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use study
#5) Work up to riding 75 miles outdoors."

Uh-oh. Summer 2009 ends for me this weekend (I resume school on Monday). Better get crackin'.

So today, I did both of those things (PS. if you still want to take the survey, go 'head: I'm not looking at data til tomorrow night...). And then some.

Yours truly, the woman who couldn't touch her bike without crying at the start of summer, rode 107 miles.

It was an accident, really. I was ticked off at myself for not remembering this goal when I rode a 70 miler two weeks ago -- I'd felt fine, I could have kept going. But I didn't. So it doesn't count. I'd said 75, and it made sense that I'd have said 75 -- with 6 weeks til my September 26 Century, having knocked off 75 miles would provide infinitely different psychological fuel than 70 would. (I've written a bunch of blog posts about my deliberate, obsessive and insanely purposeful outdoor/indoor training this summer - micromanaging various physical and psychological weaknesses over time. These mind games are key; those 5 miles totally mattered).

But who the hell has time for a 75 mile ride? Wait, you do. You're on vacation, idiot - you just forget, and work 14 hours a day. So I took the day off from the clinic. I was open about it, too. I told my preceptor that I had to work on my HRM study and ride 75 miles on a bike. He finds my ridiculum endearing, I think.

Great. But where to ride? My "rule" post-accident is that I only take on routes I've seen before. It's a long-term solution but it works for now. I figured I'd do a modified version of the 70 mile route I did two weeks ago. I packed accordingly. As I started to ride, I was antsy. I started calculating a bunch of different mileage combinations of different sub-routes I'd been on since I moved to Central VT for the summer -- trying to figure out alternative routes that could add up to a 75 or 80 mile loop. I kept changing my mind about where I wanted to go -- how hard I wanted to work, how scenic I wanted to view, how far I knew things were. I may have mentioned my junky cyclocomputer before: the cadence clip works fine; the mileage gauge keeps shifting and shorting out (so I never know how fast I'm going, how far I've traveled, ANYTHING like that...). So it was important to me to make SURE I was getting my full 75 in; else, I'd be disappointed in not accomplishing my goal.

Then I saw a sign at what I surmised to be the 12-15ish mile mark: Newport 35 miles. My mission was clear. Forget the loop; I'd make this an out-and-back. 35 miles to Newport (plus the 15 I'd already done), and back. A Century. Today would be my day. How sweet would THAT be?
What a great story it would make. What a great capstone to the best summer of my life. How could I NOT do it? How could I come so close, and not do it?

So I did it. And, upon coming home and mapping it out, turns out I MORE than did it. And I'm not going to lie: I feel on top of the friggin' world.

As always when I do something I wasn't supposed to be able to do, I want to share what I learned:

1) A specific plan with a specific route and specific markers along the way is key.
ALL of my training sessions have these. ALL of the Spinning classes I coach have these. This ride did NOT have this. I didn't REALLY know how far anything really was. My cyclocomputer didn't work, so the vague town mileage signs weren't always accurate. In my mind, there was actually a huge possibility that I wasn't clearing 100 miles. I rehearsed how to cope with that disappointment. I rehearsed being proud of myself for a 90 mile ride; I even rehearsed what I'd tell myself if I found out to have done 98 or 99 miles. The point is: If I knew, definitively, that I was 100% on track to accomplish x goal, I could have used that goal as fuel. I didn't dare. Note to self: I need to bring my cyclocomputer in to get fixed, yet again.

2) Giving myself permission to do anti-cyclist things has contributed to my self-concept as a cyclist.
I stopped clipping in after I hit my head on concrete. Can't wrap my brain around it; just can't do it. I tried. I should try again - but I haven't. I've been riding with my cycling shoes with the cleats screwed off - just to look and feel like a cyclist, even though it's incredibly uncomfortable and contributes NOTHING to the efficiency of my pedal stroke. I have super-tiny pedal surfaces (it's just the SPD clip), so the rigidity of the sole does NOTHING for power -- or "hot feet," for that matter. So today I wore sneakers. Yes, 107 miles in friggin' sneakers. And my feet felt fantastic for the first time all summer. (This weekend, I'm going back to clipless and that's final.)

I've also taken up riding with a larger Camelback, to pack enough food to eat every hour. The light one I've been using for more than a year doesn't hold enough for these distances I've been riding as of late. So I have this pseudo-bulky, pseudo-heavy (when the water pouch is full) thing on my back, kind-of compressing my anterior triangle of my neck (where the roots of the brachial plexus, the nerve network for the arm, neck, and back). But I LOVE this damned bag. I've had to learn to carry my shoulder differently -- contracting the rhomboid (imagine doing a press to the mid-chest) and posterior deltoid, to make sure that I'm not compressing my nerve. It's FINE. I look absurd but I feel fantastic to have everything I need with me at all times.

I also took three separate dosings of 800 mg of ibuprofen, every 3.75 hours. I never do that. I hate taking anti-inflammatories for muscular soreness because they interfere with muscular strength-building (in order to grow muscle, you need to overload it enough to cause a micro-tear and inflammation in the muscle fiber; then, that tear is repaired over the next 24 hours). If you block the tear/inflammation part, the repair never takes place. But today I didn't want to deal with a heat headache or any twinges in my gracilis tendon (which has been inflammed since my post-70 mile hike two weeks ago). So I didn't deal with them.

Perhaps the most anti-cyclist thing that I've taken up doing is BLOCKING wind and slowing down on crazy downhills. Downhill makes me anxious. So I've taken up sitting upright and gently coasting down as slow as I can. See #5, as a consequence. But at least I don't have panic attacks. For now, this will do. I eased up on the brakes FAR more today than any other ride post-accident -- I felt confident, knowing how good I was at slowing down during the 70 miler (previously, I've freaked out when I've felt like I couldn't sufficiently slow down to meet my comfort level). So, a work in progress.

3) I'll say it again: FUEL FUEL FUEL.
I spent time last week with a competitive cyclist who decided it was a good idea to consume only his BMR's worth of calories while he trained, in efforts to lose weight. As a doctor in training, let alone a cycling coach, I simply could not stand back and let this continue. I staged an intervention and tried my darnedest to educate him to the fact that a) BMR fuels a sedentary person's sleep; an athlete burns more calories than BMR by opening his eyes in bed; b) BMR slows down in caloric deprivation due to thyroid compensation (which is why restrictive diets don't work); c) whatever BMR formula he was using was probably wrong, and didn't take into account his lean muscle mass; d) Ready-access glycogen (replenished by eating every hour during training) is permissive for fat-burning; if your glycogen dips past a certain point, your muscles CANNOT use fat for fuel regardless of heart rate. Cortisol will break down muscle for raw protein material for the liver to convert to sugar. I repeat: If you do not regularly replenish your sugar during long endurance training, your body will break down muscle and you will not burn fat.

I used to have a life policy of eating every hour. During my 70 miler and today, I extended that to every 90 minutes, for convenience of stopping. Bad. What that meant was that I was eating too much at breaks (I like to keep my breaks < 2 minutes, which makes it NOT practical and NOT comfortable to eat a whole sandwich at once then get back on the bike), because I was hungry for it. It is better to eat BEFORE you get hungry, and to drink BEFORE you get thirsty. I will do this differently in September.

I also set out today with just plain water in my Camelback (which I NEVER do if I plan to train for more than 3 hours). I started to notice how salty my sweat was - saltier than usual. I was 'wasting salt' because my electrolytes were thrown off. When I stopped at the general store, I poured a whole bottle of Vitamin Water and another bottle of regular water into my pouch. Life-altering. My sweat composition changed within the hour - it was pretty amazing. The kidney's cool like that.

4) The way I talk to myself while I'm riding is BEYOND important.
I'm not going to lie: I could have done a MUCH better job of monitoring my self-dialogue today. Every "F*&$" and "This is never going to end!" and "This f&*%ing sucks!" was ABSOLUTELY not helpful. The last 20 miles were nearly unbearable, thanks to stuff like this. Again, see Lesson #1. I would have been far more positive had I been able to remind myself what I was doing, and why it was important. I didn't actually know that I was DOING anything huge, enough to coach myself through it. All I knew was that I was tired, sore, hot, and frustrated. But you better believe that "Hey, you rode 107 miles. X is nothing!" is going to aaaaaaaaaaaaaaabsolutely me my new favorite self-coaching technique.

5) I'm pretty set on the concept that what I did today was awesome. But I'm already dead-set on what I need to get more awesome at.
Speed. I train to keep my heart rate down despite challenge -- I've gotten so good at slogging along at super-low HRs at 64-74 rpm. So that's the rhythm towards which I gravitate, and I've forgotten how to power it home. I was at 70% MHR (which, for me, is 80% LT) for most of the ride, even when I was really pushing. I didn't even come CLOSE to LT at any point today, even on some pretty ridiculous hills. I find my comfort zone (80% LT, where I spend the majority of my time during any activity) and pleasantly exist there. I sat in that saddle for 8 hours at 15 minutes today. I CANNOT do that, ever again. Yes, I took a ton of breaks. Yes, I physically went into stores to buy stuff. Yes, I may or may not have stopped for an icecream cone at the 85 mile mark (I was SO discouraged around mile 80 -- this was the deal I made with myself to NOT stop and call someone to come retrieve me and Triumph prematurely). But that's a damned long time. I'm going to start training for this on a Spinner, first. I've got 6 weeks to make this happen.

And in the meantime:
"#4) Ride 75 miles" -- check. Been there, done that. Blew it out of the water.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I need 16 more responses for my Psychological Effects of HR Training Study

I try to discipline myself to never post anything anywhere unless it's specifically and deliberately contributing to other people's worlds. But I'd be kicking myself if I didn't take this opportunity.

As many of you know, I am conducting a worldwide study of the psychological effects of Heart Rate Monitor use - sampling the perspectives of recreational and competitive athletes and non-athletes who use HRMs during exercise. This study will identify not only practical applications of HRMs beyond convention but help us, as athletes and coaches like, appreciate effective ways of communicating HR training science (based on what people are anonymously reporting that they perceive).

I am 16 responses shy of my target sample size. Can you help? If you or anyone you know (your students, friends, ANYONE in your life) who has ever exercised with a Heart Rate Monitor, I would be most grateful if you could participate in this 5-minute anonymous survey.

I aim to close down data collection TOMORROW so that I can do data analysis (by hand!!) before I resume my second year of medical school, so that this project doesn't sit on a shelf for months. I know that many of you are eager for results -- nobody is more eager than me!

Spinning MI Jennifer Sage did a far better job of explaining my effort than I am, actually:
Read her post here.

Many thanks in advance for your help!