*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.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Ride that Never Gets Old.

One of my New Year's resolution "concepts" was that if I find myself lapsing into a bad, energy-draining habit, that I am supposed to replace it immediately with something energy-boosting. I'm not going to lie: I have my share of terribly energy-draining habits, far worse than the one I'll now describe. But one that I've been trying to deal with once and for all is my AWFUL procrastination tendencies. I've analyzed them over and over and over and over and over again -- and what I've come down to is that, for me, procrastination is a self-handicapping mechanism. If I think I don't have access to the tangible and intangible resources (including the "perfect" energy or mood) to do the best job ever in the whole world, I simply don't attempt the job.

I did a few mild- to moderately AWESOME rides over the past few weeks that I've meant to write up for my "Coach Yourself Corner" of do-it-yourself training sessions, the feature I added to Spintastic over the summer designed for my riders, the original audience of this blog. Over the past few months, I've come to appreciate that some indoor cycling instructors have started to read this thing -- which humbles and thrills me but also inspires me to internalize a lot of pressure to, as I just described, "do the best job ever in the whole world." If I don't have the perfect amount of free time, the perfect environment, the perfect attention span... I just don't write. Cue: BAD HABIT. MUST REPLACE.

Truth be told, I don't have the perfect set of resources available to me at this present moment to write about my rides in "Coach Yourself"-style. When I write up rides for that segment of the site, I have a very specific vision for which I'm a real stickler -- what I want people to think about, what I want people to feel. I have to memorize the pathophysiological mechanisms, virulence factors, symptoms, and treatments for 50 bacteria within the next two hours; I really can't justify writing how I want to write. But I can write SOMETHING, I'm now telling myself. And so I will.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. This is a secret that will probably be of interest to you whether you're one of my riders, a rider who's never met me, an instructor who knows me, or an instructor who's stumbled upon this collection of my rantings. Ready...?

I, Melissa Marotta, STAR 3 Spinning Instructor, have done the same damned profile EVERY class I've taught over the past month (with the same exact group of riders). And you know what's better? I've done it on purpose. An experiment. An intellectual challenge. I've spent hours preparing them, too. Hours preparing the same damned profile every day for the past month.

Kidding you, I'm not. And nobody can tell the difference. Why? Because that exact same ride profile with a different purpose, a different theme, a different focus is actually a completely different ride. And that's a concept that illustrates that it's not always a "brilliant" profile, the kind one puts pressure on one's self to create, that leaves a mark. It's something that takes place during that ride profile -- the way a rider feels about himself or herself, appreciates the profound synchrony of movement, breathing, feedback, focus and empowerment. The feeling that rider takes out the door.

And you know what? Turns out, you can create that feeling, fresh and new -- over and over and over and over and over again -- even with the same damned profile for an entire month... if you play your cards right. And it's awesome.

Oh, and guess what? This "how on earth are you not sick of this?" profile is an Endurance ride (per parameters of the Spinning program). I've done a sub-LT profile with a room full of "more is more" (wrong!) recreational athletes who haven't even been riding with me long (see also: I don't have that much "street cred"), and they friggin' love it. Imagine?

I don't purport to represent the "magic answer" to the struggles of designing perfect classes. I sure as hell don't teach perfect classes. But I can tell you about my month-long experiment, and how it worked out for me.

A colleague of mine, a brilliantly creative Spinning instructor, lamented last week by email that she's been feeling overtrained, burned out, and not at all energized to teach her classes. That she's falling into the age-old trap of feeling pressured to "kick (her) classes' asses" in order to keep them engaged. That she knows better - but can't break out of her rut. She stopped believing in herself as a resource, as a coach. She stopped believing that her knowledge of a "better way" was supreme to the myths held by the masses. The themes of her rides, once varied and inspired, became limited to that oh-too-familiar harder, faster, "give it all you've got"-types -- which, while exciting and important at appropriately timed training sessions, isn't the best thing for her riders to be doing every single class. Not good for their bodies, not good for their minds. And not good for their coach, either. And because of that, she forgot what SHE loved about indoor cycling in the first place. She didn't fall in love with it because of how it felt when her ass got kicked; she fell in love with it because of how she was able to make HERSELF feel. The ride profiles that de-energized her didn't reflect that.

One of my personal life upgrades when I "downgraded" from a full-time cycling coach to a relatively sedentary medical student was that I actually started maintaining a healthy, balanced training schedule. Since I wasn't teaching as much (or at all for my first month in Vermont), I was able to spend time just RIDING by myself. I bought myself a Spinner NXT for my bedroom, named it Giacco after the puppy of the amazing woman who taught me how to ride a bike outdoors, set up my whole space to accomodate the VERY specific mirror placement, and made time to connect with what *I* loved about Spinning in the first place. I made myself cry at least twice a week, because I'm just that dorky. When I started teaching again, I actually just plum stopped riding with my classes. When I coached off the bike in NYC (the majority of my classes by the end of my time there, since I was teaching 21 of them a week), it was because I had to. Now I'm choosing to. I'll hop on to model good form during transitions, but otherwise I'm workin' the floor. Why? Because it's hard, and I like forcing myself to get better at it? Sure. But also because, when I'm on a bike during my classes, it's not about me; it's about the 25 people in the room. When I ride Giacco, it's allllllllllllllll about me. And that's where I come up with many of the themes for my rides. It might be a thought, or half a thought even. An experience, a sensation, that I never would have had without taking the time to ride for ME. Away from my class.

This thought occurred to me last summer during WSSC (at which I actually didn't ride that much -- maybe twice the whole conference?), which was the first time I'd ridden "for me" in a while. Josh Taylor's "Just be AWESOME!" (which I remembered from the previous two times I'd ridden with him, but had forgotten about) changed my life. As an athlete. As a coach. I've based at least 10 rides on that line by now. So simple.

A month later, I began the first phase of my experiment. I didn't ride any of my classes for two weeks, and spent all my free time hopping about NYC taking classes I'd heard were "really really bad." It was my research time, preparing for Week 7 of my Summer 2008 Theme Scheme -- which, to coincide with the launch of the "Coach Yourself Corner," was about how to one's best coach is one's self. How great music and great instruction was better seen as the frosting, rather than the cake itself. I spent those two weeks enduring pretty tedious training sessions (which were tedious mostly because they weren't actually presented as training sessions), and presented a ride (and an accompanying "survival guide") based on my experiences. My classes found it hilarious, but I never intended it to be. The whole point was, literally, what do you tell yourself during a training session -- what do you think about? What do you see? All of my cues came directly from the things that popped into my head while I was "enduring" these rides of zombie-esque or cheerleader-esque instructors and music that didn't "do it" for me. Now, "taking bad classes" is one of the top pieces of advice I give beginner instructors (along with riding with inspiring coaches, too, of course!). Underappreciated value in experiencing what not to do, but also discovering what YOU instinctively do to coach YOURSELF... and then, later, appreciating how you can teach your riders to do the same.

These things you come to tell yourself -- they can become the themes for your rides! Spinning MI Jennifer Sage wrote a brilliant piece on her blog a few weeks ago about the importance of setting objectives and sub-objectives during every training session. I make a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuge deal about this with my classes. I talk about it more than HRMs, if that's possible. I encourage my riders to "always be climbing for something" -- for every effort to mean SOMETHING; not everything, but something. Technical purposes, physiological purposes, psychological purposes -- no matter. But something that's going to be a big uniting theme that every effort should reflect, like middle schoolers are taught to write research papers: one thesis to which the topic sentence of every paragraph relates, with every sentence within each paragraph relating to both the topic sentence and that one big thesis. If a sentence doesn't meet those two criteria, it gets cut. That's how I design my ride profiles, at least. And that's how I select my cues, too. (For example, I would NEVER talk about pushing outside of one's comfort zone when my theme was about how rewarding it is to train at lower HRs to become a fat-burning machine -- unless, of course, one's comfort zone is "pushing as hard as you can," thereby rendering "outside" to mean "restraint." I've definitely made rides like that.)

I've been writing for an hour, which is inconsistent with my "bugs and drugs" memorization responsibilities, and I probably could have written up my profiles for "Coach Yourself" at this point. But no matter. I'm ALMOST about to make my point. I'll get there eventually...

I wrote a little bit about one of my rides from last week on my other blog, which is more of an audience-less collections of my experiences during my training in medical school - some relevant, most not; some articulate, most not. I don't usually write about rides on that one, but this one was very special to me. I called it "The Impact Ride" -- and the premise was as follows:

I began, spontaneously, with a quote from Obama's inaugural address, which had been given a few hours before this class began. It wasn't perfectly relevant, but it was timely enough that I made it fit. He was talking about how people should have the freedom to pursue what gives them purpose and happiness. Maybe he didn't say "purpose," but I equate the two and thus subconsciously linked them and, accordingly, that's the version of reality I presented to my class. I then suggested that, often, we don't know what makes us happy. That we don't think about it. So, for the next 45 minutes, we were going to think about it -- and maybe, just maybe, get on track to pursue it.

Part 1: How can riding this here bike make an impact on you? What would have to happen? How do you want it to happen? Is it the feeling of control over your HR? Your breathing? The belief that your physiological experience can match what you intend? What would you need to do to sell it to yourself, that you can have that kind of impact on yourself... right here in this room, on this bike?
Part 2: Now that you've accepted that you can have an impact on yourself, what are you going to do with that? What do you want to accomplish? What kind of impact on the world -- large or small -- would give you a sense of purpose and passion? What would it take to make that happen? What specific, concrete actions can you take?
Part 3: What makes you feel most empowered, like you can do anything? Building on the belief that you can have an impact on yourself, with a clear idea of what is meaningful to you to do with that, climb for it.

Loop ride. Duh. A boring, simple loop ride.
Loop 1 - 70% MHR seated climb, 3 "surges" (I'll explain shortly) up to 75%
Loop 2- Seated climb 70% to 75%, 3 "surges" to 80%
Loop 3 - Seated climb 70% to 75%, 3 "surges" to 80% with an option to 85% on the last one
That's it.

When I use the word "surge," I mean it as an opportunity for an effort of a prescribed period of time - from 30 seconds even up to 2 minutes. I coach it as an opportunity that they can choose to meet however they see fit -- with speed, with resistance, with a change in position... or not at all. I tell them to only take the "opportunities" that mean something to them. I use this device a lot. People used to get really anxious, the freedom of movement. So I address that liability before they can get anxious. I tell them not to let freedom make them anxious... just to try to go with it. Even the most anxious people seem to have come around...

Onto today's ride. I've spent months graaaaaaaadually building the concept, but put the actual ride together in 10 minutes... 10 minutes before I had to leave to go present it to my class. I NEVER planned to finish this ride today - but at the last minute, was inspired to wrap up this ever-building concept and make a "go" of it. The ride was called "Synesthesia," after the concept that one can experience something with one sense (ie, sound) and very vividly extend that experience to another sense (ie, sight -- as in, color). Ever felt that? I bet you have. I experience it fairly frequently, and I thought it'd be pretty sweet to make a ride out of it.

I've been subtly making casual "notes to self" about the particular sounds that evoke -- for me, when I'm riding FOR ME (see above) -- experiences of other senses. I used absolutely no new sounds. I used my go-to power standards, that my classes have heard 500000000 times, and told them to give themselves permission to hear and experience the same sounds differently. To close their eyes and "see" the rhythms. To breathe the rhythms. Smell them. Taste them. To respond to the images they invoke for themselves, of themselves. Tapping into the thoughts and images that empower them. Relating them to SOMETHING, anything, for which they're climbing.

Loop ride. Duh. A boring, simple loop ride.
Loop 1 - 70% MHR seated climb, 3 "surges" (I'll explain shortly) up to 75%
Loop 2- Seated climb 70% to 75%, 3 "surges" to 80%
Loop 3 - Seated climb 70% to 75%, 3 "surges" to 80% with an option to 85% on the last one


Really? That's it? You've been doing THAT for a month and nobody's realized, and your classes are packed... and they tell you how unique and inspiring they are? YES. I AM SERIOUSLY NOT KIDDING.

Am I going to use this profile for the rest of my life? Of course not. I'm going to do something different tomorrow, in fact. But has this month been a fascinating experiment? Aaaaaabsolutely.

It's not what you do. It's how you can inspire them to use their own minds to think clearly, to empower themselves to accomplish whatever they need to use their time to work on. It's what they take with them when they walk out the door.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Rewards of Recovery

One of the things I'm worst at in this world is staying away from the bike. For those of you who have been riding with me a while, you've absolutely witnessed how utterly atrocious I am at what is a seemingly simple concept.

I coach off the bike ALL the time -- always moreso than I ride (as was required for someone teaching 21 Spinning classes a week during my last year in NYC) -- and relish the opportunity to walk around the room to facilitate individual connections. But when it comes to staying 100% away from this instrument where I feel most natural and at peace in the world...? I suck at it.

When I had my hernia surgery, I *had* to sit in the saddle to demonstrate proper upper body form. When I tore my psoas, I *had* to join you for my "favorite" (every) part to the top of that "best-ever" (every) empowered climb. When I hit MHR while coaching "Be It. Own It. Control It." and vowed to stay 5 feet away from a bike for the next 48 hours -- and even showed up in clunky snow boots so as to physically inhibit my ability to ride... or when I wore full-out street clothes to my class before our 6-hour overnight ride at Grand Central Station last year -- yeah, guess what happened?

As I wrote about last week, I started 2009 with an independent, introspective enjoyment of my own company and thoughtful new goal setting -- a most powerful experience on which I based an entire ride (that I get to do again tomorrow, in fact, with my Burlington crowd!). I had a fantastic opportunity to close out 2008, over my 2-week break from medical school, immersing myself in My Former Life in NYC (including 32 of my former Spinning classes, most of which I spent in the saddle -- which was totally irresponsible regardless of how low I kept my heart rate, given my newly deconditioned life!). What I did *NOT* write about last week was how I closed out 2008 with my heart waking me up in the middle of the night with palpitations and all-out refusing to help me climb subway steps, and a week-long headache. Ironically fitting for 2008: my year of The Great Crusade Against the Overtraining of the Masses, while every day perpetuating it myself.

I saw this first full week of 2009 as a defining moment. A defining moment in my training and wellness. A defining moment as a coach, practicing what I preach.

What better way to set the tone for the whole year ahead than by investing in myself in a way that I encourage SO many people to do... and yet have never, ever done myself?

I took a passive recovery week. Yes, 7 whole days where I, by and large, did not do a blessed thing. I mean NOT a blessed thing. I didn't pick up a dumbbell. I didn't do a single crunch. And I certainly did not touch a bike (it's helpful that Triumph does not come out in inclement weather -- see also: November - April here; but I didn't touch Giacco, my Spinner, either!). I parked a few extra steps farther from school to get some extra time in the frigidity, and liked those extra steps. I stretched lightly a few times after climbing the steps in my condo. I foam-rolled a few times, just because it's my favorite life activity. But other than that? Nope.

Instead, I slept 8 hours a night. I ate well, consistent with my specific needs for fuel. This evasive state of pure restfulness and rebuilding that I have avoided for the better part of my adult life -- it was mine.

And it was amazing.

Over the years, both competitive and recreational athletes alike have come to me with complaints suggestive of overtraining. Just some examples of the many ways overtraining presents:
Can't get your heart rate up?
Can't get your heart rate down?
Tired all the time?
Trouble sleeping?
Trouble concentrating?
Remembering stuff your friends and significant others tell you?
Remembering stuff at work?
Hungry all the time?
Irritable and cranky?

I make it a major Life Priority to educate people about even the unconventional signs of overtraining, and what to do about it. The first time I appreciated, for example, that I was overtrained (looooong before I became a fitness coach) was triggered because my brain kept shutting down at work. I couldn't concentrate or remember things. I wasn't able to be creative. I was frazzled all the time. I'd been "working out" 6 days a week, taking Spinning classes 3-4x a week. Hadn't lost a pound, and was actually starting to gain. When I got a cheap, no-frills heart rate monitor and educated myself about proper training, I not only lost 40 lbs (no joke -- I posted photos within my "How to Become a Fat-Burning Machine" post during the Summer 2008 Theme Scheme) but was also able to regulate my mood and cognitive abilities. I started having original thoughts again... and could actually remember them for longer than 5 seconds. Amazing. All by incorporating specific heart rate parameters and specific purposes -- transforming "workouts" to "training sessions" -- and by adding in the recovery that my body really needed.

Now as a coach, I suggest to people describing these (and other) manifestations of overtraining that they at least CONSIDER incorporating not only active recovery (which many people also do not do enough of -- working veeeeeeeeery lightly, 50-65% MHR, to promote muscle repair and increased circulation) but total passive recovery (completely OFF). I remind them that elite athletes incorporate this into their periodized training schedules -- that's a GREAT thing. And yet, people balk. They're scared. They're afraid they're going to gain weight, going to lose their conditioning. That they will undo their YEARS of working "so hard" (note: this is part of the problem). That they'll become basketcases with no alternative coping mechanisms to counteract the physiological stress response (though maybe they don't exaaaaactly express that fear that way...).

I always assure them that this is not the case, with proper education and planning. Citing literature, citing famous examples of accomplished athletes' training schedules, citing everything I can imagine under the sun -- and yet, that fear often still carries the day for many people.
So that's why I'm writing...

From Sunday, January 4 11:49AM until Monday, January 11 at 12:49PM, yours truly sat still and looked at beautiful mountains (and hematology textbooks).

And here's what happened:
1) My resting heart rate dropped 7 beats!
2) I lost 2 lbs
3) My blood pressure dropped markedly

And while I didn't do any pre- and post-test assessments (but should have, for argument's sake), I notice subjective improvements as well.
4) I focus and pay attention better... and actually remember the stuff to which I attend -- while in class, while conversing, even while driving.

And when I returned to the wonderfulness of movement today, it was so refreshing! 45 minutes on an elliptical trainer, 65-70% MHR almost all of it. I did a few surges to 80% to test my heart's response to such challenges (mostly so that I could blog about it, actually) and -- not at all surprisingly -- my recovery rate has improved by 50%. Crazy.

I'm not telling you this for a pat on the head. I'm telling you this because I believe that one of my purposes in this world is to help people identify when overtraining is happening, and to spread the word about how to combat and prevent it.

Comments welcome on your own experiences with combating overtraining and experiences with the rewards of recovery! There is street cred in numbers.

My Burlington classes resume tomorrow, which means the return of new profiles. I've never done a sequel before, and thought it'd be interesting to try... if nothing else. Since I'm doing the New Year's Ride tomorrow (I was with my NYC classes, so these folks haven't ridden this yet... so stoked to get to do it again!), Thursday will be Part II. No killer title yet (or a profile, in fact...), but the theme: Anticipating and Preparing for Challenges. I'll post the profile over the weekend.

First, to put my newfound attentional and memory abilities to the test...

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year's Empowerment Ride

My most sincere apologies in the delay in posting my insanely self-hyped New Year's Ride, to all the people to whom I promised. I've just spent 13 days playing nomad around NYC, bouncing about from couch to couch (and even to a kitchen floor!), with shoddy wifi access and a big honker, dying laptop without an "N" key. Awesome.

Now back to Burlington (and, most importantly, to a full keyboard), I present to you "2008: A Year in Review."

It's less a ride that you might want to think about re-creating for yourself... but more just some reminders of the things you might have thought about while you rode it, and thoughts you might want to revisit.

The Preparation
The Last Dragon
Against the backdrop of this uber-dramatic, chilling instrumental, I asked the class to stop pedaling and close their eyes.
I asked them to raise their hand if they've ever had a New Year's Resolution.
I them asked them to keep their eyes closed, then raise their hand if they've ever broken a New Year's Resolution.
Chuckles, smirks, and nervous "what the HELL is she going to do?"-esque murmurs washed over the crowd.

I offered that the reason that many "resolutions" we make on January 1 do not stick because we make them solely because it's January 1 and we're "supposed to" -- without investing the requisite time to plan them. Maybe it's because (as it applied to my riders) we live in New York City and never sit still long enough to think (I have to drop that line when I do this ride with my class in Burlington now, heh). Maybe it's because we live in a results- and action-oriented society that often does not reward reflective, self-directed pondering. And so, I offered, if nothing else - this ride would be an opportunity to take 45 minutes out of our crazy lives to sit and think. The structure would be simple: three hills, three different purposes.
1st Hill: Celebrating 2008 -- what did we accomplish? What gave us a sense of purpose and passion? Where did we feel we've had the most impact? What do we want more of?
2nd Hill: Challenges of 2008 -- what didn't go so well, and what can we learn from it?
3rd Hill: Based on the first two hills -- giving ourselves permission to dig down deep and dream, based on what we've learned from our experiences and opportunities.... because, then, we'll truly have something to climb for.

The uber-dramatic Last Dragon chords continued. I told them that, when they were so moved, to begin to pedal... and prepare to "tell themselves the story of 2008."

Tell Me A Fable (Robert Miles)
6 minutes - progressively load to 65% MHR, experimenting with changes in resistance and speed to maintain the same refreshed, confidence-enhancing flow of energy. What gave you energy in 2008? What couldn't you wait to get up out of bed and do every day? Tap into those thoughts and images that empower you.

Upon a dramatic change in the rhythm, load enough resistance to support your weight out of the saddle and smoothly transition up to a run. Practice smooth, controlled, rhythmic breathing to maintain 65-70% MHR.

Upon another dramatic change in the rhythm, smoothly pick up the pace. Find 70% MHR either holding the run, transitioning out to a standing climb or back down to a seated climb. Climbing however you feel most empowered.

The Reaper (George Acosta)
Entre Dos Tierras
7 minute climb - rider's choice of position, focusing on adjustments to progressively loaded resistance and strong breathing techniques in through the nose and out through the mouth to maintain 75% MHR. 90 second surge to 80% at the top of the hill.

Thoughts to ponder:
What is your most significant accomplishment of 2008?
Was it big? Was it subtle? Why did it mean so much to you?
What can you do now that you could not do one year ago?
What surprised you?
How as your attitude enabled you to succeed this year?
What was your passion? What made you feel most fulfilled?
Where were you most effective? Where did you have the most impact?
What has made you feel fully alive?

~10 minute climb
Beat It (Michael Jackson)
Find 70% MHR on a seated "false flat." Progressive loadings ("increase and breathe") to maintain the same level of effort on a seated climb.

2008 wasn't perfect - was it? (Chuckles and smirks... less nervous grimacing as during the warmup! I'd earned some street cred by the fact that my hokeyness might very well be balanced by the humor of playing Michael Jackson... as in, how could I really be "for real" trying to effect live-altering change during a 35 min ride? Too bad I was.)

Thoughts to ponder:
What got in your way in 2008?
What did you "tolerate?"
What drained your energy and kept you from giving or investing to the things that fueled your first climb?
What would it take to get to the bottom of that? And what would it be worth it to you?
What do you need?
What fears and doubts interfere with your ability to be effective?
What stands between you and your concept as an agent of change?
How have these experiences shaped who you are?
What opportunities exist now that did not, before you failed?
What are you uniquely qualified to do, or who can you uniquely serve -- because you failed?

Summer Overture (Requiem for a Dream soundtrack)
You have 90 seconds. Pick up the pace (still maintaining 70-75% MHR).
Focus. Change isn't easy -- if it were, you'd have done it already. But over the next 90 seconds, what can you tell yourself to make it different this time? Your attitude? Your circumstances?
Some decisions, we remember for the rest of our lives. What would need to happen to make THIS decision one of those times for you?

What can you commit yourself to?

"And while you're at it, commit yourself to 75% MHR." (This line just CAME to me in the moment, and it was so ridiculous that it was a nice break for those who didn't want to "go there" from a self-analytical standpoint).

The Space We Are (John O'Callaghan remix) << my favorite song on earth
Like Hill #1, 75% MHR climb - rider's choice. 90 second surge to 80% MHR at the top.
Thoughts to ponder:
What are you leaving behind forever? Having kicked out those energy drains, give yourself permission to climb like someone who is free. Freedom of movement, freedom of creativity. Does it make any difference?

Homecoming (Bond)
Look at Me Now (Jessie)
Samba Adagio (Safri Duo) <<-- I lied. THIS is my favorite song.
Explosive (Bond) <<-- Wait! No! THIS ONE. Ohhhhh my gosh, this song. Dying. LOVE THIS SONG.

Technically, everything is the same. 70% MHR seated flat to seated climb ("Increase and breathe...") -- but what makes it different? Every time you touch the resistance knob, attach to it a thought. Loading mindfully, aware of how your body and breathing respond to your acceptance of challenge and opportunity.

Thoughts to ponder:
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
What are your expectations?
What do you want to learn? What do you want to experience?
What do you want more of? How can you adjust your life to acquire more of what you want?

Loading up to a hill that is NOT the toughest you've ever climbed. Find something manageable, something able to be sustained til the finish line (about 11 minutes to go).

Dramatic pause.

But life isn't constant. We will have challenges, and we have to choose how to meet them or not meet them -- and how to make adjustments, to hold steadfast to those manageable "hills" regardless of external circumstances. To simulate this, three 90-second surges: rider's choice of position, speed, heart rate. Making choices to meet opportunities in a way that is consistent with one's goals.

This is the Time (Billy Joel)

Argh. I really wanted to post this NOW before I made excuses about doing crazy things like studying. But I have to go teach. I'll write more about thoughts/consequences at a later post...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Life Policy: Blog More... Study Less? (Heh.)

I canceled three sets of new year's plans, designed at staying alone in an apartment that's not mine in a city that's not fully mine anymore -- solely for the purpose of writing on my cycling blog. Do I feel lame? Au contraire. I'm fulfilling my promises to myself, is all.

When I launched this site (2008 Resolution #7, actually), my key priority was to ensure that this was never about me. It was to be a universally applicable resource for the recreational cyclists who took my classes -- training tips and techniques, speckled with dashes of sports psychology and my coaching philosophy... and, of course, cautionary tales about the merits of avoiding tearing any major hip flexors, falling face-first off your bike in the middle of Central Park, or becoming the posterchild for overtraining. See? Clearly, never about me! ;-)

But in all seriousness, my concept of what my site should be about is actually what has kept me from contributing to it recently.

You see, 2008 has marked major developments in my two separate (but interdependent) life pathways -- that of a coach, and that of a physician-trainee. My existence can be summarized as both competition and complement between these two paths. Of course, I cannot overstate the extent to which my experiences as a coach are going to make me a better doctor. Empowering people to take a proactive role in their physical, emotional, and psychological wellness is precisely what led me to medicine in the first place -- exactly as I strive to do through Spinning. And I hope that one day, my new medical knowledge will make me a more valuable resource as a coach. However, I find it challenging to balance my time and energy (both finite resources) between investing in my own development within each of these spheres of existence. I maintain two separate blogs -- this one for cycling/coaching (for YOU), and another for medical training (for ME). Ironically, the themes I reflect on through my medical life are based on the same principles I taught myself through coaching fitness -- and, moreover, only my regular Spinners will appreciate the URL of the other blog! (Even if you're not interested in the content, amuse yourself by dragging your mouse over the hyperlink.) Writing has consistently been my way of "keeping it real" -- it's how I best learn from and process incoming stimuli. Launching Spintastic has undoubtedly made me a better coach. It has forced me to develop language that can stand on its own to empower and educate: in writing, I cannot hide behind the drums of Safri Duo, my increasingly uninhibited dramatic "calls to action," or the sheer power of the endorphin response to physical movement. I have to create my desired effect through pure merit alone, and I dig the intellectual challenge of it.

But now as a first-year medical student, I can't justify spending hours blogging away within both realms of my life. In theory, I'm actually s'posed to study - lest I have any reasonable expectation of becoming competent to be responsible for a human being's life one day. If I have "x" needs (reflection, processing, maintenance of critical self-awareness), it's the OTHER blog that meets those needs... since that's the one for me: I don't worry about whether I sound inarticulate, incompetent, or even psychotic. Those who follow it accept those ground rules. To a large extent, "Feel the Road" has served its objective to maintain a healthy perspective about the absolutely crazy things I've done and seen during my training thus far -- which is why it's been "winning" out.

Well, that's all going to change in 2009. I realize now that things are different: Spintastic was an outgrowth of my Listserv, wherein I'd send out my schedule laced with "get a HRM, keep your HR low, become a fat-burning machine at rest" propaganda (sounds terrible, right?) to all 350-something of you -- then those who were extra-interested would visit Spintastic for extra info. That's not really how it works anymore. Listserv postings only go out when I visit nyc; Spintastic gets visited by people of their own volition, at their own prompting, likely on a quest for an alternative to Facebook for a procrastination-at-the-office mechanism.

So, I'm just going to write. When I have something to say that can in some way serve as an remotely interesting thought that someone can apply to their training, their wellness, their life outlook - DONE. I'm writing.

Is this a New Year's Resolution? Nah. That term gets a bad rap, given its association with likely failure. I wish it weren't the case. I think it's because the kinds of goals that happen to get set on January 1 often are set BECAUSE it's January 1... and people get sloppy in declaring what needs a-changin'. They don't invest the requisite time and mental energy doing the necessary planning work. Goal-setting is an art, and it's all about the planning. My New Year's Eve ride today ("2008: A Year in Review") was about that: first block, we spent time reflecting on our accomplishments from 2008 -- the things that brought us joy and fulfillment; second block, how we can learn from the challenges we weren't yet able to overcome; third block, setting goals to maximize the stuff from block 1 and set us up for success on the issues raised in block 2. I'll post the full ride soon. Have to teach in 6 hours...

Anyway, one of the things that I personally accomplished in 2008 was getting pretty darned good at setting goals. Becoming a better goal-setter was a theme of some of my actual 2008 "resolutions," as it were -- there were 10 of them on the color-coded list I made on 12/31/07... and I actually kept them all. Imagine?

I got into medical school and commenced my training as a physician -- in a brand new place, so far (literally and figuratively) from anywhere I've ever known.
I earned my STAR 3 credentials from the Spinning program. I became a certified personal trainer.
I "de-cluttered" multiple realms of my world: from literally eliminating every piece of paper I owned, to making challenging decisions to shape key interpersonal relationships, to actively surrounding myself with people and experiences that have enriched and empowered me.
I explored a stimulating new hobby (sports psychology and meta-coaching).
I launched this blog as a fitness resource, and as an opportunity to connect with so many people about my dearest passion.
I even reached a point where I don't need to make color-coded, 10-item resolution lists to feel "on top of my game." Yes, that was on my list last year.

What made these stick? Yes, they were specific. Yes, they were measurable. Yes, they were moderately realistic. But that's not why they stuck, per se. They stuck because they meant something to me. It really mattered to me THAT I either "did x thing," or carried myself "x way" -- for a specific reason that was inextricably linked. It's like I wrote about last year -- it's that reason behind a goal that often is what carries the day.

That, and my weird quirky knack for calling my goals "new life policies." The stakes feel so much higher ;-)

(BTW - when I went back to retrieve that last link after remembering that I once wrote the exact same sentence a year ago, I found a whole lot of really thorough goal-setting pieces (all of which I thoroughly plan to re-read tomorrow)... now I see why I've felt too daunted to write! I cannot believe I used to teach 21 cycling classes, write epic novels like this craziness, and still sleep 8 hours a night and maintain a real life. I'm exhausted just living my former life for 10 days this trip!)

So, point is: I'm going to write again. 2009, for me, is going to be allllllll about effective time management. I have specific, short-term, measurable sub-goals that all relate to that overarching theme -- an area that I am striving to not suck at. Eh? One of said sub-goals is to contribute creatively to THIS blog, a reflection of my involvement and investment in this realm of my life that brings me such opportunities, joys, and unbelievable rewards.

(Feel free to harass me if I don't deliver.)

Here's to 2009!