*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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why on EARTH you'd ride a Spinner for 6 Hours.

I posted a half-baked version of this post earlier this afternoon, and then went out to coach a "preview" of what I had written about... and it was AWFUL. It was awful for the same reasons that this original post was awful -- and it was awful for the exact issue I had raised in the post itself. Irony-much?

I am 3.5 days away from the most important day of my coaching career, leading segments of the 9th Annual "RIDE FOR A REASON" 6-hour Spinathon on Saturday at the Burlington Sheraton. 125 bikes, big stage, all that. The opportunity of my dreams, to lead a massive audience through an individualized version of the reality I shape for them. The concepts, the visions, the rhythms -- the things that bring tears to my eyes at the mere THOUGHT of them (even now as I sit here, writing...) exploded in larger-than-life form. It's everything to me.

I am PETRIFIED. So petrified that I am avoiding full immersion in my prep work for my cues (the ride has been done for a while; it's the "what the hell am I actually going to talk about" part that remains elusive). I'm making excuses: medical school exam (heh), cleaning my house, doing the laundry, writing on Spintastic...

Deconstructing the Profile
The ride itself was easy. These 1.25 hours, arguably, have been in the works for an entire year. The profile and playlist are based almost exclusively on "Kaizen," my farewell ride at NYSC 86th/Lexington my last day in NYC before I moved to Vermont. Am I really playing the same stuff, saying the same stuff, since July 31, 2008? Perhaps I'm saying it slightly better, more confidently, able to draw on more sources to create relevance for my riders -- but it's the same stuff as when I was an entirely different coach, and entirely different person with an entirely different life. This shocks me, somehow.

"Kaizen" was named for the Japanese philosophy (and business management approach) of tapping into one specific subtle issue to improve -- making constant micro-adjustments, engaged in the process of change for the sake of improvement alone. When I learned of this concept, I loved it so much that I not only based and named a ride for it... but I also named my car after it when I first learned how to drive in August. Talk about a "life improvement" ;-)

Since July 31, I've run variations of this ride with different sub-foci and messages, different music, different vibes. It was even the basis for that New Year's ride that I did 3x a week for a month without anyone noticing. It's a format that, almost magically, allows me to be completely in my element -- a vehicle for projecting the most global or subtle message I want to convey with a given ride. Obviously, it's what I would use for Ride for a Reason.

Except it's this very versatility that now strikes me as so daunting! I have done 50,000 things with it -- and can do 50,000 other different things. All the messages I've covered in the past year in my classes, ALL of which directly and indirectly can contribute to the experience of someone who is riding a stationary bike for 6 hours.

Deconstructing the Message
First and foremost, I need to choose what my message will be. When I lack a unifying message, I am not in my element. I need to be in my element.

I am trying to inhabit the existence of someone about to start their 5th hour. I've ridden two 6-hour Spinathons before; I know what it feels to start that 5th hour. It's not as awful as it feels to start the 4th hour - but it's pretty damned awful. What do they need to tell themselves to be successful? What cognitive distortions do they need to combat? What pain are they pushing through? Do they remember why they're doing this crazy thing they're doing?

I think, and have written, SO much about my self-concept as a coach over time. One "big deal" part of that, for me, is the idea of helping people discover what it is that they want, and empowering them to go out and do it. (As it, promoting endurance training isn't as simple as getting people to do "this thing they don't want to do" -- it's actually inspiring in them a sense that they genuinely WANT to become a fat-burning machine, and that this is part of how to go about doing that). When I've done long endurance rides with my classes at UVM, as a component of training them for this very event, it's been all about that -- encouraging them to set short-term, specific, measurable goals WITH REASONS, and to motivate themselves by repeatedly reminding themselves OF THOSE REASONS.

I tried to test the efficacy of this coaching strategy (and life policy) of mine by doing another field experiment on myself, my go-to evaluation mechanism for most of my kooky ideas. I ran through a draft of my ride -- on the elliptical trainer, at 65-70% MHR, for two hours. GROAN. How awful! No, really, it was. Besides the tedious boredom, the elliptical inspires "hot feet" much earlier than a bike -- there's way more direct nerve compression; there are no upstrokes. I've been working for months on forward/backward shuffling and heel-driving on the elliptical (given the applicability to my uber-micromanaged pedal stroke) -- but by and large, that thing is TORTUROUS. I was specifically endeavoring to inspire the very challenges by which my riders would be most distracted (i.e, intense physical pain), to then practice paying attention to my thought processes -- to then translate into cues, of the self-talk that kept me going. Inhabiting another's existence is a lot easier when you've actually lived it. The real gift is inhabiting that existence without having lived it; if you're thoughtful and curious, you can tap into that through individual dialogue. That's what medicine is all about. But in group fitness, cheating is permissible. Actually enduring a challenge and paying attention to the strategies that work for YOU... those make the best cues indeed.

Which brings us to the age-old questions:
What are you climbing for? Why are you climbing for it?

Yeah, yeah, I get it. I am riding because my performance is a reflection of my self-concept. I see myself as strong, as capable of enduring through this challenge. I control my heart rate because I enjoy the experience of having complete control over a physiological process, of quantifying parameters of my performance that I have specifically invested time to improve for improvement's sake alone. I push through pain because I know that I really CAN do this thing I want to do, as a symbolic reflection of my belief in myself.

But can't I accomplish that in, say, two hours? Why am I still on this friggin' bike at Hour #5? What does it mean to me, specifically, to commit to this?

When I rode in my previous two Spinathons, I didn't ask myself those questions. I finished them. But when I look back on them, I remember three things: a) how much pain my feet experienced (I suffered WICKED cases of "hot feet" both times -- I actually started CRYING during my first spinathon, in so much pain. I remember saying out loud: "I can't do this. I can't do this. This hurts so bad."); b) how surprised I was to NOT be exhausted, after spending six hours at 50-65% MHR; c) how boring most of the ride segments were, how uninspired I felt.

You'll note that I did not say that I remembered how proud I was of myself. Even now, I can't say that either were major accomplishments -- even though, in theory, each was its own indoor Century. It didn't feel like that big a deal. It just hurt, and I was miserable.

How do you want to feel when you finish? What is it going to take to make this something you remember for the rest of your life, as a reflection of your strength, your passion, your supreme mastery of your experience?

The Hour that Sucks
As I told my riders in class tonight who are participating in Saturday's event, all they have to do is make it through Hour #5. Hour #6 is cake -- it's so close, you've come too far to turn back. The investment justifies the reason. The energy is high, the adrenaline's pumping. It's fine. It's Hour #5 that sucks.

Hour #4 sucks, too. But the nice thing is that all the hours before mine will be led by exceptionally gifted MI's (Angie Scott, Raquel Schmidt, Anthony Musemici). I'm not concerned that people will be lacking in energy and happiness. But come Hour #5, no joke, there's nothing on earth that makes that hot-foot pain bearable.

I decided that I would lead Hour #5 on Saturday because, for me, it represents the part of the ride when I am likely to be miserable -- and can I channel that pain constructively, to motivate and inspire to not just ENDURE... but to tap into the joy, the passion, the meaning of it all? That's the challenge with which I am tasking myself.

You Are What You Think About All Day Long
I titled this sub-segment and, just like that, arrived at my message.

Hour #5 is going to be about controlling your mind, coaching yourself through your most difficult hour. OBVIOUSLY this is my theme. It's what I talk about all day long. How the hell was this not obvious to me until right now?

I accidentally just found a blog post I wrote just days before I initially debuted "Kaizen," when this concept first started to become dear to me. It doesn't suck: "It's All About How You Talk to Yourself."

I can absolutely work with this:
Block 1: Remembering why you started this. Remembering what you love. Tapping into your passion, the thing that gives you purpose and meaning.
Block 2: Identifying ANYTHING that is interfering with that purpose. Your doubt? Your fear? Your pain? Acknowledge how you feel. It's okay. But use that as a stimulus to reset, recharge, reconnect with what brought you here to begin with. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON? What did it mean to you... to YOU, not to anyone else? "Surge" to conquer those inhibitions, to replace them with affirmations of strength and power.
Block 3: Celebrating the freedom from those now-shed restraints. Charging forward, launching into the final hour.

That, that's a structure on which I can hang my h...eart rate monitor. I sure have a lot of work to do... but I'm slightly less petrified. I just need to adopt the role of the character I play when I'm nervous and awkward, the character who has no need for any of those doubts. The character who knows exactly what she's going to say, how she's going to say it... and why.


Lane said...

"The Body Follows the Mind" was my favorite sentence in the spin instructor orientation manual.

You will do great. Have no fear.

Kala Marie said...

Greatest of luck to you, I know that you will shine and truly inspire those you will lead through their "darkest hour". ;)

Charles said...

Melissa, take those words to heart. "YOU are who you say YOU are all day long" I love that quote. I'll tell you who you are, you are an incredible asset to the people around you. You are an extremely talented coach with so much to offer. People care how much you know because they know how much you care. You are going to have the experience of your life. You, my friend, are going to knock it out of the park!

Melissa Marotta said...

Charles, you just made me tearful.
Lane and Kala - thank you both so much for your thoughtful well-wishes, too.

Deep breaths. I'm still cognitively cluttered but I just fixed micro-imperfections to the ride itself to up-regulate my perception of control. Workin' on cues, FINALLY, as we speak -- inspired by your votes of confidence. Thank you, most sincerely.