*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.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"I'm Going to Make a Ride About This"

Please take a moment to picture this ridiculous scene from one week ago today. I'm laying on a stretcher about to be loaded into the ambulance, neck-braced and boarded, bleeding all over the place, unable to abduct my left eye. EMT kneeling next to me on my left, my riding partner on my right. I look up at my friend with my right eye, catching a glimpse of the blood still gushing from my mouth as I speak.

"I'm going to make a ride about this," I tell her.
"Of course you are."

It's hard to pinpoint when this transition took place -- that is, how it came to be that my daily life experiences (both major and SUPER-trivial) get transformed into generalizable concepts from which someone-who's-not-me can actually have a meaningful experience of their own. I suppose this evolved over time. When I first started instructing, my rides had very concrete, simple objectives (i.e., "Today we're going to try to stay aerobic the entire ride" or "Today we're going to practice the Perfect Pedal Stroke"). Over time, the objectives got a bit more complex ("Today we're going to practice using our breathing techniques to modulate the relationships between speed/resistance and heart rate."). Today if I were coaching a ride based on the latter (see also: every friggin' ride I ever do), it COULDN'T stop there. Modulating heart rate response to change would HAVE to be framed in terms of commitment to a greater life truth, a reflection of personal integrity and triumph over distraction and despair.

Or something like that.

About a year and a half ago, I started reading a ton of sports psychology books (at which time I linked all my favorites in the lower left corner of this blog). Very much inspired by the concepts and the language to which I was exposing myself, I incorporated whatever 'turned me on' into the training sessions I developed for my riders. Over time, I started to appreciate how directly all this "stuff" translated beyond cycling, athletic performance, etc.; sports psychology, I reasoned, was the direct pathway to a structured, logical, rewarding life. I already conceptualized my world as a stage for achievement -- just the same as a huge race/event/whatever an athlete would shoot for. By applying solid coaching techniques for breathing, focus, visualization, self-talk -- ALL that stuff -- how could I NOT be contributing, globally, to my performance on said stage? And how could I not try to deliver that special experience to my riders?

So that's where my rides started going. I think I've played my cards right, over time. The original formula must have been something like four parts logic, speckle of cheese, powerful song, speckle more cheese, solid technical concept, TON of cheese, self-deprecating remark, bit more logic, speckle more cheese, really great song, RIDICULOUSLY CONCENTRATED CHEESE, self-mocking chuckle. Whatever it was, it either worked... or it didn't need to. Over time, I grew into the role that I'd been inadvertently carving out for myself -- as a coach, as an athlete, as a human being looking for a 'space' in the world that makes sense. In so doing, I came to define and redefine the way I approach my own daily existence. Through processing the shades of gray with deliberate specificity, it has become almost second-nature to abstract some "general life concept" to which the average Spinning participant can relate. There's something about articulating "life concepts" to a group of people who trust you that somehow makes you get your shit together. Quickly. And so it happened for me. I have FAR better coping mechanisms for, err, EVERYTHING since I started accepting responsibility for other people's coping mechanisms.

These days, my stimuli for ride ideas comes from one of three things:
1) Something I see/read that gets me thinking -- I create a ride as a mechanism for processing a particular angle of my experience with it that I think my classes would benefit from processing, too. This can be technical ("Guys! I was watching these two guys struggling up a hill, pointing their toes -- and I declared a personal life mission to teach YOU all how to NOT be Those Guys!") or abstract (I once did a 90 minute ride about a chapter in Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" -- parts of the same chapter that are STILL being worked out through various rides, months later. Fantastic book, by the way.)

2) Identifying a poor personal coping mechanism in ANY realm of my non-cycling life, and dealing with it. Whatever I learn from the "dealing with it" part almost 100% makes an excellent ride theme. For example, I decided in October that I was utterly incompetent as a medical student (after being unable to memorize 2100 nerves, arteries, veins, spaces and hole in the head/neck alone), and clearly unfit to be a doctor. I shut down, stopped learning and just wallowed in my self-pity. So I made a ride about the premise that the way we see ourselves dictates our performance -- so over the next 45 minutes, we would break that down and see what difference it makes. It's not that complicated to get people thinking... they may not be used to it, but it's all in the way that one pitches the merit of investing the energy to do so.

3) Training solo -- on a Spinner, on a road bike, on an Arc trainer (love), on an elliptical (hate; insist on doing 2x a week because it instantly inspires boredom, frustration, and discomfort, and thus forces me to develop creative training coping mechanisms on which to base rides. My recent "TELL ME WHY" ride that many of you liked came directly from a tedious 60 minutes on the elliptical, where I had to justify to myself why I was training -- and in so doing, came to appreciate legitimately rewarding aspects of that experience.

I made three profiles already about my concussion and its aftermath.

Premise: Sub-ideal things happen all the time. We can dwell, or we can tap into SOMETHING about a particular experience that brings us benefit -- something we learned, something that changed the way see see ourselves or others, something that now uniquely qualifies us to serve in some new way. What allows us to make this transformation is exerting complete control over our attitudes -- talking to ourselves, inhabiting the thoughts that empower us most.
Ride: 3 blocks.
First block: gathering data about how your body responds to challenges - speed, resistance, change in position.
Second block: Progressive load into TEDIOUS seated climb. 25 minutes. It was slow. It was boring. There were segments where I stopped talking (their task was to talk to themselves). There were segments where I shut the music off for additional challenge to their focus. All the while encouraging them to husband their resources on the task at hand, envisioning the opportunities their success would afford them.
Third block: Celebrating their strength, for having endured through that challenge -- and climbing through three surges (because what else would I do?!) in a way that somehow feels different. Because they are somehow different. They've learned and experienced something that they can take with them.
Disclaimer: I try to avoid projecting self-enamored grandiosity whenever possible, but SOMEONE needs to steal this line that magically spontaneously came to me through my post-concussive fogginess.
Upon the last surge to the finish line: "You can make this minute last as long as you want to."

Turns out, the 'make yourself tearful' threshold gets drastically reduced when you bang your head on concrete. Dork.

Premise: My first few days returning to normal life after my accident were super-fuzzy. I was walking into walls, checking out of conversations, falling asleep all over the place. Lame. Mid-week, I went to the rural clinic where I'm training -- and I felt like I wasn't able to completely "interact" with my world. I wasn't hearing or seeing or even touching things normally. I couldn't take blood pressure, I couldn't hear heart sounds. I was just fuzzy, detached from my senses. So the premise of the ride was to reconnect with our senses - to focus so intensely that we can detect the very subtleties and nuances that enrich our experiences, if we take the time to appreciate them. Reacquainting ourselves with our own senses, a powerful experience that we rarely take the time to do.
Ride: Warmup. Progressive loading. 14 surges (remaining below LT) -- same as always: opportunity to respond to the challenge of one's choice. Sometimes I alerted people when they were coming; sometimes I cued them to close their eyes, anticipate the challenge, rehearse their response, and go with what they felt -- that they'd know EXACTLY when it was time for them to surge; and if they didn't, then it wasn't time for THEM to surge. (Not going to lie. This ride was pretty sweet...)

I'm debuting a ride tomorrow, based on my return to my bike (yes, Day 6 - I got back out there. It wasn't pretty: I was a wreck. Every time I saw a pebble or a twig -- not to mention a car -- I stiffened up, got tearful, and dismounted. Lame. I'm still going to force myself to immerse myself in my fear; that's how I'd treat anyone else engaging in this defeated avoidance. It'll be fine.). Admitting fear is ok -- that's the first step to proactively dealing with that fear. So that's the premise of the ride: accepting reponsibility for SOMETHING holding one back, and spending the next 40 minutes working through that (it's a 40 minute seated climb; I hope my riders don't read this tonight! Heh.)

While it sure has been convenient to have a single event inspire three separate rides, it is my hope that my next inspiring stimulus be slightly less dramatic. At least for the next three weeks while I finish up my first year of medical school. I don't have time for this melodrama, fantastic creative fuel source or not!


Anonymous said...

You are amazing, Melissa. 100% unbelievable and amazing. I love you wholeheartedly and am beyond encouraged by your fierce recovery. I wish I could bottle your wisdom and spread it around! Heck, I'd drink a few myself!

Melissa Marotta said...

Krista! I replied via Crackberry but I don't think it went through! Thank you SO much for such a thoughtful and empowering note. As one would imagine, a head injury 3 weeks from the 'finish line' of one's first year of medical school is QUITE sub-ideal. I've been trying to treat the world as a Spinning ride (as opposed to the other way around, as I write about often) -- which, on one level, is more 'masterable'... on another level, pretty ridiculous. But your comment encouraged me to trust my coping mechanisms, fuzzy and/or ridiculous or not. So, thank you!