*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, June 29, 2009

Whirlwind NYC Tour: 7/1-15

Oh my goodness. It's time for another whirlwind immersion in My Former Life.

In less than 48 hours, I'll be driving to New York (leaving Kai, my shiny blue Impreza, who REALLY needs to not score me another shiny speeding ticket) for a 2-week trip to fit in as many people, coffees, and Spinning classes as possible.

If you're in town and you want to ride, here's where I'll be. All various NYSC locations around Manhattan (and one in Brooklyn). If you're not a NYSC member and you want to ride, email me at melspin@gmail.com (easier to respond via Crackberry than to blog comments; I'll be playing nomad, crashing on random friends' couches, so legit Internet access may be scant).

Wed 7/1: 6:30PM (86th/Lex)
Thurs 7/2: 12:30PM (City Hall) & 6:15/7:15PM (36th/Mad)
Fri 7/3: 6:30AM (86th/Lex)
Sat 7/4: 9:30 & 10:30AM (23rd/Park)
Sun 7/5: 9:30AM (41st/3rd) *

Mon 7/6 6/7PM (23rd/Park)
Tues 7/7 12:15PM (Union Sq - 14th bw 5th/6th) & 7PM (Park Slope)
Wed 7/8 6:30PM (86th/Lex)
Thurs 7/9 6PM (59th/Park)
Fri 7/10 6:30AM (23rd/Park)
Sun 7/12 9:30AM (41st/3rd)*

Wed 7/15 6:30PM (86th/Lex)

*Note: Sundays have become my "50 mile training days" (ok, so maybe I've only done this twice -- and maybe only once outside; yesterday was a 3 hour ride on my Spinner - last hour was pretty tedious, not going to lie. But not exhausted at ALL -- maintained 60-65% with occasional surges to 70% and 75%.). So I'm going to keep this up in New York. Since I'll be on a Spin bike anyway (an NXT with good mirrors around, at that), I'll be riding another 2.5 hours after I wrap up my class (with a full cool-down/stretch/"goodbye"). If anyone wants to incorporate some endurance training into their lives, I'll actually plan a legit training session (instead of winging it solo). Email me.

I'm actually a bit nervous to return to my old world, as it were. Absence makes the ridiculously inflated, overhyped expectations grow fonder. And my style has tooooooooooootally changed drastically, even in the 6 weeks since I've last been in town. For the better, but tooooooooooootally different. After the mindfulness course I just taught, I can't ever go back to a world where I'm NOT orienting a training session that way. But it's ok; it'll be an interesting intellectual challenge to pull it off with a population that hasn't been "mine" in a long time (I come to town and play "rock star" in this insane parallel universe where teaching Spinning classes somehow earns that kind of ridiculous, unearned hype, reconnecting with a few regulars -- but most of these classes are people I don't know, who don't know me). It's going to be ALL about the introductions -- framing it, giving it context. I wrote about this concept once, though I can't find the link. Those first 30 seconds make or break a class -- for me, at least.

If you've been reading Spintastic for a while, you've likely abstracted the sense that I'm big on goals and sub-goals. Two trips ago, my goal was to jumpstart my new 2009 training regimen -- my sub-goal was to lay the groundwork for avoiding overtraining. Last trip, my goal was to stop teaching 5 classes a day every time I'm in town like I used to do for a living (i.e., forgetting that I don't have the same cognitive/physical resources that I did pre-medical school and thus running myself into the ground). I taught 5 for the week, and had a LOVELY time reconnecting with the non-Spinning aspects of my old world (which I was in danger of forgetting I even had!).

This time? Goal = teach as many classes as humanly possible. My brokeness is more important than my sanity/social life. Sub-goal = prevent overtraining (maintain 65% MHR for as much of the week as possible, and seize the opportunity to perfect coaching off-the-bike for ENTIRE rides against a backdrop of a 99% lack of street cred. Random sub, entirely off-bike, spouting random stuff about breath and intention and self-efficacy and whatever the hell else I talk about all day? Really?

Yup. 'Sgonna be awesome.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Trusting Your Judgment: Evaluating Yourself... and Evaluating Others.

Yesterday, I drove 9 hours (round-trip) to ride a stationary bike for 2 hours. Some might call that crazy, and indeed those "some" would be correct. But every mile of the drive, every pedal stroke of the ride, was specifically by design -- and very specifically worth-it for very specific reasons.

When I learned that Spinning MI Josh Taylor would be presenting his signature "Everest Ride" in Boston, I literally squealed. The right half of my brain cites Josh Taylor rides among its Top 5 Favorite-Ever Life Activities; the left half of my brain understands why. Together, we're going to describe this for you as a jumping off point to discuss a bunch of stuff that's been on my mind lately -- namely, the science and art of evaluation (both of ourselves, and of other instructors).

Recollections of a New Instructor.
The first time I rode with Josh Taylor (ECA in New York, March 2007), I had been a Certified Spinning instructor for a mere month. Hadn't yet taught a single class. Had been riding religiously with the same instructor for 3 years, of whom I thought the world: high-energy, engaging, entertaining. Shared my taste for REALLY bad mid-90s dance music. SUCH a character. I followed him around NYC to ride at various clubs, and hung on every word he said. Inspired me through my gradual evolution of "life upgrades" -- heart rate monitor, cycling shoes, instructor certification. Talked about "fitness literature." He was so much more knowledgeable than any other Spinning instructor I'd ever met. I treated his -isms like gospel.

During my Spinning instructor orientation, many of my hero's signature "moves" were covered and demonstrated. In the Contraindications segment.

One-count jumps, hovers, a few other things I'd been instructed to do several times a week for years. There they all were, right there in the list that my new certification was making me promise not to instruct another human being to effect.

Well, I told myself then, if the Spinning program says I can't do this stuff as a Spinning instructor, then I won't do it. My hero isn't Spinning-certified; this stuff must be allowed by his certification program (Schwinn). Spinning has its "core moves," and my job is just to do these core moves and that's it. I'm supposed to only do the things that people would do on a road bike, is what they say. I get it. I'll do what Spinning says. I'll follow Spinning's rules just swell.

Table that. We'll come back to it.

So I got certified and started taking a bunch of different instructors' classes before I started teaching, in efforts to broaden my perspectives. I didn't want to parrot "my guy" -- I wanted to get ideas for profiles and cueing, even music. I wanted to fine-tune my appreciation for what worked and did not work for ME as a rider, so that I could translate that into my instruction. I declared that this would be a value to which I would most fervently commit from day 1 -- that I would always make time to invest in my experience as a rider; I knew that it would make a difference. And damned straight it did, damned straight it still does.

Every class I took that first month sucked. I was so bored, so unstimulated. But I kept showing up, and kept talking my way through all of it.
Note to self: don't say that. Don't to self: don't do that. Ohhhh, absolutely do not do THAT either.
How did that make me feel?
Is there ANYTHING about this moment that can teach me something?
How can I make this experience mean something?
How would I do that better?
3 years later, I still engage in the exact same dialogue with myself every single time I take another instructor's class. And every time I force myself to have this dialogue *especially* under conditions of tedious desperation, I evolve. Not a dramatic, life-altering evolution. A subtle step along my spectrum of continuous improvement. A blast of mental training, a dash of mindfulness. A sprinkle of Kaizen.

Then, I went to ECA and met Josh Taylor. It's funny, looking back on this experience 2.5 years ago -- the specific aspects I remember as unique and special and life-altering, they're really NOT. But at that point in my life, I'd never heard an instructor coach people to close their eyes and make their experience on their bike go beyond the bike. Big deal, one might say now. But that first time, it really WAS a big deal. That was NOT the style that I'd trained under. It was NOT consistent with the set of expectations I'd brought to the table.

"This is Spinning!" he said. "This is what Spinning is all about."

Really? How, after 5 years, was I seeing something SO different? It was a little bit hokey, a little bit over-the-top. It was a little bit nuts, all this talk of "feeling," and "inhabiting," and "connecting" and all sorts of crazy stuff that seemed absurd to intertwine with exercise.

Dude, we're riding a bike. WTF? I kept thinking.

I'll never forget the rhythm that changed my life, that changed the entire way I see my world and the people, moments, memories, opportunities therein. Climbing seated to rolling thunder, almost stuffy drums. I was bored. I was an hour into my first-ever 2 hour ride (for which I trained for months! Little did I know that I'd one day pop 2 hour rides like candy...). I had bad, bad hot feet. Is this guy for real?

Then it struck. Some kind of Apache tribal warrior-type thundercloud war chant. It struck me, like a dynamite explosion under my butt -- numbing me with a warm, comforting ecstasy, driving me out of the saddle, each explosive beat driving my upstroke. My shoulders assumed a groove they'd never been inspired to explore, an expression that would one day become "my thing." My hamstrings inhabited the beat so fluidly -- I was that beat. I don't remember looking at my HRM (I think I didn't used to be this obsessive about it?), and I remember not caring. My heart thundered, synchronized to the booming fire echoing through my ears. I had no objective measurement of my power; I didn't need it. That moment was everything to me.

The beat subsided and I returned to the saddle, breathed my heart rate down. What the HELL was that? That... feeling? What IS this?

I walked away from that experience declaring that Josh Taylor was the best thing to ever happen to life, and that I was damned proud to be part of a program that could make me feel like I just felt. It became my personal mission to share THAT feeling with another human being. I couldn't describe it if I tried. I just had to figure out a way to do it -- to experience it, to find a way to translate it.

That became my criterion for evaluating an instructor's talent. "Did he or she make me FEEL something?"

Table that. We'll revisit that, too.

My Progression.

One year later, I rode with Josh Taylor again. I'd been teaching a year, then. Life was entirely different. My music tastes had changed, my approach to creating profiles had changed. I was way more technical than I'd imagined. I was super-into heart rate training. I'd started my first training tips listserv. I was comfortably settling into the role of being a "resource."

I still took tons of other instructors' rides, and evaluated them according to:
1) Did they make me FEEL something?
2) Did they do any contraindicated movements, per the Spinning program?
3) Were they sophisticated enough to incorporate HR training "accurately?"

Turns out, that paradigm wasn't so effective:
1) I was missing the greater point. Truly great instructors don't MAKE people feel something.
How I reckon with this now: Gifted instructors motivate people to inspire THEMSELVES to feel something. That's the art. That's the part that lasts.

2) While it's easy to identify that short checklist of "moves" that the Spinning instructor manual prohibits, that approach also misses the greater point. CONTRAINDICATED MOVES ARE NOT BAD BECAUSE "SPINNING SAYS SO." They're contraindicated because they're unsafe. Did I "get" that then? I don't think so. Moreover, this framework does not account for how to handle novelties not covered in the manual as prohibited/unsafe. If an instructor, apparently seasoned and popular, does something that I'd never seen before -- how do I evaluate that? If my body feels bad when I do it, that's a good sign that it's bad. But what if my body DOESN'T feel bad? Does that mean that it's not bad?
How I later reckoned with this: Ask myself what a) muscles are performing the action, under what conditions and b) for what purpose. I'm a second-year medical student and a certified personal trainer, so I now feel confident with my knowledge base of what muscles do what and are supposed to do what. If I can't answer both of those questions, I ask the instructor. If their response is inadequate, I pursue this further via credible sources (I try to find e-textbooks whenever possible - but often a simple Google search is a good start, with a skeptical eye to screen for quack/otherwise unqualified junk).

Spinning MI Jennifer Sage wrote two brilliantly thorough pieces on
a) what's wrong, specifically, with certain "moves"
b) how to explain this to your students when you correct these unsafe practices
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Moreover, inspired by Jennifer's recent efforts to spearhead a movement to enhance safety in Spinning classes, I am going to start re-evaluating how I approach correcting my students who deviate from 100% safe form (if they're close, I tend to 'let it go.' No more...)

3) If a "seasoned, popular instructor" said something HR training-related that I'd never heard before, I'd default to assuming they were credible and that I was simply a "newbie" who didn't know any better -- that this was all part of my learning process, assimilating these new truths. Turns out, this is not necessarily so.
How I later reckoned with this: Actively educate myself through credible sources (see above, plus taking as many continuing education courses as I can -- I read texts/journals/newsletters/books/legit forums like a fiend, have taken every Spinning CE workshop available plus a ton of online courses). If someone says something "new," I ask them. Most times, they can't back it up. If I'm motivated, I challenge them. If I'm tired, I excuse myself and figuratively pat myself on the head that I've invested in myself to have educated myself better.

back to the second Josh Taylor ride. Similar style/approach, though he paid particular emphasis to the idea of "not telling people what to do." Again, from my present reference frame, no big deal. But then? HUGE deal.

"Ride this song," he said.

Whoa. Life-altering moment that forever changed the way I coach. In fact, I credit that one moment with jumpstarting me on my trajectory to starting to conceptualize myself as a coach at all. To teach people to make their own choices -- allowing themselves to feel something, to respond to stimuli, etc. That started right there. I made a ride called "RIDE THIS SONG" in February of 2008, and unleashed a whole new world. My music changed. My cues changed. My themes changed. I changed.

And Now?
Literally, every week, I am an entirely different instructor. I chuck most rides because they strike me as obsolete, amateur flops as soon as a month later. I coach off the bike to be able to preserve my own training time (without overtraining) to work on inspiring the very connections in myself that I hope to effect in other people. I spend time inhabiting my music (on a Spinner, on an elliptical, in the car -- only disadvantage of the latter is that I can't close my eyes), and the creative juices flow.

I try to take other instructors' classes whenever possible, even if only for the experience of training myself cognitively and emotionally to cope with "strife." I introduce myself and my background at the start of the ride, to obligate me to endure, to be present, and to be... PLEASANT. Masochist. I force myself to identify at least one thing I'm going to thank the instructor for, something genuinely deserving of appreciation. Empty positive feedback is just as bad as no feedback ("Nice job" -- groan.)

NOW here's the paradigm I use to evaluate others:
If you actively educate yourself, and keep educating yourself, you can have confidence in your judgment. Whether you're an instructor or a rider or both, your job is to educate yourself. This empowers you to make your own decisions, and to trust those decisions. You don't need to blindly follow the clown at the front of the studio. Put yourself in a place to genuinely believe that you "know better."


Two weeks ago, I took a class with an instructor who seems to be held in high regard by people whom I hold in high regard. His class was a well-planned Endurance ride, and he was tremendously more knowledgeable than other instructors I'd met in his community. I appreciated his attention to proper form. I appreciated how much attention he paid to HR training, and how actively he encouraged training at lower rates. I tapped into this appreciation, and reminded myself of it... every time he pissed the everliving hell out of me:
* "You should never cross 140 bpm. I never do."
>> Hello, you have NO idea what 140 bpm means to everyone in the room. 140 is the lower-limit of recovery for me. I have a metabolically measured LT of 184; if you don't know that about me, don't prescribe me a specific heart rate in bpm.
>> If the idea was to refer to aerobic heart rates, the "never cross it" concept is wrong, too. Elite athletes incorporate periodization into their training religiously; us mere mortals can afford to do the same. The heart gets stronger from variety; MOSTLY aerobic work, but weekly trainings exclusively between 75-85% MHR and weekly anaerobic intervals are important components.
>> Half the room wasn't wearing a HRM. Apart from one reference to "being at a 16" early in the ride (with no explanation of the RPE 1-20 scale; if I wasn't an instructor/trainer, I'd be as lost as the people in the room...)

"Quarter-turn to the right."
>> CONTRA-FRIGGIN-INDICATION. I expected so much more from this seasoned, popular instructor. Why I was especially enfuriated was that I knew those damned bikes. I knew they were falling apart. I knew just HOW different every bike was -- that's one reason we *DON'T* say things like that, because it's unsafe to assume that a quarter turn on Bike A (when we ride Bike B) is appropriate.

* "
It's your ride. Ride however you want to, seated or standing. [I rise up from a seated climb to a run for 20 seconds, with intent to transition to a standing climb after I stretch out my legs -- I'd been seated for 30 minutes straight; I'm training for a Century... I try to hold the saddle as much as possible!] But if you're in hand position 2, that is THE most inefficient position you can possibly climb in."
>> This statement was designed to generally correct something specific he saw that he didn't like (i.e., how I was riding).
First off, there was nothing to correct. A run is an appropriate transition to a standing climb, especially someone who has been pushing a ton of resistance in the saddle for 30 minutes.
Second, calling me and my choice "inefficient" does nothing to motivate me. It makes me shut down, makes me want to leave and never ride with x person again.
Third, it does not account for what I need to train for. I ride a hybrid with a horizontal handlebar. I rarely stand; but when I DO stand, my form more closely resembles HP 2.

Again, asking myself what I can learn from negative experiences:
* I am now exquisitely sensitive to making sure that the words that leave my mouth are carved deliberately, and leave no room to be misconstrued as defeating/demoralizing riders at worst -- at best, pissing them off and inspiring them to recount their exchange with me in a blog post about poor instruction.
* I was quite proud at how readily I rejected these three observations. Early in my Spinning career, I might have been intimidated by this person's standing. But now, I really do know better. I educated myself, and I trust myself. I trust myself to recognize inappropriate practices when I see them, and to believe strongly in my assessment. To practice commitment to that assessment, to be able to support it with evidence -- that's a very specific skill. I train my riders in the process of "practicing commitment," as this skill directly shapes our physical and mental performance -- on the bike, and off (i.e., training as a physician is ALL about "practicing commitment").

So when I practiced commitment to my 4.5 hour drive (each way) to Boston, I reflected on the life-altering moments past that symbolically marked the path of my evolution through the Spinning program.

The Everest Ride, which I'd heard about "being awesome" but hadn't heard anything about what it actually was, centered around the concept of accepting a challenge beyond your limits -- and being willing to leave something behind to make it there. Using the experience of riding the Spinner to process that emotional force, to deal with it somehow.

Ummmmm. Sound familiar?

I felt a warm flush wash over my body. It had something to do with 50 people in an enclosed studio with no fans, but it was more than that. It was the appreciation that what I was about to undertake was not going to be another "first pass," a novel concept. This was how I saw and interacted with the world. It was going to be an affirmation of my values as a coach, as an athlete, as a person. The things I'd arrived at through the path I carved out myself, translated into well over a dozen versions of training sessions to inspire that level of awareness and analysis in other people. A symbolic marker of my progress along that continuum.

As I heard the powerful voice that has guided me over time, nearly synchronized with the thoughts booming from the depths of my brain in anticipation, I knew what I was "leaving behind" on Everest. Doubt. Doubt of expertise, doubt of usefulness, doubt of here-and-now efficacy to DO. Not just in Spinning -- Spinning is just a tool -- but in all of the things that I compartmentalize into the "potential to do... one day" box.

I tasted fear. I tasted pity, anxiety. My eyes burned with salty unease. There were moments when it hurt so badly that I cried; moments when my desire for "clearance" seized my breath, my movement. There were moments when I felt so purposeful that I cried more.

9 hours in a car, 2 hours on a bike, 3 hours on a blog. All distinct, specific processes designed to question, answer, evaluate, re-evaluate.

I felt something, alright. I made myself feel something.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What I Learned During My First Half-Century

I'm going to let several hundred people in on one of my former best-kept secrets. When people become Spinning instructors, one of the basic choices they have to make is whether they're going to get up there and 'do their thing' (safely designed training sessions devoid of contraindicated movements) or specifically go out of their way to appeal to outdoor riders. I decided I was going to become the 'fan favorite' of the roadies. Talking and looking the part, educating people with solid training principles, serving as a decent resource post-class for my racers, I arrived at the role I intended. I trained outdoor cyclists in a personal trailing capacity, coaching them for all kinds of big events. This was "my thing." But here's the kicker: Prior to one year and one week ago, I *never* learned how to ride a real bike.

When I was 6 years old, my dad was teaching me to lose my training wheels. I begged him not to let go, as he chased after me on our street. He let go. I fell off. I broke my wrist and never got back on.

Last June, I ended my relationship with a guy I truly thought was The One. As a symbolic act of independence, I hauled myself out to Brooklyn (away from anyone who expected me to be this crazy accomplished road cyclist), rented a bike and (with the help of two awesome friends, both gifted indoor cycling instructors) taught myself to ride. Picked it up pretty quickly -- I found that all of my indoor cycling skills directly translated, once I figured out how to pick my foot up for a push-off stroke. I bought my bike last summer, Triumph (named for my first Endurance ride that people actually requested, and for the fact that I friggin' taught myself how to ride a bike in a day). 'We' rode around NYC, dodging taxi cabs and inhaling truck exhaust fumes, and managed to live to tell about it. When I moved to VT a few months later, it was SO nice to not worry about getting killed by a car every 5 seconds. Legit bike lanes and wide shoulders and nice people -- imagine? But I also encountered another new phenomenon: HILLS. Turns out, anything that ever inspired me to downshift in NYC absolutely didn't count. I had no idea that I'd genuinely never been on a legit hill, even a legit false flat. I had no idea that I actually really truly SUCKED at climbing. On a Spinner, I'm clipped in -- I have use of my entire leg, and my entire leg can do amazing things. On a real bike in sneakers, I'm SO limited -- inefficiently mashing my way up, petering out and dismounting. Ick. Hotshot cycling coach from NYC walkin' her bike up all the hills on group riders. Nice job.

But I got better. I strength-trained like crazy this winter (better able to mash, if need be) and designed my own indoor training sessions to simulate the conditions I knew I wanted to get better at riding outside in my new 'hood (better able to control my heart rate when I had to work hard). I registered for my first Century this September. And I built up my confidence to actually 'life upgrade' to clipless pedals. But what happened on my first day clipping in? My front wheel got wedged in a crack on the road, and I landed on my head - a bloody mess on the side of the road. It had NOTHING to do with my pedals; I would have fallen the exact same way (I've analyzed this repeatedly...). But now I've conditioned a new association between fear, my shoes, and my bike in general.

I have a history of panic disorder, which has been in check for a long time. I've not had a panic attack relating to my bike. But one of the things that happens with panic is that the ANTICIPATION of having a panic attack leads to dramatic avoidance behaviors. I've been avoiding my bike like the plague. I got VERY good at rationalizing my avoidance: need to study, it's too rainy, it's too windy, all that. My rationalizations had tremendous buy-in power. But at the end of the day, I was avoiding my bike. I made myself ride a few weeks ago and bawled all the way through it, thinking I was going to die every time I saw a crack in the road or *gasp* a car (again, my accident had nothing to do with a car). It was absurd. I vowed that when school ended and I moved out to my rural wonderland, that I would force myself through gradual exposure until I got back to baseline.

I imagined how I would handle this with a panic patient, and asked myself the same questions.
What are you afraid of? Falling and landing on my head.
Is that a logical expectation? Yes, you idiot, it JUST happened.
Why would you fall? There'd be a crack in the road and I'd get stuck it in again.
Do you have control over that not happening?
No. Cracks come out of nowhere.
If you see something scary, do you have choices in your response? I guess I could get off my bike and walk - but I might not see it in time.

Done. Intervention point identified. I chose a route that I'd driven a dozen times -- and I drove it again, analyzing the shoulders very specifically. I made mental notes where the shoulders were going to scare me, when I'd have to veer over into traffic. I made mental notes where the "scary" downhill portions would be. I told myself that whenever I was scared, I had permission to get off my bike. That my only goal was to get to X intersection and turn around and come home.

So I did. Out-and-back, 20 miles RT. Nothing special. Did it in sneakers, though, and was genuinely proud of the hill work I did (Central VT is an entirely different UNIVERSE than Burlington). Saw my preceptor and some others at a gathering afterwards and declared that I was going to double my efforts the next day (today). Oh REALLY?

Stickin' with what worked, I drove out a route I'd intended for a 20 mile out-and-back (40 RT). 40 miles is the longest I'd ever ridden - I did it once last fall (before my more specific training), and it wasn't pretty. I got a sense for where the roads sucked, where I'd probably get scared, and rehearsed how I'd respond. I mapped it out when I got home -- and just for shits and giggles, figured out where an extra 5 miles (so, 10 round trip) would be. Just in case I got ambitious.

I also checked the forecast. Thunderstorms. Great, now I can avoid again!

Woke up. No rain. Wind looked tricky but not awful. Wind. Bad. Let's not do this.

I told myself how proud I would be if I did this. 40 miles is no joke. I would feel like I were back at baseline. I could stop being afraid. If I could ride 40 miles, I would genuinely believe that I could ride like a real person and start conceptualizing myself like a real cyclist. Come on.

Upon retrieving Triumph from the shed, I felt a drizzle. See? Bad idea.
It stopped. Ugh, I guess we're doing this...

Rode 10. Roads were tricker than I remembered them. Not happy. Wanted to turn back.
Told myself that if I road another 5 and was still unhappy, "we" could go back. Felt ok. Another 5? Sure.

The next 5 miles were TREACHEROUS. The entire thing was downhill, steeply downhill. I tensely clutched at my brakes, compressing my median nerve like none other. My face hurt from the horrified expression I must have been wearing. I clenched my jaw. I clenched my shoulders. I clenched a gazillion other parts of my body that I coach people not to clench. I thought I was going to die.

Really? Why are you going to die?
Because I'm going fast.
Have you ever gone fast before?
Did you die?
Do you have brakes?
Have they ever failed?
Why would they fail right now for the first time ever?
Because there's wind in a weird direction.
Fair. Do you think you could slow down slow enough that wind wouldn't matter?
I guess.
Do that, then.
Ok, I can do that.

Before I knew it, I was at the 20 mile mark.
Another 5? No.
But in another 5, you'll be at the halfway point of a Half-Century. Don't you want that?
Hell YES. Go.

When I saw the lake that I'd flagged on my map last night as the 25 mile mark, I got tearful. I was so proud. It meant that I WOULD ride 50 miles. There was no turning back -- or rather, there WAS turning back. Turning back MEANT riding 50 miles.

And I did. Hell yes, I did.

And what did I learn? I learned that all the crazy, cheesy, overly analytical things I coach my riders indoors to think about actually works. It works amazingly.

More specifically:

1. "Begin with the end in mind."
I often ask my riders to fast-forward to the end of a training session. How do they want to feel, physically and emotionally? What kinds of choices do they need to make in order to make that happen?

I didn't really have a clear end in mind. At the 10 mile mark, I was sort-of content to go home - sort-of disappointed, too. At the 20 mile mark, I HAD an end in mind: I was riding 50 miles, and I was going to entirely revolutionize my self concept as a cyclist. The last 30 miles of my 50 were ENTIRELY different, because I believed that I would actually do this crazy thing I set out to do -- I didn't feel 'set out' until close to the halfway point.

2. "It's all in the way you talk to yourself."
An exercise I've started doing recently is counting the number of positive vs. negative statements I make to myself. I lose count after a few minutes, but the intention is helpful.
When I veer towards a crack I'm trying to avoid, it's NOT helpful to hiss, "WTF is wrong with you?" as I'm prone to do.
When I'm freaking out about a steep downhill, it's similarly NOT helpful to yell at myself for freaking out.
If, instead, I tell myself that x scenario is ok, that I'm ok, that I'm good at things, that I have permission to use all of my resources and available options to improve my situation -- THOSE things are helpful.

Our attitudes are directly shaped by the way we talk to ourselves.

3. "Know your numbers."
My cyclocomputer is a piece of junk but the cadence meter was actually working today. And obviously, I don't engage in (most) physical activities without my HRM.
Why was that important? For one thing, I know what HRs and cadences I can sustain.
But for another related but separate, underappreciated thing (by me, at least), I can be comforted and assured when I see numbers that are WITHIN the range of things I know I can sustain.
Sure, that hill is ridiculously steep and never ends -- but you're pushing 80 rpm.
What does that mean? That means that this hill is within the scope of your abilities. You maintain 80 rpm routinely. You're REALLY good at maintaining 80 rpm. It's just like on your Spinner. Just keep pumping. You're fine. If you weren't fine, you'd slow down and start petering out.

When I question my ability to do "this thing," it's the numbers that speak against that doubt. I would NOT be maintaining 80 rpm on a hill I couldn't climb. If I see a heart rate that is below LT (which I just had officially measured during a metabolic test -- I have 100% confidence that my LT is my LT), I can shut down ANY self-talk that says I can't hold this level of effort. No, dude. You can hold LT for a half hour. You think you can't push 15 more seconds to the top of this hill? You hold LT forever all the time. Go.

You can psychoanalyze yourself and beef up your ego and have complicated internal dialogues all you want, with varying degrees of success (depending on your level of buy-in to what I'm writing about) -- but you can't argue with numbers. If you know the numbers that you're good at -- when you see them, you know you're doing the same good thing you've gotten so good at doing.

4. Eat every hour.
I've been saying this forever to my riders, in anticipation of our longer endurance special events (I routinely do 2- hour rides with my regular groups, and this is a rule). I'm glad I followed my own advice. It worked well.

Biochemically, though it's not actually known why, there needs to be a certain level of glycogen PRESENT even if fat is the predominant source of fuel for skeletal muscle at a given aerobic heart rate. When the glycogen stores are depleted, skeletal muscles cannot use fat -- even if there's a ton of fat around for fuel. Next best thing, cortisol starts smashing protein (from muscle) to have amino acids as raw materials for the liver to start making its own glucose. I don't know about you -- but I have a ton of fat that would LOVE to be fuel. So I make it a point to keep replenishing my glycogen stores every 60-75 minutes of exercise, always, no matter what.

5. If, after 50 miles, your upper body hurts WAY more than your crotch, you're doing something wrong.
I think that's a pretty fair "life policy." My form outdoors is lacking, big time. When I take breaks, it's not because my butt or my legs ache; they're always "median nerve breaks." I compress so badly that I literally lose muscular function of my entire right thenar eminence (i.e., my thumb can't shift down). I climbed my miles 35-40 in a WAY higher gear than I needed, just because I couldn't shift down but didn't want to stop in the middle of a hill I remembered lasting FOREVER (downhill) in the opposite direction.

I am a "gripper" when I brake down a huge hill (because I'm scared), but have gotten better about being mindful of my grip, elbows (down, not out), shoulders and hip flexion while I'm climbing something tough for me. I don't think I'm leaning forwards terribly much.

I don't have this problem on a Spin bike. I've trained most aspects of my form such that they come very naturally. If there's anything that I can do differently it might be to increase the angle of my hip flexion, such that I'm sitting more upright -- less susceptible to the laws of physics, that I would physically move in the direction of my acceleration. If anyone has any thoughts, I welcome them!

6. Beyond how you talk to yourself, how you SEE yourself determines whether you believe the things you say to yourself.

I don't think I thought about this much until today. I tell myself all sorts of things. I lie to myself frequently. "This is the way it is, self." No, that's actually NOT how it is. But I adopt it as truth, and run with it.
"You're not afraid." --> "Ok, I was actually petrified. But, yeah, ok, I'm not afraid. Great. Glad we're agreed on that front now."


The mediating variable is self-concept. I never saw myself as a real cyclist until today. I was always faking it, always limited by some liability or another. When I'm afraid or I screw up, I attribute that to the fact that I'm "not a real cyclist." It didn't matter how many people I've coached or with whom I've corresponded/dialogued. It didn't matter how many people I've inspired, or who have inspired me. I wasn't a real cyclist, and that was that.

The next time I tell myself I can't do something, I'll have a new comeback line that I'll actually believe in.

But you rode 50 miles.

Yeah, I did.

Next-Up This Week:
1) Using Your Expertise (as an instructor and/or as a rider) to Evaluate Stimuli Around You and Improve Yourself in the Process (i.e., ideal vs. sub-ideal instruction, contraindicated movements, inaccuracies)
2) Streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetching for Cyclists (I promise, it's coming, Jen!)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Do It Yourself Ride: Triumph Over Adversity

When presented with a challenge that I a) don't want to do and b) don't believe that I CAN do (i.e., 3 more reps of a ridiculously heavy weight; 10 whole more seconds of a max-effort sprint on a Spinner; mashing inefficiently up a Vermont hill in sneakers because I'm too fearful post-accident to put my cycling shoes back on; memorizing 2100 nerves/arteries/veins/muscles/"spaces" in the head and neck alone; breaking the snooze-button cycle when I've only slept for 3 hours and have NO desire to interact with any portion of the world outside my bed), I often try rationalize with myself.

"Self," I say (well, maybe I don't say that part...), "You accomplished X! Did you forget that you accomplished X? If you can do X, why the hell can't you pull down that piece of iron three more times? Are you kidding?"
Well, sure. That makes sense. I DID accomplish X. Yeah, that was pretty sweet. I'm kind-of awesome, I guess. Yeah. I'm going to go ahead and pull down that piece of iron three more times. I can do that. After all, I accomplished X!

Myself and I, we have variations of that conversation about all sorts of things. Contrary to public opinion, "we" would often prefer to snuggle in bed all day rather than contribute to society. There's a lot of "conversations" that make 75% of anything I do all day actually happen.

It's kind-of amazing the kind of systematic self-scrutiny and dialogue that can transform one from the inertia of NOT doing to... well, doing a whole lot, just by building on one's own appreciation for the things one has been good at, is good at, and will be good at in the future.

It's too bad that most of us, even folks as overly self-analytical as me, are too consumed by the present challenges and distractions of the moment to spend time appreciating the very things that could actually HELP us better navigate those challenges.

Now who wouldn't make a ride out of that?!

My first ride with my cycling/mindfulness fusion class upon the completion of my first year of medical school was entitled "Triumph Over Adversity." The premise was that, as I described, we rarely take the time to celebrate ourselves and our accomplishments -- especially the little ones. But that maybe, just maybe, if we could tap into SOMETHING about those moments in our lives -- that maybe we could channel that to fuel our efforts towards the conquest of a new challenge.
The fuel of our confidence, of our self-efficacy, of our rhythmic breathing, will empower us to accept a challenge slightly beyond our comfort zone -- to accept it GRADUALLY, in such a way that we can sustain it. (Think: "Increase, and breathe." -- description on the right-hand side).

10 minute-seated climb
I asked my riders to close their eyes and think back to a moment when they felt that they had truly accomplished something meaningful. Maybe something huge, like finishing their first year of medical school (giggles erupt; half this group are my classmates); maybe something small, like making someone else feel special.

I then suggested to them that sometimes when we accept a new challenge, we don't do it in such a way that projects out far forward enough. We overshoot, we burn out. We try to change too much at once. So it is on the Spin bike, I told them.

Progressive loadings until their legs slowed down. Sloooooooooooowed down. I asked them if it felt lousy. They agreed. Back it off, find 65% MHR again.

I then told them that by the end of the ride, they will have the opportunity to work up to that SAME challenge -- but will get their gradually. And it won't feel lousy. They won't even notice it.
Fueled by the science of physiological adaptation and their belief in themselves, they'll just feel and BE awesome. Done, let's go.

Think back before you even took on that challenge. What inspired you to make that decision? What did you expect? What did it mean to you, looking ahead to accomplishing that one thing?
What were you trying to solve? To change? To improve? What were you hoping to learn?
And when you did it, how WERE you changed? What are you now uniquely qualified to do?

Suggested music:
Fix Me - Velvet (Club Mix)
Inconsolable - Backstreet Boys
(Go ahead and laugh at me -- just wait til you hear this song. It makes me cry. I blast it in my car, I blast it at the gym, and now I blast it in my classes. NO JOKE. New favorite song. I've hit an all new level of lame, but you absolutely need to hear it. Love. LOVE.)

I told my riders that the rest of this ride had three rules, and only three rules:
1) We change ONLY one thing at a time: resistance, speed, or position. Any change we make is subtle -- nothing slows us down, nothing changes the heart rate. Make a change, and breathe to modulate our physiological response to that change. "Getting more work done, without working harder" (that's for you, Lane...).
2) We change breathing before we change anything. Anticipate the change, change the breath (i.e., your fuel for the change), then make the change.
3) If you feel uncomfortable, you ignore me.

On that premise, we applied two concepts:
Music slows down, we add resistance. See Rule #1.
Music speeds up, we speed up. See Rule #1 (which implies that we sustain resistance).

That's right. 35 minutes without backing off that resistance -- but progressively loading it.

Within that context, they were free to climb as they saw fit.

When I made this ride, I had absolutely no intention that a room full of people would actually do this. But they DID. I did it with them. OH my gosh, it was amazing. What a huge rush to be really pushing and pulling through a RIDICULOUS amount of resistance smoothly and fluidly because of how damned gradually we loaded it, negotiating heart rate as we went. I was aerobic for almost all of it, in fact -- hovered right around 75% MHR for most of it. It's alllllllllllll in the breathing and just how gradual one makes changes. This is how I do most of my training personally -- pick a particular heart rate and sustain it through various changes. But this was NUTS.

But you know what? Science works. If you do it right, it works. And it's so cool.

Select suggested music
(you need to play with stuff to find your tempo changes, if you're going for that -- and you need to tinker with your own/your classes' attention spans, too. That's the tough part, the art of sustaining attention. 35 minutes is a long time):
Take On Me (Topmodelz Remix)
Storm of Life (Manian)
The Greatest Love (Whitney Houston - techno remix) ---
ohhhhh, you have no idea how cheesy I got with my cueing. I got away with RIDICULOUS stuff. It was awesome.
Rock Star (N.E.R.D. - Jason Nevins remix)
<--- EVERYONE friggin' loves this song. They loved it in NYC, they love it here in VT. It's a staple finisher, as "un-me" as it is.

Turns out, this was one of the best rides I've ever conceived and presented, ever. Pretty sweet to finish up your first year of medical school and coach the best ride of your life all in a 24 hour period.

Now the summer is before us, and I'm moving to rural Vermont tomorrow to a cottage across the road from the clinic where I'm working. I have a screened-in porch looking out into the woods, where I intend to write a LOT on both blogs. And allegedly get back on my bike.

Here are topics that I "owe" people:
* Stretching I do with my classes
* What specifically I do with new HRM wearers who haven't been for metabolic testing and won't do an LT field test (as an aside, I recently had my metabolic testing repeated. My LT is exactly the same as my LT field test. I was shocked. Amazed, but shocked. And damned proud: up 10 beats since last year.)
* Why taking other instructors' classes, even inspirationally challenged classes, is one of the most important growth mechanisms there is.

If there's something else you want me to add to the cache, say the word.