*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.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My 1st Century: Check.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


sean said...

great work.
for your century. you have to save time by not stopping to eat. practice eating while biking. any ride over 48 miles i pack the follow in this order, from left to right in my shirt pockets:
1 banana, 0.5 pb&j, .25 orange,0.5 pb&j, 0.25 orange.

wrap the sandwiches separately so you can ditch the plastic wrap and you don't have to put anything back. quartered oranges can go in your mouth like a mouthpiece and are nice and sweet. your fueling before symptoms of hunger or thirst is spot on. my rule is...when i begin to get bored = i eat. good luck on the next century.

Moritz Gyssler said...


Not having a professional medical/physiological background I'd like to learn a bit more on you statement "if your glycogen dips past a certain point, your muscles CANNOT use fat for fuel regardless of heart rate. Cortisol will break down muscle for raw protein material for the liver to convert to sugar".

Can you point me to reference (scientific but still readable for an engineer ;-) ? I prefer to have some more fond background information myself prior teaching others ...

Keep the rubber side down

Melissa Marotta said...

Whoa. I apologize for my delay in checking this! I haven't had a legit Internet connection in 2 weeks.

Sean - Thanks so much for the tips. That's a really great idea to stuff my shirt. The pre-peeled oranges sound like an especially life-altering move. I've also been increasing my HIT (which I'm about to blog about) for two weeks to train for a 15.6 mi race on Sat. I'd like to be able to blast out 15 miles faster -- still sub-LT, but faster. Just to pick up some mileage. Third move will be to stop wimping out on downhills. I lose SO much time because of how deliberately I slow down because I'm so scared of wiping out with tough winds. I need to just accept that what I perceive as a "tough wind" isn't actually that extraordinary. I only really need to gain 30 minutes in my time for my 9/26 next Century (an organized one, this time). I can totally do that.

Moritz, what an excellent question! Here's the deal: the biochemical mechanism whereby a minimal amount of glycogen is permissive for fat oxidation isn't actually known. The theory is that glycogen depletion (which, of course, means that the glycogen breakdown process that runs concurrent to fat oxidation at sub-LT intensities is not taking place) exhausts some of the necessary precursors for the citric acid cycle of respiration(which produces products that feed into the fat oxidation cycle). I just literally spent hours trying to find resources that were a) full-text (most importantly; as an engineer, you must be brilliant by default -- it's just an issue of finding an easily exchangeable resource) and b) specific to this issue (in scientific literature, all too common is to ignore the subtle issues that aren't clearly understood).

Here's what I came up with:
1) The American College of Sports Medicine put out a textbook of advanced exercise physiology a few years ago. Page 193 speaks to this issue; and, at least as of Spring 2009, no further progress has been made to clarify the speculation for the mechanism. It's known that it's true, just not the mechanism for it: http://books.google.com/books?id=YAAT1-hebMgC&dq=muscle+glycogen+depletion&source=gbs_navlinks_s

2) This is an older article that touches on the "necessary precursor" speculation and provides a pretty thorough review of exercise fuel that you might dig, more globally: http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.nu.16.070196.001005

Hope this is helpful!