I've had grandiose visions of epic year-end blog posts - The Best Year-End Blog Post Ever, guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of readers near and far. When that didn't happen, I consoled myself with a promise of The Best Year Kick-off Blog Post Ever, inspiring the masses to charge forward into 2010 -- and in so doing, re-focus myself. That's why I write anything, ever, after all. But that didn't happen either.
Life's not how it used to be. I'm 4 weeks away from Step 1 of my U.S. Medical Licensing Exam, 6 weeks away from moving to Portland, Maine to start my inpatient clerkship rotations as a (gasp) 3rd-year medical student. Hundreds of thousands of "factoids" rush into my consciousness day in and day out: Indistinguisable viruses, contextless drugs, obscure medical eponyms -- all of them a blur, encoding themselves in chalk into my memory. And I haven't been carving out time for all of my go-to brain-decluttering mechanisms (i.e., writing, mindfulness practice, training), and haven't been utilizing any of the skills I've developed over time -- through coaching Spinning, no less -- to give my world a sense of order. I used to, if anything, be "imbalanced towards balance" -- now I'm just so unbalanced, and so unmotivated to do anything to re-balance myself.
This came to a head two weeks ago, when I closed an important chapter of my life: I taught my last New York City Spinning classes (once I start inpatient rotations, I can no longer travel back/forth from Vermont to stay active on payroll). On this final visit to My Old Life over the holidays, I had two very opposite experiences. At the start of the week, I taught a double that was chock full of my old "regulars." I looked out at the crowd and took in the multicolored array of heart rate monitors and cycling shoes. I watched them close their eyes and feel something. And I got tearful. I did all that. I made that impact. What I'd done here mattered, it meant something. But a few days later, when I taught my very last class -- a double at a club where I rarely even subbed and never had any permanent classes -- to a room full of strangers. I'd prepared a ride themed on the concept to which I've dedicated my entire coaching career: "Increase and Breathe" (see description of the concept/training drill on the right-hand side of my other blog). I didn't use the phrase once; nobody would have recognized it. This momentous occasion for me, the final farewell to the final dangling piece that kept me in any way tied to My Old Life, meant nothing. It was empty. I guess it needed to feel empty in order to feel "over." It was so "over" that I wasn't even motivated to blog about it -- or about anything else, for that matter.
But a few days ago, I had an epiphany. What if I just changed the narrative? What if I told myself that the past 2 months were a "recovery" from my life -- as if had been scheduled, like a recovery block in a periodized training calendar (like I wrote about a year ago and, in so doing, kicked off the fluke popularity this blog now enjoys). Just as recoveries from athletic training, this break served the purpose of identifying the life activities/influences that are true requirements for my functioning.
That changed everything.
I taught my first Spinning class of 2010, themed on Committing to Focus (profile will follow).
2009, as you may know from following this blog and the other, was my Year of Commitment. I themed SO many Spinning classes on it, both technical (i.e., committing to specific heart rates by adjusting resistance, speed, position to accomodate continuous self-observation; committing to specific aspects of form and pedal stroke) and abstract (i.e., committing to analysis of self-talk and self-coaching; committing to short-term, specific goals). I inhabited commitment as a concept for myself outside of my Spinning classes: as a medical student, as an athlete (i.e., three Centuries for a first-time outdoor cyclist), and then created Spinning rides as a mechanism for processing the reflections I thought might make a useful structure for others to evaluate their own states of being. It was a great system: Live it, think about it, write about it, make a Spinning ride about it, have total strangers tell you how creative you are, and pat yourself on the head for being useful out there in the world.
Until the commitment-philia of 2009 reached a point where the commitments I made to myself outstripped my resources. So in 2010, that will change. As the demands on my brain and my time continue to pile up to unfathomable heights, I have to focus solely on the commitments that directly keep me functioning. 2010 will be all about identifying distractions, rehearsing coping mechanisms for reigning in attention, and husbanding all resources upon simple, concrete tasks.
So that was what my ride was about.
COMMITMENT TO FOCUS (90 min endurance ride)
Warm-Up (5 minutes)
I shared with my class that my brain is mush - that I'm so unbalanced and unfocused and unproductive, that I've forgotten to go back to the basics that I teach them about all the time: breathing through challenges, using breathing as a mechanism for focus, and identifying specific micro-details of their experiences to practice husbanding their resources upon a given task. After all, creating opportunities for themselves to demonstrate their ability to do this on the bike will give them the confidence that they can do it off the bike.
Part 1: Preparation (15 minute climb)
Connect with your breathing - in through the nose, out through the mouth. This is your base for focus. Any time you get distracted, close your eyes and again connect with your breath. Synchronize your breathing with your pedal strokes - create your own rhythm, perhaps breathing in for 2 strokes, out for 3-4 strokes.
10 minutes at 80% LT (RPE 5). Are you in complete control over your breath? Your form? Your thoughts?
5 minutes at 88% LT (RPE 6). How does this compare?
5 minutes at 95% LT (RPE 7). How does this compare?
What distracts you? What gets in your way? Inhabit those distractions. Ask yourself how they invade your consciousness. Ask yourself how they succeed. What would it take to get on top of them once for all?
Identify the intensity at which you have most control over your breathing, where you feel most in your element. Most alive, most at peace. Where you have the greatest clarity of mind to empower yourself to make important choices, choices that are going to mean something to you.
Part 2: Committment (60 minute climb -- no, I'm not a sadist)
Take the next 3 minutes to progressively load up to your chosen intensity. From there, commit to it for the next HOUR. Pay careful intention to how your body responds to changes in the rhythm, changes in your breath. How your form shifts over time without careful attention. Continue to make the micro-adjustments you need to maintain your consistent target intensity -- when you drop, load resistance; when you exceed, back it off. You have complete freedom to climb as you need to - in the seat, out of the seat - whatever you need (note: my riders know better; they know that this means "stay seated unless you absolutely have to, then sit back down immediately" -- I don't even need to say it anymore).
Your job is to apply the coping mechanisms you anticipated being able to use to combat distraction, that you spent time rehearsing during Part 1. What does it take to reign your attention back in? Appreciate the power in your ability to direct your thoughts, to take control over what you hold important. What can you learn? What will it mean for you?
Note: At the 40 min mark of Part 2 (which was the 60 minute mark of the ride), I encouraged them to take the next 3 minutes to eat their snack that they'd been encouraged to bring to replenish their glycogen; otherwise, they would be biochemically unable to continue to burn fat, even at aerobic intensities. We need a base-level of glycogen present at all times, since we are always burning it (at low intensities, we use mostly fat as fuel - but we still burn glycogen, too), but also as a pre-requisite for fat metabolism itself. So if we deplete it, our hormone cortisol begins to break down muscle to free up amino acids for the liver to use to create its own glucose. Want to prevent this? Consume glucose every 60 minutes during endurance training, and within the hour of training completion (ideally within 15-30 minutes). After the snack, back on the bike - re-load to target, hold another 17 minutes.
Part 3: Charging Forward with Focus (15 minutes)
Two sets of 3x surges (30s, 30s, 1 minute) --> (30s, 30s, 2 minutes)
It's probably been a while since I described how I use the word "surge" with my riders - it's a change in the music (i.e., a chorus) where I empower riders to set it to be the symbolic equivalent of some challenge in their lives off the bike. Thus, they choose how to meet the challenge -- with a change in resistance, in speed, in position, in intensity, or no change at all. The way they choose to meet the challenge is something that is personally meaningful to them -- something that is going to stay with them when they leave the room, something that they're going to think about long thereafter. Something that's going to make them feel strong, self-efficacious.
Each surge is an opportunity to build on the strength, the patience, the determination you've demonstrated to yourself for the past 75 minutes. What have you learned about yourself and your abilities? Where will you take it? For some of you, the challenge you need is that of self-discipline: holding true to your target, even if that's still 80% LT. For some of you, you might need to surge to LT and feel something different. For most of you, it's something in between. Make each surge stand for something you'll remember. Something that will remind you that, no matter what, you have complete control over your choices and your performance. Something that will etch in your mind that, yes, yes you can.
I rode this with my class, after 2 weeks of passive recovery (I didn't purposefully plan it like last year, even though I should have -- and when I remembered that I'd planned this last year and how many incredible benefits '2 weeks entirely off' had for me as an athlete, I again "changed the narrative" and re-defined my laziness as "responsible training." And turns out, yet again, I lost NOTHING cardiovascularly - LT was exactly the same, my resting heart rate dropped 7 beats, and I felt fantastic. Go back and read my old post on the rewards of recovery if you're a non-believer). But most significantly, presenting this ride put me back in a position of balance, focus, and confidence that everything in the world is as it should be.
All I have to do is keep my standards for "should" in check. I'm a medical student 4 weeks away from my Boards. It's ok that my Spinning life takes a back seat for a while. I'll still teach. I'll still write (both here, and for ICI/Pro -- read my latest article on exercise-induced headaches and listen to the podcast interview I did with John MacGowan and Jennifer Sage on how to psychologically train yourself to 'own your awkward' and effectively teach off the bike -- note: the latter requires ICI/Pro subscription -- sign up for free trial to listen, and then seriously consider maintaining it: it's such a phenomenal resource!). I just need to accept that mere mortals don't blog whilst cramming for their Boards, is all. And that's ok.
** EXTRA NOTE: ICI/Pro has extended the offer for a free 7-day trial subscription -- if you register by Jan 15, you can check it out and evaluate the value-added of the (special content, profiles and free music) to your life beyond all of the wonderful free content and podcasts at ICI). I have a feeling that once you see it, you'll stick with it...
Plus, you have access to 0.2 ACE continuing ed credits as an ICI/Pro subscriber. (Come to think of it, I should probably tend to that eventually, myself...)
*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.