Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Halloween Birthday Boy

I would have done this post on Halloween, except that I didn’t have the time because Tracy surprised me with a train trip to Portland for a birthday weekend. I truly am a lucky guy.

According to Bicycling Magazine, Portland is America’s number one cycling city, and it also comes across as the land of…no helmets. We saw a lot of cyclists, and I’d guess one out of 50 was wearing a helmet. What’s up with that?

There was even an ad in the newspaper promoting bicycle commuting, including a photo of two riders without helmets! It’s great to encourage people to get on a bike and ride to work, but please at least put a helmet on the people in the photo. Sure, wearing a helmet is a personal choice (even if it is a law in most cities), but can’t we encourage novice cyclists to at least wear one when they first start on the bike? They can make their final decision later, but throwing a few dollars down for a helmet seems a logical thing to do when you first take to the roads.

Bikes are everywhere in Portland. And you thought it was tough to find a spot to park your car in downtown Seattle:

Seriously, Portland is a fantastic city for cycling. We didn’t take our bikes, but you don’t need to be riding to sense how strong the cycling culture is, and you can pretty much safely get around in every direction. The cycling infrastructure is really well thought out.

Reflections on Age and Cycling

A birthday is always a good time for a little reflection. Since this is a “cycling” blog, loosely defined, I’ll try to keep this in context.

No one ever expects to get old when they are young.

The young have youth on their side. The “not so young” have experience. Just like a product has to be marketed based on its strengths, an athlete has to train and ride based on their advantages.

If you are young, you can spend a higher percentage of time riding at high intensity levels. If you are older, you can’t do high intensity rides as frequently, but you might have a little more time available to ride, and to recover from hard rides.

Most of my group riding experience over the last five years comes from a weekly ride I lead called the Hills of the West Coast.

At the start of the ride, typically either I or one of the other ride leaders will describe the route, and try to give a subjective estimate of the overall difficulty and summary of the major climbs. Based on the ride name, riders who participate can assume that we usually focus on climbing.

Normally, I mention that we will be doing 70 miles (summer rides) at a hard pace, and that some of the difficult climbs occur towards the end of the ride. Implied here is a need to save a little bit of energy for the late part of the ride.

I used to play competitive golf, and I always believed that it was a lot more satisfying to birdie the 18th hole, as opposed to starting your round with a birdie. Not only are more bets won or lost on the 18th, but the after round drink always tasted better. As a matter of fact, not only can I still remember many of those 18th hole birdies, I can remember the entire 18 holes of golf I played that day. If I tried really hard, I might be able to recollect a first hole birdie, but the rest of the golf day would be a blank.

Inevitably, the younger riders in our group (at least the ones on their first ride) attack the first climb of the day as if it were a mountaintop stage finish in the Tour.

On a ride about three years ago, I overheard two younger riders in full team kit talking about what maximum heart rate number they had registered on one of those earlier climbs. I remember this because I heard a number in the 200’s, and that is a number I haven’t thought about for a long time. These two riders were very strong, and for the first 30 miles or so, hammered each climb in a real Mano a Mano show of force.

Deep in the ride, we visited Cougar Mountain for a couple of hard climbs. At the re-group at the top of the climbs, these two riders were conspicuous by their absence as we waited for everyone to finish. They rolled up together, dead last of the 20 or so riders out with us that day.

We dropped down the north side of Cougar, and headed west up the gentle grade of Newport Way. One of the riders who had remained almost invisible all day, content to stay in the pack, now rode to the front. As he pulled the group up Newport Way, I noticed two riders getting shelled off the back. Yes, it was the same two riders, and now they were getting dropped on a very easy section of road by a rider who happened to be in his sixties (albeit a very strong rider). We never saw these two riders again that day, or on any subsequent rides. Perhaps they peeled off to lick their wounds?

Just like no one remembers who birdies the first hole, no one normally can recall the rider first up the initial climb of the day. You can bet that everyone on the ride that day remembers who was last up the last climb.

Every human being is born with a genetically wired, pre-programmed ceiling for aerobic capacity as defined by Vo2 Max. A sedentary person’s capacity peaks at around age 25. Endurance athletes hit their peak between ages 25 and 30, and sometimes as late as 35. There is not a lot one can do to alter this course.

There is a lot that the individual can do to develop and keep as much of that aerobic capacity for as long as possible. This involves discipline and a lot of hard work over many years.

There is also a lot than one can do to influence how wisely their aerobic capacity is deployed.

Sometimes it comes down to a common sense decision made in the blink of an eye after a subconscious split second analysis of the situation at hand. This is where an older athlete can often level the playing field.

1 comment:

psorr said...

I'm looking forward to many more years of riding and to having more time to ride in the future. I'm not as consistent as I'd like to be, which is easy to blame on a rough work week etc etc.

I'm remembering my first HOWC ride three years ago: I was one of those 'young guys' and the route was one of the most challenging: Zoo+Montreux+Pinnacle+Somerset(hard direction). By the fourth climb I was at the back of the group and riding on fumes: I hadn't packed anything to eat! It was a great learning experience/motivator for the next season, however, and I was glad to find the kind of group ride I'd been looking for.