Maintaining Bike Fitness

The weather this winter hasn’t been too bad. In Darlington, there have been just a handful of days when frost, snow or wind stopped me going out. It’s Spring at the moment, with beautiful warm, sunny days. Very different from winter 2017/18, when I recorded zero miles for the whole of December, 2017. It was very hard recovering even reasonable fitness again. The memory of that made me re-think fitness and the bike.

I am developing the principle that I should keep fit for cycling, rather than cycle to keep fit. It was partly the memory of inactivity last winter and partly the result of talking to cyclists who also row. Needless to say, they were super-fit and very strong on the bike. They are in no doubt that rowing and cycling are complimentary sports. My policy now is to develop the leg muscles and do lots of cardio-vascular.

In Riccione, I met a double-sculls pair of ladies, strong cyclists, who spoke of how rowing and cycling help one another. During the 17 days of LEJoG in 2018, I spoke to another rower/cyclist, who was an excellent advocate for both sports. Susan had been an Olympic-class rower in her University days and had returned to it as a top veteran/masters competitor, after having a family. She recommended blending the two – biking and rowing – and also adding interval training and hill reps.

Last year I went somewhat over the top when it came to long and short tours cycling – 9 weeks in total. So, this year I tried to turn the wick down a bit but you know how things get out of hand? Italy training week in April is a must. In June, Jenny and I have booked a week in the Isle of Man, taking the bikes, of course. Then I kept on seeing must-do trips – two short ones with Peak Tours (Hadrian’s Way and Way of the Roses), a week or ten days in Provence (including The Ventoux from Sault), a one-week trip to Mallorca with Club friends and a week in Tenerife organised by Love Velo. Only six weeks in total but it’s still all go again this year, trying to bring fitness up to standard. But this year with the addition of an indoor training routine.

The usual three or four outings weekly with the Club will be the backbone of the steady cycling and “getting the miles in”, which everyone advocates. However, the indoor routine has developed into three half-hour sessions:-

i) Up and down the stairs (36 of them in my house) with 10 kg of weights in a rucksack. (Jamie calls this “single leg work”). While the rucksack is on, I do a few sets of squats and heel raises for the leg muscles. That gets things warmed up.

ii) This is followed by half an hour on a Concept 2 Rowing Machine. My grandson Jamie just happened to have one in his attic not doing anything, so he has loaned it to me. If you haven’t tried a C2, don’t. They are two things at the same time – an invention of the Devil for high-level training/suffering and, curiously, a machine which gives immense satisfaction after a blast. I operate at just inside 10 minutes per 2-kilometre pace, giving 6 km for the 30 minutes. Technique is all-important, and I’m still style, rhythm and breathing. Maybe I will write more on this at a later date, as I get used to it.

iii) After the rower, comes 40 minutes on the turbo-trainer. I have been using one of my bikes on a Halford’s turbo-trainer, which does the job. However, my son-in-law John has found a high-class proper spin trainer, a Schwinn, at the back of his garage, which he is lending to me. Grandsons and sons-in-law are very useful.

This indoor training routine, when the weather precludes cycling, or when I only have a shorter time available, is settling down nicely after nearly two months. I think I can feel the benefit on cycling days already – although it may be a triumph of imagination over reality – rather like hope over experience? I have a theory of old-age fitness. Part of the joys of growing older includes wrinkles, shrinking muscles and a slower maximum heart rate, among other lovlies like a smaller heart and things of which we will not speak. My lung capacity is still about 4 litres. My maximum heart rate is probably 135 to 140 beats per minute, using the various published formulae .Now, if you are cycling with a squad whose max HR is 180 or 200, my maximum blood flow to lungs and muscles is two-thirds of theirs, or less if my heart is smaller. Solution – increase breathing rate deliberately high, hence increasing oxygen concentration and supply to leg muscles; a sort of natural EPO. So, on the indoor training, I am concentrating on increasing my breathing rate/lung capacity and trying to apply that principle to cycling when extra effort is required. Hope it works. If you hear me hyper-ventilating, ignore it.

There is another puzzle about how athletic ability diminishes with age. In fell running there is clear evidence of a parabolic, second order decline, or a very steep drop after 50 or 60. However, the hour records in cycling decline linearly with age. I haven’t got to the bottom of this yet, or looked at masters track and field records but I intend to.

Well, that was a tirade. The intention is to keep the Blog going for a while yet but we will see. Depends on the result of the GWR application, probably, and we are still waiting.

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