Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pushing Myself

I have not written much recently because there has not been much to report. I have been on the bicycle, but as I explained in my last report a couple months ago, the bicycle is on a stationary trainer in my garage due to my time constraints.

But I have gone out on the road a couple times since the last report. I have stuck to riding up Old La Honda Road. This is because I have been recording my time up the 3.5 mile hill as a measure of my fitness level. Overall, it is a medium-length ride of 41 miles that I can do in less than 3 hours.

The last two times, I matched my personal best, thus proving that riding the trainer is a productive workout. This time, I was determined to push myself harder than I had before.

For a while, I had been thinking about how I have gone from being a beginner-level cyclist to an intermediate-level. Yet, it feels like I have not gotten much stronger or faster for a long time. Eventually I realized that I probably have to increase the intensity of my rides.

When I first started serious riding over two years ago, I could not make it up the hills. I would push myself just to keep going at a slow pace. I would often have to stop to catch my breath before continuing. Sometimes I would run out of energy and have to abandon the climb and turn around to coast back down. Through relentless pursuit of the summit, I became strong enough to always reach the top, and now I practically never stop to rest along the way.

It struck me that the reason I have not gotten stronger lately is because I need to push myself to the point of exhaustion like I would be at when I was a beginner. Only then would my body respond and improve my fitness level. Even though I always push myself, I need to push myself even harder. I need to burn so much energy that I feel like I may not make it to the top.

Back to my last ride. From the outset, I started strong. Usually I keep just a little in reserve to be sure I get to the top. This time I decided to keep a fast pace regardless of how tired I got. I started panting pretty soon, but I did not let that bother me. At the halfway mark, my leg muscles were burning, but I did not let up. At the two-thirds mark, my legs felt weak and were begging me to lower the pace so they could recover. I ignored that strong temptation.

I reached the top panting and feeling totally spent. I made it in 24 minutes 30 seconds — a full two minutes faster than my previous best time. It may not sound like it, but that is a major improvement.

I confirmed my status as an intermediate-level cyclist. I passed about 15 other cyclists on my way up. But I was passed by two elite-level cyclists who were keeping a casual conversation going with each other while effortlessly zooming by me, as I panted.

Although tired at the top, I recovered pretty quickly and paused only long enough to put on my jacket for the trip downhill. I had plenty of energy to keep a fast pace on the mostly flat route back home. Again, passing more people than the number who passed me.

So even if very long rides rarely fit into my schedule this year, I should be able to make up for that by increasing the intensity level. That actually takes as much mental strength as it does physical strength. But the results I am seeing should be motivating enough to do it.