Tuesday, December 21, 2010

From the Archives - The Trainer Diaries

This has been a really wet month, so I’ve had to train indoors. As I described in an earlier blog post, training indoors requires a lot of gumption and discipline, and I’ve found that achieving the right intensity can actually help enliven the workout, while maximizing its benefits. In turn, riding good and hard is best achieved through use of a heart rate monitor, and a good tool for maintaining day-to-day consistency (i.e., keeping yourself honest) is a training diary.
Most training diaries stick to basic facts: duration, mileage, and heart rate statistics. Mine delves a bit deeper, into the thoughts racing through my mind during the workout and my general ruminations on the activity itself. I’ve decided to share some of my training diary entries with my albertnet audience, to provide a rare view into the harrowing psychology of indoor training. Enjoy.
A quick note on some terms: in this post, “bpm” means heartbeats per minute; “bpm avg” means my average heart rate for the whole workout (not including warm-up and warm-down); “tour” means any workout, be it outdoor or indoor; “above zone,” aka “TAZ,” means the amount of time spent above my heart rate target zone (in other words, the amount of time spent really hammering). If you come across other terms you’re not familiar with, check out this handy glossary.

3/22/10 Tuesday
1:01:00 159 bpm avg 0:37:18 above zone
I woke up at like 5:30 a.m. because I didn’t feel well. Bad sinus headache and nausea. But I figured heck, if I feel lousy, I might as well be on the trainer. I climbed aboard and felt just awful. For the first fifteen minutes I couldn’t get my heart rate past like 145. I felt like climbing off, but then I thought, what am I going to do at this hour? Sit around and feel lousy? Go to work early? So I kept pedaling, and suddenly I started having very positive sensations. My HR was skying above the zone! I kept this up for a good while but at about minute 55 my HR dropped about 5 bpm and I was hit with a strong wave of nausea and had to quit. Ever since, I’ve felt really awful, but then hey, I felt awful to begin with!
In other news, while I was toiling away, Alexa strolled in and said, “I just hurled.” I was about to fly into action with the sponge & bucket when Alexa went on to say, “I got it all in the bucket and rinsed it out.” What an outstanding individual.
3/18/10 Tuesday
1:34:06 162 bpm avg 1:14:22 above zone
A nice, long, grueling trainer ride. I was able to get to that dark place where the high heart rate can be achieved. I’m having trouble adjusting to civilian life now; I have this urge to go pound somebody’s face in. [Note: I wrote this rather rash comment under the influence of vast quantities of adrenaline and caffeine. I really don’t have these impulses most of the time, which is in large part due to, and the reason for, these workouts.]
10/23/10 Saturday
2:00:21 161 bpm avg 1:43:26 above zone
This trainer workout—my first in five months—was truly the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, I had to spend some time getting my tunes together (I didn’t prep for a trainer ride because I was holding out some vain hope it wouldn’t be raining and I could actually ride). Then, my trainer wheel had a flat! I patched it, but the patch failed. Then, the trainer mech had come unscrewed and required attention. Then I had to find my old shoes somewhere in the garage, and the wrist strap for my heart rate monitor. Then I couldn’t find the tarp I put under the bike to catch the sweat. It took me like three hours just to get on the bike!
Once I got going, though, I had fairly positive sensations. Once I got my heart rate over the zone I of course tried to see how long I could last. When I climbed off the bike I was pretty much shot, and largely useless for the rest of the day, climbing stairs real slow like an old person.
10/24/10 Sunday
1:01:00 149 bpm avg 0:00:02 above zone
Man, this was awful. Another rainy day thus another trainer ride, and I was already completely rendered from yesterday. I suffered so hard for this wussy average heart rate. For the last 20 minutes I averaged 152 bpm, and was determined to go long enough to get my avg up to 150. But at just over an hour, Alexa came running up, waving her hands and yelling, “It’s an emergency!” (I had prohibited the kids from bothering me except if absolutely necessary.) I assumed someone had gotten caught in the threshing equipment or something, and whipped my headphones off and stopped pedaling. “Misha defecated on the floor!” Alexa cried. I took this as a good excuse to call it a day workout-wise.
I don’t know why the cat did it. I’m guessing she remembers the time I was riding the trainer and she headed for her cat box and I instinctively shouted, “No, Misha, no!” because I didn’t want to inhale her toxic vapors at 160 bpm. Anyhow, right after cleaning up the cat feces, I noticed how hard the rain was hammering down and checked our main downspout from the roof. As I’d feared, the top of the downspout was packed with leaves and overflowing, flooding the backyard. To get on the roof I needed a ladder, so I had to get into the crawlspace under the house (we’ve lost track of the combo on the lock so I had to remove the latch with a screwdriver). I went up on the roof in nothing but drenched cycling shorts and socks, as it would have been pointless to change without having showered.
Good thing I went up there, as water was already pooling up and if I hadn’t cleared away the leaves right away we’d have had water coming down from our ceiling. I finished that up, put away the ladder, and—drenched and cold from the torrential rain—jumped in the shower. By this time Erin had come home, and—knowing I was at the tail end of my glycogen window—I asked her to bring me some cold apple cider (which I’d really enjoyed after yesterday’s sufferfest). She did, and after I drank it the ceramic mug slipped from my soapy hands, fell on the floor of the tub, and exploded, sending shards into my foot. The water from the shower made my foot appear to bleed extravagantly, like that famous scene in “Psycho.” Lindsay came in at that point and screamed. Man. Anyhow, a hard, hard ride with a hard, hard aftermath.
11/7/10 Sunday
0:48:20 152 bpm avg 0:13:06 above zone
Man, this was grueling. It took a really, really long time to get into TAZ territory. Once there, though, I felt okay and was hoping to last an hour. But at 0:48:20, my left pedal broke! Cheap piece of crap. I have to admit, though, I was relieved to be done pedaling … and relieved that I’d relegated those cheap pedals to my rain bike, or I could have broken that pedal during the Everest Challenge or something!
12/4/10 Saturday
1:45:26 161 bpm avg 1:30:34 above zone
I felt surprisingly good during this workout, especially since I felt kind of nauseated beforehand. I think it was just butterflies in my stomach, for I had big ambitions for this ride and knew how much it was going to suck. Actually, at moments during the ride I felt kind of nauseated too. Erin was working down in the office just behind me, and I became a bit self-conscious about all the spitting I had to do and all the belching. Something about this kind of effort seems to scour my respiratory system of all the mucus lining it, and once all that slime has been raised into my mouth it’s got to go somewhere. When you add two bottles of sugary drink, the amount of spitting just escalates. And one of those bottles was a fizzy drink, hence the belches.
Anyhow, it got me thinking about what would happen if I actually hurled while riding the trainer. I mean, athletes hurl all the time, don’t they? I had a teammate who would throw up every time we did sprint practice. In high school when Erin ran track, she and her pals would frequently puke after wind sprints. A colleague of mine hurled right after the Mt. San Bruno hill climb a couple years back. Can you imagine, on the trainer, if you just blew chunks? I mean, yeah, there’s a tarp and everything, but it would be a disaster. No way could I get to a toilet fast enough; once I’m unclipped from the pedals it’s hard to climb off the bike, elevated as it is on the trainer, and my cleats slip on the metal tubing and everything. I’d probably be halfway off the bike when I erupted and would end up face-down in my own vomit, like a rock star or something. After which I’d probably be forbidden to ride the trainer in the house and would have to brave the cold garage like Bryan. Dang.

12/5/10 Sunday
1:07:05 153 bpm avg 0:09:56 above zone
Needless to say I felt El Crappo Grande throughout this tour. Oddly, about 35 minutes into it my heart rate—which had averaged only 146 to that point—suddenly popped up to 159, just above my target zone. For 2½ magical minutes, I was able to keep it up there, and was even thinking this might end up being a good ride. But then just as abruptly my heart rate dropped right back down again, and stayed down (until toward the end of my workout when, through sheer anger, I was able to dig in and get another seven minutes of hard-won TAZ). Anyhow, I’m left puzzled by that brief period of relatively agony-free heart rate elevation. Perhaps some kind of “cardiac event”? I sure hope not. I’d hate to die riding the trainer. Nobody could say, “At least he died doing something he loved.” And somebody else, probably poor Erin, would have to clean up all the loogies from the tarp since I wouldn’t be alive to do it.
12/7/10 Tuesday
1:19:25 152 bpm avg 0:04:58 above zone
My heart rate monitor has been screwing up lately. Could be electrical interference from the fan or something; the readout sometimes just suddenly goes to zero. Of course, this gets me so enraged it might be a net positive, as anger helps me go hard. Conversely, happy thoughts can cause my heart rate to drop. I was hammering away the other day and Alexa walked in and set a muffin down on the bike cabinet for my post-ride glycogen window. I was so touched, my HR dropped like three beats-per-minute!

12/11/10 Saturday
2:00:48 161 bpm avg 1:35:04 above zone
Sometimes I marvel at how variable my body’s performance is. Not just riding—that variability is totally understandable—but even just getting around. The other morning when I took a rest day, Alexa woke up before me and was impatient for her breakfast. Following her down the stairs, I found I could barely walk. I had to use both banisters to support my weight (like a girl at the gym clutching the railings of her Stairmaster) because my feet and legs didn’t seem up to the challenge. Many weeks ago I hurt my left heel playing soccer—against children! At these times it seems my body is just wearing out. But at other times—most of the time, actually—I can bound up and down stairs at high speed. It’s the same body; why does it take so long for it to get moving each day? Waking up in the morning I feel like Han Solo coming out of the carbon freeze.
I suppose it’s just the natural effect of ageing, which really pisses me off. After all, I’m trying to use sport to resist the effects of age. So far I think it’s working; slow mornings aside, my body is doing okay. My resting heart rate is down to 38, a personal best, and last time I tried riding outdoors, I could still make it up the hills. But I want more, I want better. By the time I’m seventy, I want my heart to beat only every so often. I want my heart not just to be the size of a fist (as they say); I want it to be as hard and as hard-hitting as a fist. When I get gallstones I want to tell my heart, “Just swim down there and crush out those stones!” When I go up a flight of stairs I want to not just skip every other step; I want to soar over the staircase entirely. So anyhow, during and after this ride, I felt like maybe I could achieve that. It was a good day. Of course I knew better than to expect anything but a sorry aftermath.
12/12/10 Sunday
1:15:36 151 bpm avg 0:00:00 above zone
A sorry aftermath. I didn’t have the gumption, the night before, to set everything up, so I did it the morning of. That’s a drag, because I don’t wear my contact lenses when I ride the trainer (the salt in my sweat is like an abrasive between the lens and my eye), and my glasses won’t stay on my face when I tilt my head forward (as when setting up the trainer), so I’m basically stumbling around tired and blind, and as I dread the workout everything kind of slows down. So I puttered around at length before finally mounting the torture rack for this one. Sure enough, I felt like crap. When I feel good, there’s a kind of excitement to a trainer workout, but when I’m fried, it’s just totally boring and seems to last forever. It would help to have something to look at, though of course I can’t see very well. I felt like one of those pinky mice I used to feed Aisner’s snake: blind, hairless, helpless. These “Day 2” trainer rides are as hard on the mind as on the body. No, I take it back. They’re harder on the body.
12/14/10 Tuesday
1:35:39 155 bpm avg 0:08:24 above zone
Hard to get up for this. At about 4:50 I woke up to pee, and when I lay back down the drumming of the rain on—what, the roof? a wheelbarrow?—was so loud I figured I’d have to put an earplug in, but I was too tired to reach for the earplug on the nightstand, and next thing I knew the alarm was waking me up (at 5:40). Of course I was being as quiet as possible this early in the morning, but downstairs in the kitchen the cat wouldn’t stop meowing, and I couldn’t find her jar of food. Erin must have fed her during the night, but where did she put the food afterward? The jar was just gone and the cat wouldn’t shut up. It was like a bad dream.
After silencing the cat with a dish of milk, I got out the Folgers. I’d never tried it before. Erin’s mom bought it in frustration at our not having any coffee around here. I was hoping to use it as some sort of secret weapon; I already have a strong association between this brand and my workouts, because on the trainer I listen to a lot of rap, including Eminem, who in one song raps, “Wake up and smell the Folgers crystals!” So I figured that literally smelling the Folgers, and of course drinking it, might inspire me to go harder. I know … grasping at straws. Anyhow, something worked, because I managed to get a bit of TAZ toward the end of this tour. Mostly, though, this one sucked.
12/16/10 Thursday
1:00:56 145 bpm avg 0:01:04 above zone
As Lance Armstrong said, “Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail.” Today I wasn’t even the nail, which after all is a useful (albeit small) building component that has a job to do. Today I was Barney, the big purple dinosaur, being rightfully beaten with sticks by hyperactive, evil little boys. That’s what I was thinking about as I futilely pedaled the bike. I’d seen such boys at a cookie decorating party one of Erin’s friends threw last weekend. I was in the backyard trying to have a conversation with some other sensitive dads about whether or not men can wear Ugg boots, and these two little monsters were yelling continuously and hitting everything in their sight with sticks. They were trying to shear limbs off a fledgling tree out there, and do whatever other damage they could to anything else they could find. Or maybe the real goal was to out-violence each other. I tried to dissuade them from hurting the tree, but I didn’t actively intervene—they might have turned on me. Was I that awful as a little boy? If memory serves, I was more likely to curl up on the ground in the fetal position, cradling my head, while blows rained down on me. Okay, that’s a huge exaggeration; probably most of the blows were psychological. Anyway, I wish those bullies could see me now! While they’re strolling through malls wearing Dockers and fanny packs, I’m in Lycra on a trainer pedaling away furiously like a hamster on his wheel. Hmm. Come to think of it, there’s no real comeuppance or redemption here.
I tried to motivate for a big effort this morning, but to no avail. My new game-changing secret weapon, Folgers coffee, is actually useless. I was trying to figure out, as I made the coffee this morning, what the Folgers crystals remind me of, and finally it hit me: Drano. They’re like brown Drano, and they have the same effect on my plumbing. Not much other effect, though. None of my other trainer tricks were doing much good either. The rap music was almost demoralizing. As Obie Trice yelled in my ear, “I’m hittin’ harder than those Hiroshima-type bombs!” I was thinking, “I’m hitting weaker than those plastic Wiffle-type bats.” I don’t know how much longer I can keep up this indoor-training charade. But outdoor riding is out of the question; at 5:40 this morning, the temperature was 37, with 95% humidity! Oh, and of course it was pitch-black out there. Dang.
dana albert blog

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