BL&T No. 110: First Cycling Event Takeaways

Fitness & Wellness

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"'If, with training and patience, you can perform the same exercise workload with only 14 breaths per minute instead of 47 using conventional techniques, what reason could there be not to do it?' wrote John Douillard, [a trainer who conducted] stationary bike experiments in the 1990s. 'When you see yourself running faster every day, with your breath rate stable, you will begin to feel the true meaning of the word fitness."”

From “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor [Book]


It was a perfect Fall weekend here in PA. This month has been hectic between travel and events, so we were happy to have a quiet weekend at home. The action continues this week with Barrel's first team retreat in NYC (so excited!) and then a trip to Greece to attend the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) Global Member Meeting (GMM).

On Friday, Dana and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary with dinner at Odette's, a restaurant in New Hope with an incredible view of the Delaware River, and a show at the Bucks County Playhouse. The local feel continued through to Sunday for my first cycling event, hosted by the Central Bucks Bicycle Club (CBBC). As shared last week, I rode the 33-mile route in CBBC's 41st Covered Bridges Ride.

For any data lovers like me, here's a screenshot of my ride via Strava and Whoop:

The ride was full of firsts. I've never been out with so many cyclists, let alone riding on hilly, winding roads. It may have been picturesque, but it was tough. There were moments I'd have to put it up there alongside the competitions I've done in powerlifting and strongman. Different in about every way, but finding the willpower to push through (or should I say up the hills) felt familiar.

One of my favorite aspects of the ride was seeing a bunch of riders who I'd put at or above retirement age, many of them crushing it. I'm always in awe of these folks and strive to be at that level, not only now but when I'm their age.

I finished the ride with a big smile and a few takeaways for the future:

1) Find harmony between strength training & cycling.

On Saturday, my friend Lee and I went on a 17-mile ride to warm up before the big ride the next day. When I woke up Saturday, my legs were still sore from heavy squats and deadlifts earlier in the week. I enjoyed the ride and the opportunity to get out on some main roads, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't painful at times.

Luckily, I was feeling more recovered on Sunday, but my thighs lit up as I climbed hill after hill. I know that strength training will positively impact cycling in the long run, but I'll have to find a better balance during the riding season next year. Part of it may be as simple as lowering the weight. Right now, I'm training with the prospect of another Strongman competition in March (we'll see). Another part of it will be adopting more pre and post-stretching routines. I'm also interested in exploring more recovery techniques.

2) Progress takes practice.

Like anything else, progress takes practice. I keep reminding myself I can count the times the long rides I've done with one hand, and only two of them were on my new bike.

The endurance I've built with high-intensity workouts over the last few years has been helpful for diving head-first into cycling. However, burpee-filled HIIT workouts can't quite replicate the feeling of climbing a string of steep hills on a bike in the frigid morning air.

On Sunday, the third hill we faced seemed endless, acting as a universal speed bump for even the seemingly-seasoned riders. As I pushed my way to the top, surrounded by the sound of deep breaths and shifting gears, I remember thinking, "Maybe I made a big mistake; this cycling thing is not for me." Within ten feet from the top, I dismounted to catch my breath and straighten my legs. I jumped back on to finish the climb. Within seconds, I was moving at full speed with the wind at my back, thinking how grateful I was to be in that moment.

Shot by Dick McCreight, Bluestem Light Photography

The ups and downs of the Sunday ride were intense. They helped me see where I need to focus and that every ride can be an opportunity for practice as much as enjoyment. All this to say, I plan to spend more time training next year, focusing on challenging terrain as much as distance. In the interim, I think spending more time on my rower will also help.

I'm learning that hills are a bit like leg day in strength training. Most people don't enjoy them, but they come with the territory, and the only way to progress is to face them head-on. I've come to appreciate leg workouts, so maybe I can find the same love for hills.

3) The power of breathing.

I'm currently reading a book called Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nectar. I've been fascinated, but not surprised, by the impact that proper breathing can have on everything from sleep to posture to general health.

When I started powerlifting a few years ago, I quickly learned that I had a bad habit of holding my breath during strenuous activities. It has been tough to break, but I have made good progress with more deliberate breathing during workouts. But yesterday, I caught myself doing it while cycling.

I'm experimenting with some of the practices mentioned in Breath as I read the book. I plan to continue prioritizing proper breathing techniques, especially when pushing myself physically.

Also featured this week: Creating Consistency from Project Scoping through Implementation

Thought Starter

Where am I missing opportunities to improve because I haven't taken a step back to acknowledge progress, face challenges, and imagine a desired future state?

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