Challenges in February …

I took on this STRAVA Challenge in February to walk 4 days a week for 4 weeks.

It wasn’t difficult. Since COVID, I walk most days regardless. What was different is that I considered these walks as workouts, progressively walking further, faster, and climbing more. I have often spoken about the local park located at the top of “Little Mountain“, where I have trained on my bike for many years. Since COVID, it has become my go-to place, where I walk, ride, do repeat hill climbs, relax on a bench, take photographs, and stay safe.

Each walk is 90-120 minutes long. I climb up-and-over the top of “Little Mountain“, and I usually stop for a coffee and muffin along the way. Two of my favourite local coffee roasters are nearby. Each has outdoor seating, but one in particular has an outdoor patio facing the afternoon sun, comfortable chairs, and overhead heaters. This is usually where I stop.

In the warmer weather I cycle, but this time of year outside rides are not much fun. As least not for me. So, instead I walk. And, like when I ride, I search out the steepest routes I can find. When I first began this routine, the climb to the top was difficult, and slow. Yesterday, I did it 6 times from different directions. And, surprisingly, I felt like I could have done more.

This is my time. I always walk alone, but never feel lonely. I have said this before. On the contrary, I’m comfortable with my thoughts. Every day I photograph things that interest me. Things I never knew were there before. When the lighting is right, I may take as many as 10-20 photographs. Many I keep, and some I post on STRAVA along with the walk. I return feeling relaxed, and energized.

When Spring arrives, I will cycle more, and walk less. Maybe. I say maybe because I look forward to these walks, and believe they are good for both my physical, and mental health. Of course, cycling is as well, but the slower pace, and reduced effort, is more relaxing making me more aware of my surroundings. The smells, lighting, and found objects. On a bike, I race by.

I have been cycling indoors with a smart trainer. Initially, I thought I would only do this during the winter. Now I’m not sure. I find that I can do an effective workout in less time, easily vary the difficulty of a ride, not worry about traffic, or the weather.

I also completed a STRAVA Cycling Challenge in February.

Ok. I know. 400 km is not a lot in a month. But, and this is a big but, those km were more focused, and harder than they would have been on the road. They included more elevation gain than I could do locally. I was climbing in the Dolomites, Pyrenees, Alps, and Mallorca. Sometimes, I was even racing with professional cycling teams.

So, this is what I think. I think I’ll continue to train indoors, just not as much. Maybe only a few times a week, or as a warmup to a ride outside. I’m not sure about this, but that is what I’m thinking right now. Like my daily walks, these indoor smart trainer sessions have been more enjoyable, and beneficial, than I expected.

The walks have kept me local, learning more about my community, and appreciating it more. The smart trainer sessions have me travelling, at least virtually, all over the world completing epic, exhilarating rides.

It’s no so bad.

Let me show you …

Let me show you.

Yesterday I outlined STRAVA’s Fitness & Freshness chart. Today I planned to do a difficult interval workout. Before jumping on the trainer, I checked the STRAVA chart, and my resting heart rate (RHR).

STRAVA had calculated that I was in good Form based on the power, relative effort, and time of my last workout. And, my Garmin activity tracker recorded a 35 ppm RHR first thing this morning. These numbers combined indicate I was fully recovered, and ready for a hard interval workout.

And I was.

I completed the threshold+ intervals. They were hard. But they are supposed to be. The point is I did the workout, and it felt easier than the previous interval workout a few days ago. Either I’m getting fitter, or I was more fully recovered today.

I didn’t need STRAVA, or the Garmin activity tracker. I felt ready to work hard. I could tell by my warmup. I felt relaxed, and strong. However, it’s reassuring to see that the STRAVA measures told me the same thing.

I have learned I can depend on STRAVA to tell me when I am recovered, and ready for a harder effort.

How I schedule rest days …

I have rambled on about STRAVA several times.

I have rambled on how I didn’t like it at first because it turned every ride into a race. I rambled on about how I gradually learned to understand, and appreciate the app; how it helps me find new routes, meet other cyclists, and inspires me to train smarter.

Last year, I noticed that athletes were recording all of their workouts, not just their rides. Triathletes recorded their rides, runs, and swims. Others, recorded their weight training sessions. Some posted yoga, or Pilates sessions. And, some logged their walks.

At first, I questioned the value of doing this. Then I discovered that STRAVA has the ability to estimate my recovery, and relative freshness by using power, and relative effort data. It’s only an estimate, but consistent. When I realized this, I began recording all of my activities; indoor and outdoor rides; weight training sessions; and my daily hikes up and over “Little Mountain”. I learned when estimated fatigue is greater then the fitness measure, I am not at my peak, and this would not be the time to schedule a cycling event, or hard training session.

The more I monitored this, the more I realized it’s accuracy.

I am recovered when Form is zero or higher. I use this to schedule rest days, rest weeks, and training sessions. I use it to plan when to do intervals, repeat hill climbs, and recovery, endurance, and tempo rides. Some days, I feel like working harder, and I do. Other days, just the opposite. I have learned to trust how I feel, and not to train because I had planned to train that day.

After years of training, I trust how I feel. And, I have STRAVA to thank for that.

They keep me going …

I’ve written frequently about STRAVA. How I use it as a motivator. How I discover new, more challenging routes. How I meet other cyclists. How my understanding of the app has evolved over the years. But since COVID, I have discovered another way it has been motivating me during these cold, wet, winter months.

There are several local cyclists that inspire me every day to get on the trainer, and hike up, and over, “Little Mountain”. I look forward to their daily posts, and establish my plans for the day accordingly. Interestingly, they are woman. This is not to say there aren’t interesting male cyclists that inspire me. There are. But four women, in particular, not only inspire me to train regularly, but have taught me a better way to train during these bleak, winter months.

None of these woman are young. By their own admission, they are in their 50’s. Not old, but not in their athletic prime. They all cycle a lot. 10,000 km / year, and in one case, much more. They all work. And, they each lead busy, complicated lives.

The first is a health worker, who regularly commutes 20 km to work on her bike all year, and during the warmer, drier months, regularly rides with her friends on their road bikes. But this is not what inspires me. A lot of people commute on their bikes, and do regular group rides. No. What inspires me about this woman is that each, and every morning she hops out of bed at 6 AM, and goes for an hour long walk at sunrise in her neighbourhood. The same walk, every day. The same walk, regardless of the weather. And, when she gets home, she hops on her trainer for 30 minutes before showering, and caring on with her day.

She has taught me the importance of regular, daily walks. They are good for the body, mind, and spirit, particularly during this COVID pandemic when we are expected to stay apart. She has inspired me to hike “Little Mountain” every day.

The second woman is an emergency room doctor. 2-3 times a week, after finishing a 12 hour shift, she hops on her Cervelo road bike, and heads out for a 100+ km ride in the dark. That’s right. In the dark. All year. In all weather conditions. It’s always the same, flat route, with stops to warm up, and photograph inspirational murals she discovers along the way. I have always been nervous to cycle at night, but she talks about how quiet, and peaceful the streets are, and how meditative the experience is.

She has taught me that cycling is more than an athletic adventure. It is also a relaxing, and meditative one. And, she has inspired me to try night time rides.

The third woman is a professional triathlete, having completed over 15 events all over the world. This past summer, she was hit by a truck while out on her bike. She broke her neck in several spots, and metal screws now stabilize her spine. Her recovery has been slow, and painful. But she perseveres. She can’t ride outside. So, she uses SWIFT to race, and train. She can’t run. Not yet. But she gets on a treadmill using a device that supports her body weight minimizing the impact. She can swim. She has a continuous pool in her yard, and uses it daily. So despite having back surgery this past summer, she continues to train. And, she trains hard. A typical day may include 4-6 hours on her smart trainer racing with SWIFT, a 3,500 metre swim, and an hour long run. I can’t imagine what her schedule will be like when she is fully recovered.

She has taught me the benefit of micro training, doing shorter, harder efforts during the day, instead of one longer trainer session. Occasionally, she will do a long session on the bike, but usually she does multiple 30-40 minute workouts.

And the fourth woman is recovering from a double hip replacement. She is a local cyclist, but is fortunate to escape south for the winter months to train. And train she does. Her rides are legendary, regularly completing 100-160 km rides that include substantial climbing, sometimes as much as 2,000 metres. The long, difficult rides are not what inspire me. They are commendable, but many cyclists do this. What inspires me is her upbeat, positive attitude. With each ride ride she posts beautiful photographs along with an inspirational, sometimes philosophical, quote.

She has taught me how to remain positive, regardless of how I may feel, or what may be happening in my life.

I have never met these woman. Not yet. I want to. I want to tell them how inspirational they are. They know it. I can tell by the number of STRAVA followers they have, and by all of the complimentary comments they receive. But I want to tell them personally. I want to ride with them. When the weather improves, and I am back out on the road regularly, I plan to make it happen.

3 things I learned from Strava

It’s hilly here

I live in the Pacific Northwest.  It is hilly here.  Mountainous really.  Everywhere you ride there is a grade.  I didn’t realize how hilly or steep until I began using Strava on every ride.  It is not San Francisco but it is hilly.

The grades vary from 3-21% on my daily commute and regular training rides.  This is both good and bad.  It is good if you enjoy training and cycling around the city.  It’s not so good if you are a recreational rider just wanting to get out to shop and explore.

I’m slow

Strava compares my rides to others in the area.  Despite numerous PRs, I am near the bottom of all the Strava cyclists in the area on many of the segments, particularly the long climbs.  I attribute this to 2 things.  I am one of the oldest cyclists on Strava.  As much as I don’t like to admit it, I am not as strong as I once was.  And, secondly, judging from some of the speeds recorded, many of the cyclists frequenting the routes I do, are racers.

Weight matters

I regularly do repeat climbs up one of the local hills and have done the workout on both the Garneau (a full carbon bike) and the Roberts (a c 1980 steel frame).  There is a substantial weight difference between these 2 bikes.  I haven’t weighed them but believe me, it is substantial.  I can complete 6 repeated climbs in 60 minutes on the Garneau.  The same workout takes me 75 minutes on the Roberts.