Thursday, June 27, 2013

One more mile

I've been taking a really conservative approach to getting back into the fitness thing.  It's really helping me figure out my limits, and build back up in a properly gradual fashion.

I'm up to about 5 miles on my bike at a go, and today will be trying a 700 meter swim, and am using the duo of swimming and biking to ensure I have a balance of strength and endurance in both halves of my body.  My new plan is to attempt to increase my rides by 1 mile each ride until I hit 8 miles, then 2 miles per ride until I hit 20 miles, at which point I will resume normal bike usage.  For the swims, I'm increasing by 100 meters each swim until I hit 2000 meters, at which point I'll begin re-integrating lifting into my fitness routine and take swimming down to 1-2 days a week.

Failure, in any fitness routine, is something you have to accomodate for.  Personally, I usually am pretty into weight lifting and failure is built into every single powerlifting strategy.  When I fail on a lift, I then de-load (reduce the weight) by 10%, and work at that level with higher repetitions for a couple workouts.  Then come back and re-try the goal weight at the regular number of reps and you SHOULD get it.

I've never really applied this kind of thing to my cycling but now I'm sort of forced to.  Cycling for the last few years has been all about transportation with fitness very much as a side benefit.  But now that my cardiovascular capacity requires strengthening from the ground up I am taking the strategies I've learned from lifting and applying it in new ways until I reach my goal of being able to comfortably cycle 20-25 miles (and I might take it further to enable myself to complete longer rides). I'm offering this on this blog not only because it helps me clarify my own thoughts, but for many new riders the idea of mastering the distances necessary to competently get around is a scary part of getting started.  Having a goal for each ride, but a plan for what to do next if you fail allows you some breathing room.  Push yourself forward, but allow for the fact you're human.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Inch by Inch

Lately I've been experiencing what you could lightly call "Anxiety" around the thought of getting back to my usual activity levels.  "What if I get heat stroke?  What if I get lightheaded?  Oh dear god I'm going to be sore."  It makes my mind go in circles and then I inevitably get depressed and feel like a failure.

Friday after a long talk with my mom I decided I'd had enough of self-pity and pulled my bike out and went for the shortest ride ever - 2 miles.  I had twinges in my chest, but nothing so horrific I had to stop pedaling.  Yesterday I went back to the gym for the first time and swam a whopping 500 meters at a very relaxed pace.  This morning I went for another bike ride, and added another mile for a blazing total of 3 miles.

Getting over the fear of working out is proving to be more difficult than the actual exercise. And so it goes with most things, really. The head-game is so much harder than everything else and that's the birth of procrastination. How I get around comes from my background in dog training - it's called a behavior chain.  

Here's how it works - when you train a dog to do something really complex, like say, searching for a object by odor detection (called "nosework") you don't just slap the dog down in a room full of stuff and expect them to get it on their own. You start with something very small (in the case of a dog, showing interest in an object) and slowly build from very simple steps into a chain of behaviors that leads to your eventual goal.  So it goes for me and exercise.  First you put on whatever clothes you need for this activity.  Find your shoes.  Get your phone, keys, and so on together.  Check your tires. Make sure your lights have batteries. Before you know it you've wheeled the bike out the door and are pedaling around the block. It makes it easy for me personally to get around anxiety and procrastination because rather than focusing on the big scary idea, it lets me focus on the next tiny step. It's the inch-by-inch approach.

So now I'm feeling better about myself because I'm taking proactive steps towards a return to normalcy. 3 miles isn't much, but it's more than I was doing a couple weeks ago, and it's a necessary step to getting back to 40 miles rides. So begins my next opportunity to build something brick by brick.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Heat it up!

Thanks to the power of the internet I have just discovered my new favorite route planning tool, a heatmap made from the GPS tracking information available from Strava.  Check it out!

Strava, for the unfamiliar, is an App that allows you to track your rides using a GPS or phone (I'm broke, so I use my phone).  It also allows you to "race" other users and will tell you where you come on certain rides.  I use it whenever I remember to and while I'm not competing with anyone, I have a real thing for maps and get a kick out of it.

The Global Ride Heatmap takes all the data gathered by Strava and puts it into a map showing the most frequently ridden routes recorded by Strava.  I've recently been wanting to explore outside my usual inner-city riding and have had minor "HOW WILL I FIND A ROUTE?" anxiety.  One of the big reasons for this (for me at least) is because I don't ride a traditional drop handlebar road bike anymore,  making it largely impossible for me to keep up with those who do.  But my bike does just fine for more relaxed riding as long as I'm willing to chill out and look at the the scenery rather than focus on hammering the pedals.  I'll be using this App to help plan my new loops as I try and get my lungs back to normal.  Check out your town, since the data is user-generated, it's an amazingly comprehensive set of data.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Walkin' round the block

Recovery from a major cardiac incident sucks.  It involves a lot of sitting around not going for bike rides.  I'm also restricted from anything with a major risk of falling, and major temperature differences give me the woozies when my blood pressure changes quickly so just about everything I do for fun is currently a tad problematic.  But last night I had a small first baby step towards normalcy!

I walked my dogs.  That's it.  It's so non-dramatic it barely warrants a comment except that right now, that's the most normal thing I've done in weeks.  And I was fine, the whole time!  I waited until the sun had cooled off a bit, leashed my pups up, and off we went.

Shiner doesn't like it when the sun is set to "Broil"
I wish there were something to report.  The dogs were not as well-behaved as usual due to being more or less cooped up for two weeks, and I was walking a little less briskly than usual.  But otherwise, we went for a nice stroll around the block, they sniffed stuff, then we watched our local sports team play basketball.  It's just really, really nice to feel like things might go back to normal soon.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Me, My Lungs, and I

I'm sure someone out there noticed I went from a Bike Month posting frenzy to total radio silence in like, a day.  I have a good reason for that!

So remember my pulled rib cage?  Well, the pain in my ribs had mostly stopped, but the shortness of breath remained.  Actually, it seemed to be getting worse rather than better, to such an extent that I nearly passed out on while biking home last Saturday morning.  After another incident with near-involuntary-unconsciousness, off to the doctor I went to see what the hell was up with me.

I went to my doctor and described my symptoms, and his reaction was....not promising.  He sent me to have a CT Scan done, and my alarm-level rose when they wouldn't let me leave.  Several hours of exams, poking, and prodding later my results came back.  I had a very bad pulmonary embolism.  That means blood clots in my lungs, a condition with a fairly high fatality rate.  But not just one.  Shitloads, in both lungs.  So, I got to experience a lot of firsts this past week.  First ambulance ride.  First overnight hospital stay.  First time in a long time feeling like my body betrayed me.

Cycling and other physical activities (hiking, running around with my dogs, weight lifting, swimming) form a huge part of my identity - I don't just bike a lot, I'm a cyclist. A hiker. After suffering a very severe knee injury early in life I've made a point to never let myself be trapped in my own body again.  So to suddenly be told that I had a life threatening cardiac problem was shocking and very upsetting.  Staring in the face of your own mortality is a hard thing, it turns out. But thanks to some awesome care providers and a lot of blood tests I'm still here and on the mend, though the recovery period is going to be really, really long.

So I'm back.  I'm out of the hospital and on medication.  But I still get weak and woozy from too much activity and I'm going to have to build back up very slowly.  Any major falls have a pretty serious risk of internal bleeding, so I have to be careful.  "Careful" isn't exactly my normal way of doing things, so this requires totally retooling my life for the next several months.  I might even have to break down and buy a helmet.

Overall it pretty much sucks, but on the bright side, I'm still alive!  I'm here to rebuild things and go back to normal.  I just have to take it slow and not stress myself out about what I can do or for how long.  But it's good to be back.