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Lost: Lung. Return if Found.

February 21, 2011

Judging by my last entry, it’s been awhile since I rode. We’ve been under snow, I’ve been buried at work, and the family and I spent a lovely, non-riding week in Cuba. The sun was great for all of us, but clearly the month off the bike was not good for my fitness. We had a remarkable thaw last week, but with the temperatures dropping and the threat of 10cm of snow tonight (looking out the window at 20:00, I’m seeing the first snow falling, and it already looks fierce), I thought today might realistically be my only shot at a ride in February. I did my regular, 20km ride around Mineral Springs.

I’ve been experimenting with a rather successful weight loss regimen, which has seen me drop almost 5kg since Christmas (more on that to follow soon). I’ve lost a lot of body fat, but have maintained decent strength and muscle tone through abbreviated visits to the gym on campus. Being lighter on the bike makes a big difference: one is effectively carrying every pound—bike and rider—up every hill. That’s why most of the top riders would fight to maintain their feet while a five-year-old eagerly blows out her/his birthday candles. It’s also a big part of why serious riders look to shed every conceivable milligram of weight off their bikes. For riders at my level, this is a little ridiculous: the engine (me) is the bigger weight problem, so I’m not that concerned if my bike isn’t the lightest carbon fiber dream machine.

All this to say, I did notice that I was riding lighter than usual. Climbing out of the saddle was easy, and I felt lighter on the pedals. Riding out of the saddle allows you to apply more power to the pedals, but here’s the rub: it also requires a lot more physical endurance. I might be lighter, but my fitness is suffering. Add in cold weather (around -5c on the ride), and I was gasping for breath at the first sign of an incline. After chatting about it with my brother-in-law last week, I’ve decided I might have a mild case of cold/exercise-induced asthma. At least that’s what I’m telling myself today in order to keep my head high after today’s fiasco.

To make matters worse, I elected to take a different route to the top of the escarpment. I’ll add maps in due course, but I typically ride up Wilson St. into Ancaster, before turning right on Sulphur Springs Rd. Today, I went up the Old Ancaster Rd. instead. Wilson St. is wide, straight, and has a big shoulder, but it’s also noisy and not terribly interesting; the Old Ancaster Rd. is pretty, winding through the Dundas Conservation Area. No shoulder, but much more interesting riding. Wilson St. is a long steady climb at roughly 5-7%; the Old Ancaster Rd. is punctuated by three shorter but fiercer climbs (9-12%) to get to the same place. This last bit of information is critical when combined with my weight loss discussion above. Short, steep climbs and feeling lighter had me chomping at the bit to jump out of the saddle, which I did as I attacked the first of the three climbs. I’ve driven this road in both directions plenty of times, but I’ve never noticed that the climb—listed as 9%—feels much, much worse (I’ll check up on this later in the season when I’m in better shape). Already struggling to keep my lungs out of my throat (curiously, the shorter distance of air from gaping mouth to lungs isn’t actually an advantage, I’ve discovered), I was already well into the red. A lack of conditioning not only leaves you heaving and sure that your ribcage has shrunk and limiting your oxygen intake; it also makes recovering in time for the next climb that much harder. I was barely back to a reasonable breathing pattern, when I was hit by the longer second hill. The short, but heart-breakingly steep final step wasn’t long after (and in sight from the top of the second hill, which did wonders for my already shattered morale). And this barely fifteen minutes from home.

The rest of the ride was comparably easy, and after soft-pedaling for several minutes in order to regain, well, consciousness, I was able to enjoy the rest of the ride. Another 20km in. And a healthy lesson in humility. All good.

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