Thursday, January 14, 2010

Surviving strength training

The late fall-early winter doldrums had arrived. Working too late most nights, not having the time or energy to plan healthy meals, time in front of the TV, and dark mornings with no energy to drag out the rollers resulted in lethargy, weight gain, and general malaise. Does this sound familiar, or is it just me?

I can’t remember what I initially thought when I saw the information about Upper Echelon’s strength training classes. I read about it on the website, talked to people I knew had taken the classes last year, and procrastinated. I knew I had to commit to something, because the old routine wasn’t working. My biggest fear: making it blatantly obvious how out of shape I really am by demonstrating that I don’t belong in a class full of bike racers. My biggest worry: what to wear? After all, the class involves both gym work and on-the-bike training. I had to get organized.

I tried not to think about it. I told Russell Cree that I was pretty sure I would die in the class, even though he had no idea what I was talking about. He just said I’d be fine. But I was dreading that first night, Monday December 7th. I thought of what could go wrong. I planned how to make sure I had enough time to get ready after work including time to grab a quick dinner.
I showed up. After all, 99% of the challenge is showing up. Right, Einar?

I immediately liked Lara Brown, the coach, and tried to put out of my mind what I imagined she was thinking when I introduced myself. Generally I don’t care about making an impression or what people think of me (those of you who know me will agree) but I would bet she was wondering what I was doing there, with my $129 set of Advance Minoura rollers, shebeest knickers and slightly worn North Wave shoes. Most everyone else had on their team jerseys, brought trainers and looked like they belonged. I chatted a bit with Lara, who reminds me a lot of a friend of mine who was once on the National Cycling team and came very close to qualifying for the 2006 short track speedskating Olympic team. I got on my bike and managed to stay upright on the rollers for the warmup, thanks to the strategically placed table (for my towel & water bottle).

Warmup over, time to do some “dynamic strength work”. This consisted of light jogging & doing various warmup exercises in laps across the room – knee-ups, lunges, etc. Then, the coordination drills. Lara lays out a “ladder” on the floor and shows us the hop-scotch-like drills. At first it’s easy, just run with knees up, one foot in each square, like football players running in tires. Then it becomes more complicated, this is where the “coordination” (or in my case, lack thereof) comes into play. Lara hops lightly and effortlessly as she demonstrates each combination drill. Javad quickly imitates precisely what she has demonstrated, and everyone else follows. Then I attempt the drill, and sometimes can’t get my brain to stop the negative “you can do this, klutz!” thoughts so that my legs & body can actually perform. At least I try, and hope nobody is laughing, but I am amused at my own clumsiness. So be it.

Time to get on the bike. Lara brings out a chart which I can’t read, because I am so focused on staying upright on my rollers that I don’t dare look up. At the beginning of class during warmup she had us introduce ourselves and I did so without looking up, but managed to shoot a quick frightened glance at Lara, and heard a few chuckles. I paid my money like everyone else, and I need to be here, I thought. I am out of shape, so what if I’ve got 10 or 20 years on these “real” racers. I just want to ride my bike and not die.

Back to the chart. I can’t focus on it, but Lara is saying something about “power 1” and “power 2”. I interpret this to mean “pedal hard” and “try not to puke”. These are my goals. I manage to accomplish both, for the most part, though Lara does have to say “get your cadence up there, Linda” quite a few times. I try not to watch the clock. Lara says “throw your knees up over the handlebars” and I picture parking my bike somewhere and just reclining with my legs draped over the bike. Not exactly what she meant. I realized that the coordination and warmup drills are intended to simulate the pedaling motion (at least the running knee-ups, anyway) so I find that if I just concentrate on pretending there are wires on the ceiling attached to my kneecaps, they will pull them up repeatedly, allowing me to somewhat resemble an actual cyclist on rollers.

I survived the first class. Even though I ate before the workout, I was ravenously hungry when I got home at 9pm. Note to self to bring snacks for the ½ hour drive home. I even went back for 2 more classes in December. Then the holidays came. I had to work up my courage all over again to return to class on January 13th. In place of Lara, who is out of town, Chris put the three of us through a similar warmup and more core workout, which I badly need. The spinning portion of the class was much harder – 120 rpms? Are you kidding me?
I’ll get there. I may not ever be an actual road racer, but I am determined to regain the fitness I’ve lost, be able to pedal more efficiently, not get dropped on rides, and most importantly, fit into my jeans.