In 2017 I ran a Fitness Big Year, in which I took up cycling with a vengeance while trying to keep up some jogging and some gym. I remember that for a few short months I clocked up 110 kms every week. At my low speed, that’s nearly six hours of cycling a week. Each week was exhausting, but I was fit. I was fit, until I got injured, and then I wasn’t fit, and gradually I began missing my targets. In 2018 I kept up regular cycling as part of a Big Year, more like 40 or 50 kms a week. Then I got injured again and starting putting on weight and … it was a bit of a train wreck.
Now, as part of a refreshed exercise regime, and not part of a Big Year at all, I suddenly find myself being incredibly regular with my cycling. Three times a week without fail. The thing is, I only get out for half an hour, pumping my legs hard over only 10 kms, and, even more boring, mostly I do just one route (which includes a suspended section under a freeway as per the image above). But am I bored? Not at all. I’m loving the steady discipline. Biking is no longer a huge challenge, no longer tilted at grand tours or (heaven forbid) racing, but just a means to breathe hard and work those quads.
So after three obsessive years of Big Years that included obsessive cycling, now I’m now longer officially obsessive but am regularly (VERY regularly) getting on the bike. Something good and sweet has taken hold of me!
The photo is a Darwin suburban jogging scenario. It’s not an easy place to jog but I got out every day, mostly doing shorter runs (5 kms) but managing one 10 km effort. Back in Melbourne, yesterday I ran a final short route to achieve 2017’s goal of 1,000 kms. What a relief!
And today I’ve cycled one last time, just 20 kms, to meet the year’s goal of 4,000 kms.
And on Friday I visited the gym for the 100th time, right on target.
In the end I reached my goals. It took more effort, both physical and mental (much fussing over when and how), than I’d anticipated, and possibly I shouldn’t be putting quite so much emotional effort into exercise. But, hey, I feel as robust and fit as I’ve ever felt, so I’d say it was all worthwhile.
Farewell to a trio of obsessions (and when I say obsession, I mean day on day, everyday, not quite mania but sometimes damned close):
Writing Big Year – you drove me mad and I let you down and you didn’t “work,” but I can’t gainsay the many huge gains I made over the year. I’ll learn from you and turns 2017’s disappointments into 2018’s successes.
Fitness Big Year – you were tough to uphold (man, did I bitch and moan!) and I recast you a few times, but I’m now half a cyclist on top of being a jogger, my fitness is improved (whatever that means), and I’m addicted to daily workouts. My gratitude to you, old friend.
Rock Music Big Year – your daily aural treat was sublime, and if you haven’t rekindled my old fixation on life-saving toons, something nascent smoulders inside me now. Bless you (and I wish I could repeat you in 2018).
In 2016 I ran 1,700 kms in 10-kilometer sessions. I’m slow and my pace ranged between 6:10 and 6:40 minutes per kilometer. I got under 6:00 a handful of times.
2017? I’m still jogging 10 kilometers (also shorter distances) but all year I’ve struggled to get back to 2016’s speeds, slow as they were. My 10-km pace is now around 6:40. I can barely imagine 6:20 or faster!
I feel stronger, more robust, and “fitter.” Why not faster? I can think of physiological reasons. At my age, does a year older mean slower? Does cycling mean tired muscles? What role does diet play?
Maybe, maybe . . . but might it be the mind? I’ve always observed how much my thoughts affect my running, generally adversely. My brain forever invents reasons to not head out into the day. During runs, my mind chatters like a grumpy monkey. Adding in cycling over 2017 might constitute a factor, for riding a bike is nothing as invasive and painful as pounding the streets, and maybe my mind wants me to abandon running for riding. Perhaps my problem is mental not physical.
If it’s all in the mind, can I run faster in 2018? Dangerous territory . . .
The dog ate my homework . . . the classic excuse. A couple of days ago, desperate to jog some kilometers towards my end-year goal, I headed to the clothes line to fetch my drying jogging shorts. I found them on the ground, chewed up by an enterprising dog. A great panic ensued. (A trip to Kmart fixed me up.)
Reading about an interest is a powerful way to pursue that interest. Over 2017, while trying to instil a habit of regular bike riding, I tried to read as many cycling books as I could absorb.
Higher Calling: Road Cycling’s Obsession with the Mountains, written by troubadour writer Max Leonard, is my final cycling book of 2017 (and next year I’m switching topics), so I was disappointed to get little out of it. Leonard is an energetic, adept writer, but after an intro dealing with “Everesting,” which I do find fascinating because I know people involved in it, the book loses narrative coherence, at least in my view. The cover blurb describes Higher Calling as “blending adventure and travel writing with the rich narrative of pro racing,” and to me that’s what it felt like, an unholy mix of stories from all over the shop, stories told well but to me, a beginner cyclist, somewhat baffling. In the end, it’s a stylish read but it certainly doesn’t answer its opening question: “why do we have this obsession with cycling up mountains?”
The 2016 Jogging Big Year segued into the 2017 Fitness Big Year. I took up riding bikes but hoped to keep running. But how does one define fitness? At the start of this year, I recall asking everyone what fitness means and how I would know whether I was making any progress.
Here I am a year later and fitness remains a slippery concept. It’s “relative,” I’m told, or “it depends on your aims,” or “if you improve, you’re fitter.” You can’t hop into a “fitness MRI” that gives you a “fitness score.”
Partway through 2017, I gave up worrying about the issue. Keeping up the cycling, jogging, and gym visits was stress enough. But over the second half of the year, I caught myself grinning and saying to myself, “I’m better, I feel better.” Through trial and error, I’ve ended up with a weekly slate of nine outings (three gym, three bike, three footpath) that seems to suit me. Certainly my cycling has gotten faster (it’s still slow), certainly I’m stronger (and less inclined to pull muscles) in the gymnasium, and if jogging hasn’t seen any real lift, at least I am still doing it. For a couple of months, I held my weight down to what I think is optimal, and I’m not far above that now. Perhaps most telling, hamstring and other niggles have abated and I recover faster from killer runs or longer rides.
This sensation of being “fitter” remains intangible but it’s real. I count the 2017 Fitenss Big Year as a success.
This Big Year has morphed a bit over the year. The emerging experience with adding cycling to the jogging habit has led my to a weekly regimen: cycle 3 times for 90 kms, jog 3 times for 30 kms, do my gym routine 3 times. Nine activities a week, which means a couple of days a week I double up. This cycle, still rather new to me, seems to zing!
But I like to overlay annual targets, so I aimed (after a couple of edits) for 4,000 kms of cycling, 1,000 kms of jogging, and 100 gym sessions. An annual goal is, I’ve found, a wonderful motivator. And it allows you to occasionally “catch up” if life really assails your routines.
Well, right now I’m caught in a vice. With 12 days to go (with five of them in Darwin, in that swelter that makes longer jogs impossible and where I can’t cycle or go to the gym), I need 57 more cycling kms (doable), and 70 more cycling kms (needing almost daily running, which is hard on me), and 4 gym visits (difficult to fit in). And I ask myself: does it matter if I end up with 990 jogging kilometers? One part of me answers: of course it’s not important, what counts is regularity, the weekly targets. Another part of me, the dangerous one, demurs: of course you need 4,000/1,000/100, Andres, achieve it no matter what!
A couple of weeks back I extended my cycling to 70 kms for the first time. I know, I know, for many this is a triviality, but the ride was a biggie for me. My body is used to running for just over an hour without carrying food or water. After some initial problems, I’ve learnt to carry about 100 grams of nuts and M&Ms on a full day’s hike. So on this 70-km journey, which I tackled slowly in order to ensure finishing, I took a liter of water and 100 grams of nibbles.
A lesson hard learnt! After two hours my legs grew a mite heavy and I sipped and supped. At the three-hour mark, I was nearly out of supplies and from then on my entire body faded. I did finish but could barely lift legs off the bike. In cycling terms, I’d “bonked.”
Since then I’ve read that you should eat 50 grams every quarter hour in excess of an hour and a half. I think that may exaggerate the requirement, so this week I’ve trialled muesli bars, about 50 grams per half hour over 2 hours. It seemed to work but the distances weren’t as great as the 70-kmer, so quite what suffices over four or five or six hours is yet to be determined. As for water, at what point does one need more than a liter?
Lately I’ve been saying how fine this Fitness Big Year has turned out to be. I employed the word “joyous” once. But daily I still grizzle. With 23 days to go, to hit my 4,000 kms cycling/1,000 kms jogging/100 gyms, I must run eleven more times and this means four times in one of the three weeks. That makes me quake with fear. Cycling is more flexible – I can’t run further than 10 kms in a session but I can contemplate logger rides – so I’ve pushed this week to notch up 138 kms, nearly 30 more than any previous week, the idea being to get comfortably close to 4,000 as soon as possible. Five days planned in Darwin over Christmas complicate matters – the heat kills kilometers. My left hamstring still niggles. I might be down with a minor cold. Thursday’s run was hellish and today’s will be the same. On and on and on . . . one complaint after another.
Maybe the bitching goes hand in hand with the joy? The pleasure is often the bodily sensation of being stronger and healthier – if this was easy, there’d be no progress.
So . . . I’ve exercised 64 days in a row and how special is that, eh? Riding a borrowed Canondale road bike along the Cooks River yesterday was special, today I’ll be there in my joggers. I’ll grizzle but I can’t wait.