Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Climb every mountain

(No poker content.)

I found a web site, Strava, on which one can not only upload the GPS data from a bike ride, but compare it to other users who have covered the same track. I quickly discovered that one of the most popular local biking challenges is a route called the "Villa Ridge climb" in Summerlin:

I thought it would be fun and interesting to take it on and compare my time to the best that have been recorded--which, as you can see, is 13:37 for a man, 15:03 for a woman. I knew I would be vastly slower than that, but I didn't expect that I'd have difficulty even finishing the ride. After all,  I've done 24-mile rides with 1000 feet of climb, so how hard can 4.4 miles and 667 feet of climb be?

As it turns out, a lot harder than I thought. I had to stop--twice--for ten-minute breaks to catch my breath. Some of my longer rides to date have certainly left me tired, but I had never before been forced to stop because I had reached my cardiovascular limit. Until today.

The first time I must have looked a sight sitting on the curb panting, because a nice lady stopped her car, rolled down the window, and asked if I was OK. I put on a brave face. "Yes, fine, thanks--just taking a breather." Inside, though, I was dying.

When the fire in my legs and lungs again forced a halt, this time I dialed 911 and had the friendly paramedics come by and jump-start my heart a few times, as it had gone into ventricular fibrillation.

Why so much difficulty compared to my previous rides? The answer perhaps should have been obvious to me just looking at the graph above, but it became painfully apparent as I was riding: It's the unbroken, unrelenting nature of the climb. Once it starts going uphill, there are no flat spots, no downhill portions in which to do some recovery. It's just climb, climb, climb, and climb some more.That is a condition I haven't faced before, and it makes all the difference in the world.

But I did eventually make it up the hill, mostly fueled by sheer stubbornness. Well, that plus the fact that I had left my car at the top of the hill, so turning around and heading down was not an option. I confess that I was feeling so completely whipped that I probably would have wimped out and taken that option had it been available.

My time? 51 minutes, including the rest breaks. My legs felt like overcooked spaghetti for the rest of the day. Overcooked spaghetti that was on fire.

This is mildly discouraging because I've had my eye on riding Red Rock Canyon, and that is an even more difficult climb, with more than 50% greater elevation rise in about the same distance as Villa Ridge. I had previously been thinking that it would be at the outer edge of my ability, but that I could do it. I now know that I can't--at least not without taking several breaks along the way, and maybe being carried the last mile or two by my funeral procession.

On the other hand, being faced with this stark evidence of how out of shape I am gives me some motivation to do better. And having an objective, repeatable benchmark test gives me the means to track my progress. Maybe next time I can make do with one ten-minute rest and one five-minute rest. Then with just two five-minute rests, then just one. And maybe, just maybe, in a month or two I can increase my leg strength and cardiovascular reserve enough that I can make it to the top without stopping at all. (One of the advantages of living in Las Vegas is that even in the winter it doesn't get prohibitively cold for biking.)

I still won't show up on the Strava leaderboard, but that doesn't matter. I'm really only competing against myself. As long as I can get to where I can convincingly trounce the pathetic, out-of-shape, overweight, middle-aged, whiny slowpoke who barely managed to even finish the ride today, it will be something I'll be proud of.


sevencard2003 said...

wouldnt it have been better to ask the lady if she had any water to drink than to bother 911? im sure they billed u heavily.

Michael said...

Nice barometer at least for 6 months to a year from now