A most-confirmedly ex-competitive athlete,  I. The formative years, athletically, were the overall formative years and I had the benefit of some formal coaching here and there. One might debate the quality but it was certainly coaching.

I run across the later-life convert to running or cycling, now and again, and there is a common theme. The person who “gets serious” about what-have-you. Marathons, USCF type bike racin’, etc. Being smart and dedicated people they go out and train a whole bunch and usually get pretty decent. Then, there is the plateau. “I want to qualify for Boston, my times are consistent but I can’t get faster”. “I want to do group rides but I’m not fast enough”.  “I got dropped from the Cat 5s”.


Everyone has trouble with this idea, the first obvious thing for distance sports is just to go out as hard as you can for most workouts. This is wrong.  Once a certain level of competency/fitness has been reached (you completed a marathon? okay, you are there) little benefit is obtained by “doing more long runs” or “training more consistently” or the like. You need to run faster to improve. Speedwork, intervals, etc are the only way.

The cycling plateau is usually the group-ride threshold because being able to stay with the group of riders is a pretty necessary calling card. I can’t tell you how many people focus on average speed. “Well I can hold 18mph for my rides but I hear the local group ride is 24mph so I have to ride more so that I can hang”. Wrongo. Once you get up to the approx 18mph average on mixed terrain you are ready for the next step. Group rides and yes, you will get dropped at times  ( So know your roads). The first reason is , of course, the benefit of drafting. Otherwise known as not having to bash through the wind all by yourself. People know this intellectually, of course, but nothing like a 50 miler in a group ride to really generate understanding. The other reason is subtler. You just can’t ride that hard by yourself. Call it motivation, nod to intermittent effort, whatever. There is some weird physiology at work. You’d think all effort would be the same, right? Put out X watts because of a hill, increased wind resistance, or drag brake and it should all be the same training, no? Dunno why but it doesn’t seem to work this way. There is no substitute for sustained big gear riding that you can only maintain because of the pack.  So you have to suck it up and go on those local group rides. You’ll get dropped at first, perhaps frequently. Eventually, you’ll develop the skills and power and notice you are a much better rider. You won’t get there by yourself no matter how many hours you put in.

This has something to do with science careers.

How to find the time…

August 26, 2007

In a comment to Dr. Shellie on going running for “Balance“, Lab Lemming sez:

I used to do this, but it is harder now that I’m a parent…

A comment from Kevin Z on a post over at Cognitive Daily center punches a related issue:

I’ve been running every other day for the last 3.5 months. Its been great, I feel my energy level increased, my body getting into shape and my productivity increase as well. I will continue as much as I can. In the winter I cross-country ski every chance I can get.

Running is hard my knees and I know I probably don’t do it. I played soccer growing up and did short-distance (i.e. dashes & sprints) running, but I got sidetracked for oh, about 10 years and put on some weight. But I’m off the ciggies, off the junk food (though not entirely…), eating less more often and regularly running. Motivation mostly stems from wanting to be healthy to have fun with kids, and be around in good health for them as long as possible.

Who in this house holla back, aight? RealLife gets in the way of fitness and next thing you know it is TimeToMakeAChange.

Look not all of us can be professional (P.A.H.S. Bobcat harriers ruled Bishop Brady, yo!) runners like KemiboSabe who crazytalks:

I’ve run over 5,200 miles in a single calendar year and have raced about a dozen marathons. All I can say is that although I don’t think and better thanks to all this flailing around, I do think more. I’m often more focused, but with running, I can foster awful ideas with even greater clarity.

So we mortals need some strategies…

Commute: Totally efficient if your cage-commute is like mine. I can easily beat traffic on the way home which is conveniently a net downhill off the TP mesa. And hey, if you have enough, er, southern european male postdoc types around nobody will notice even if you can’t find the showers. Although come on, all science buildings have a shower somewhere. no excuse.

Lights: Gotta have decent ones, gotta do the night riding thing. Late at night or early in the morning. Look having infants and toddlers already screwed up your sleeping habits. You wake up at weird hours or take that 4pm coffee and forget to say “decaf”. Whatever. Don’t fire up the computer and work or read blogs, go for a ride! Okay, I got T-boned by one of PB’s traditional UnbelievablyDrunkChicks a couple of nights ago on the Sail Bay boardwalk but how often can that happen?

Multiple Bikes: Ok, we all know this is hard to get past the spouse unless yours happens to ride as much as you do. But you gotta. Bike geeks love to tinker around with the gear, fixing tires, cleaning, adjusting etc. This is OVER. Bike maintenance is now your hated enemy because you don’t get the extra 30 min prep time anymore to fix something you notice right at ride time. So you need as many options as possible, hopefully one of ’em is running! Me, I have a lot of stored investment in equipment not to mention the hardware from more recent prior attempts to get back to riding. But you may have to break out the cost of a heart attack or chronic blood thinner meds to get the spouse on board with that $5K rig you want… hey, all’s fair.

Motivation: This can take multiple posts but suffice it to say this is the biggie. Whatever it takes and I mean whatever. Are you a log junkie who wants to see that nice even graph of hours? Track your cumulative miles? Sign up for some crazy endurance race (like the bro just did). Tell yourself you are going to start racing again and re-license? Whatever, just do it. Whatever gets you out for a ride as often as possible.