Monday, January 04, 2010

26 Days Without Exercise

I don't make resolutions for the new year. If something is a good idea, I want to implement it right away. But December somehow manages to throw a big, dark ravine in front of me. The far side lies, coincidentally, near the first of the new year.

The end of a year brings a lot of items into the schedule on the days with the least and lowest sun. The sun doesn't stay up appreciably longer in early January, but the schedule seems to ease up. In the ski business and retail, the holidays are just a hurdle. January is a relief. If the snow is good, we can establish a rhythm again. If the snow isn't good, I could have a lot of free time. As the patrol captain at Jackson used to say when the warm breeze of a nasty winter thaw brought the smell of thawing mud and manure across the center of the village, "it smells like unemployment out there today."

Someone being interviewed on public radio the other night (I'm pretty sure it was Gretchen Rubin) suggested that someone who is out of work should be sure to get enough sleep and exercise to help maintain happiness. That fits my Working Class Athlete Theory. The First Law is "When Unemployed, Train."

What Rubin said could be distilled to this: Exercise will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no exercise.

A rider I know who has grappled with substance abuse issues told me that riding becomes his drug.

"I'm like an addict. When I get back into riding [after a lapse for various reasons] at first I start to feel great, but then I worry constantly that I'll get a flat or break a chain. It's like an addict worrying that he'll run out of whatever he uses."

I've known a number of riders who got themselves off of chemical substances by substituting a cycling addiction. They are certainly healthier and happier on bikes than on the brain candy. But my friend's anxiety simply underscores my Second Law of the Working Class Athlete: Become Your Own Mechanic. Learn to take care of the basics: fix a flat, adjust gears and brakes, adjust hubs, overhaul bearings. With threadless headsets you can overhaul that assembly with just one or two hex keys, a rag and some grease. Hubs still require specialized cone wrenches, but other maintenance can be done with standard metric tools, a smallish screwdriver and some pliers. It's a lot easier than growing your own dope or operating your own meth lab.

More tools let you work on more things with more precision. Always keep basic spare parts on hand.

I chose cycling in the 1970s because it had practical benefits. I was a commuter before I was a racer. Racing was an interesting and educational diversion, but a diversion nonetheless. Training was an excuse to ride, because adults need an excuse to ride. "I'm training for a race" sounds more virtuous and plausible than "I just like to ride my bike for hours because it makes me feel good." I'm competing. I'm pushing myself to achieve victory. It's a competitive sport. I could end up in the Olympics.

Ha ha. The only way I would end up in an Olympic cycling race would be if I stumbled onto the course and the field ran over me. I'm well above average athletically, but there's a monstrous steep slope between "better than most" and "one of the best." The average person could be much better than average with a little consistent effort. Meanwhile, the excuse of training let me justify my hedonistic enjoyment of all aspects of cycling, first on road, then off road when mountain biking came along.

Other excuses to ride include weight loss and "living longer."

My doctor told me that a regular exercise program can increase the average person's life span by about six years, but the exercise time necessary to achieve that benefit averages out to about six years. Don't exercise to live longer. Do it to live better. Do it to be strong longer in whatever life span you get.

Having said that, my father is a high functioning man of 82 who doesn't really exercise at all. He does not look fit. With a little (or a lot) less poundage on him he could be more flexible and functional. On the basis of genetics alone, however, he's doing better than some people in their 50s and 60s. It's kind of annoying, really. Love ya, Dad!

Before 26 days turns into 27 I should step away from the computer and move around a little.


Steve A said...

There's a lot to be said for quality of life and it's not just the exercise...

Ham said...

Not too different over here - haven't been riding (apart from the odd trip) for about six weeks. Just changed roles at work and my new commute is going to be about 30 miles each way straight through London, and I'm wimping out starting it right now in this winter weather, so I'm working from home. I was going to start this week, but the snow is back. Now, where did I leave that cookie jar....

Happy new year to you & all yours.

cafiend said...

I had a notion when I moved to what used to be called snow country that I might work Nordic skiing into the transportation mix in winter. For a number of reasons, that has never worked. I did do a variation of the non-snow commute using a kayak on a lake that lies along the route. Driving to the launch, paddling the water segment and walking the last bit across town (reverse to go home) took significantly longer than biking the whole route. Paddling speed is about like walking speed.

Ham, I too am a snacker. And 60-mile commuting days would take more non-work time than I would want to commit on a regular basis. If my day job was more fulfilling I might just work and ride and ride and work, but I like to get a little more. It might seem less daunting if the terrain was a little flatter. Not too flat, though. Then you're just a plaything for the wind.

Ham said...

I'd only be doing it 2 or three days a week. On the plus side, it should set me up well for some nice rides come summer. On the negative side, I can't do it on my roadie (clothes, computer to carry) which would probably take 1.5-ish hours, so that means the commuter and 2+ hours each way. Hmmm. That's a suspect calculation. My speed on the roadie is more determined by the types of ride I do on it and the lack of additional weight, more than the absolute speed.

cafiend said...

Two or three days does make it more of a special treat than a laborious grind. It could fit into more of a training wave of varying intensity.

I don't have to transport more than myself, my lunch and some small clothing items. The commuting rig is a little heavy because I always have basic tools, a couple of shift cables, emergency lights, reflector leg bands and a mesh grocery bag. The Cross Check is no lightweight by racing standards, either. I'm finding that my time over distance compares fairly favorably anyway, at least the routes I've been doing, because the Surly is so comfortable. My pure road rig is very nice for a bike of that genre, but still takes more out of me on these rough roads than the 'cross bike.