Since the beginning of the year, I've maintained a fairly persistent volume of aerobic activity. First it was skiing, then riding as the snow gave way to bare Earth. I wouldn't go so far as to call this training. I have never been one to hold to a regimented training plan. I did try to achieve requisite amounts of specific stress levels each week when I raced more regularly. But as the motivation to race waned, so too did the desire to "train."
My riding these days has very little structure to it. Gone are the mandatory midweek interval sessions. Instead, hard steady-state rides are more likely. Mentally less taxing, yet punishing enough to suppress the mental demons that arise without a taxing workout. Weekends have become long 4-6hr mountain bike rides. Dubious training value at best, but these junky miles are where all the fun is!
So I have a big race this weekend, the Wilmington-Whiteface 100k. Never done it. Profile and duration look a lot like many rides I've done this spring. I'm not really interested in qualifying for the Leadville 100, but this race isn't very technical (aka roadie friendly) and I need to try it at least once. I haven't been over to the Lake Placid area in a while.
Staying injury free has allowed me to ride at a fairly high stress level continuously for months. To be sure, I'm talking physical stress here. One thing I've noticed is that my head stays on a much calmer, smoother operating plane this way. I've never taken any kind of mental stability drugs. I can't help but think daily, rigorous exercise produces a similar outcome with less side effects.
Leading up to a race, I thought maybe it would be good to take a breather for once. Others implored that I should rest for a change too. Taking it easy all week, the changes I notice are profound. For one, I find myself more easily distracted. Mind gets going in too many directions. I also find small annoyances are more apt to set me off. I have a poster up in my office that says "WARNING: I haven't had my bike ride yet today. Don't make me kill you!" There is a lot of truth to that. Regular, strenuous exercise seems to quash all of that.
The other thing I notice with rest is physical. It is no surprise that perceived effort goes down when one is well rested for exercise. But I have quantitative evidence that there is even more than just perceptions at play here.
I've learned that my active recovery pace is one that I can maintain with breathing through my nose. If I have to open my mouth to breath, I'm going too hard. On the power meter, this is around 170W. An interesting thing happens though, when I become rested. I can go harder, higher Watts, same perceived effort, while still breathing through my nose. It is like I am getting oxygen for free from some other source. It would be really cool to measure cycling economy when tired vs rested. My suspicion is that economy improves when rested, so less calories and oxygen are consumed for the same power level. Since cyclists are typically only 20-25% efficient to begin with, there is a lot of room for variation or improvement. Using perceived effort alone as one tapers for an event is risky, as restfulness goes up, perceived effort goes down, potentially duping one into ruining a taper.
Anyway, trying not to take this race too seriously. I think Dave Wiens will be there again, and he's 50+ now! So much for a win (just kidding). Looking forward to breaking my week long fast of intensity on Sunday.