Square Zero

Back in the Saddle

Posted by Eric (February 10, 2006 at 1:51 pm)

Last Saturday I went mountainbiking for the first time in nine weeks. I don’t think I’ve gone that long without a ride in a couple years. A combination of bad weather (not cold enough), illness, a great deal of work and just plain laziness kept me away for way too long.

The ride confirmed what I already knew, that I’m terribly out of shape. It also reaffirmed my belief that there is no better all-around workout than mountainbiking. Maybe squash, but I don’t play squash. In any case, it’s way more intense than the other sports I do: XC skiing, swimming, running, weight lifting and road biking.

I had been on the road trainer for a couple weeks before venturing out to my usually riding spot, Palos Forest Preserve, but I might as well have been prone in a vat of salt water for two weeks for all the difference it made for my mountainbike conditioning. After about three minutes I was giving serious thought to packing it in; after about six minutes I was just waiting to puke.

Somehow I managed to ride for just under an hour, mostly by tricking myself into believing that I’d head back to the car at the next trailhead. My average speed was a shameful 6.8 mph. But at least I’d broken myself in a little.

Back on the trainer after this dismal display of my poor conditioning, I upped the intensity a great deal, mostly by training to R.E.M.’s Chronic Town—very peppy, lots of spinning. Also started weight lifting again (it’s been months).

Yesterday I hit the trails again—much stronger ride. Got the mph’s up to 8.6—not terribly bad for this time of year, when the trails are more rutted and the body has to fight off the cold. Tomorrow I’ll have about two hours out there while my sons are at a party nearby the trails.

The Intensity of Mountainbiking

What makes MTBing so intense is the constant change in terrain. No amount of interval training can really mimic the pounding you take having to spin up a rooty ascent, the engagement of every muscle as you twist through a tight series of curves, the sudden thrust of your torso over a good log jump.

Even when you’re coasting on a mountainbike, you’re working hard, especially the upper body, since coasting usually means you’re in a tight technical section where steering and balance trump the need to maintain forward momentum.

Then there’s the mental workout. This is probably what I love most of all—the demand that mountainbiking requires of the mental faculties makes it hard to concentrate on anything else. Makes it a kind of deep meditation, emptying the mind of outside distractions. Nothing else in this life, except the Divine Liturgy and one other thing, can so take me out of myself.

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4 Responses to “Back in the Saddle”

  1. Annie says:

    I agree that the concentration needed in mountain biking is much like meditation. I think it may even work better than meditation at times.

    But I’m still inclined to think that running is a better work out. The constant impact is good for building bone density . . . or so I’ve heard. Also, were as MTBing makes you concentrate so hard you can hardly think of anything else, I think running is more effective at clearing the mind.

    Comment posted February 14th, 2006 at 9:57 am
  2. Eric says:

    Well, I guess it depends on what you want from a workout. I can testify that MTBing works more muscles, and works them harder, than running. Unless you’re interspersing sprints throughout your run, you’re not going to get anything like the interval training you do from MTBing.

    As for the concentration thing, I probably haven’t explained that clearly; it’s always hard to explain states of consciousness. It isn’t that you’re under so much mental pressure that all other thoughts are driven out. Don’t think Lucille Ball on the candy assembly line.

    It’s the MTBing demands just enough of your concentration that you can’t really get wrapped up in a line of thought. Your thought assumes the character of a low hum, so to speak. Running, road cycling and swimming aren’t quite like that, not usually for me anyway. It’s possible to obsess about something doing those activities; MTBing you can think a line of thought a little, but can’t really obsess over it.

    Comment posted February 14th, 2006 at 2:56 pm
  3. Annie says:

    I agree with what you mean about the demand of your concentration during MTBinking. I’ve often thought that MTBing would be good for those with anxiety disorders because it’s almost impossible to worry about anything else.

    With running on the other hand, in my experience, there’s sort of a cleansing of your thoughts – a stream of thought coming and going. Does that make any sense?

    Comment posted February 15th, 2006 at 9:25 am
  4. Eric says:

    Are you trying to say I have an anxiety disorder? I know when I’ve been insulted!

    Actually, what you describe for running is much like what I feel MTBing. BTW, I went for a run outdoors yesterday evening when it was about 50 degrees. Nice.

    Comment posted February 15th, 2006 at 1:50 pm