FasterSkierApril 7, 2009

I think in any introductory exercise physiology textbook the first chapter uses probably two paragraphs to mention one of the most important tenets of ex phys as it relates to coaching: every athlete responds differently to a given stimulus.  When we cull the research for findings related to certain types of training, it is important to remember that while there is a trend that will be highlighted and discussed in the paper, when we work with individual athletes, they are merely a single point of data within the whole data set.  An individual can respond positively, negatively or not at all, and that response can be strong or weak.  Why that response ended up a given way, is often the harder question to figure out in the real world – each of us certainly has different genetics, but we also are not working in a controlled setting.  We go to school or work, are part of a family, have friends and relationships, can eat well or poorly, sleep enough or too little.  All these things can effect the outcome of training, and discerning whether nature or environment is the root of a given outcome is part of the ‘art’ of coaching and training.

Anyway, before I go any further down that road, back to the subject and title of this post.  First a little background: Every once in a while I get to play at being an athlete again with some sort of half-focused training towards a given event.  This time around I’m on a 3-week training ‘plan’ for the Boston Marathon – or perhaps I should refer to it as a ‘training push’ since the ‘plan’ is pretty vague and ever-evolving on a daily basis.

Prior to this latest ‘push’ I hadn’t run more than 9 miles all winter, and the last time I did a run that long was in January or February – I can’t really remember.  Weekly mileage has maxed out at about 12, with most weeks being somewhere in the range of 0-8.  I’ve been at the bottom end of that range lately, but even so,  when I dusted off the running legs last Tuesday and did 4 or 5 miles and was slightly sore the next day, I had myself a little worried. My goal suddenly changed from running well at the marathon to simply surviving the marathon with functional lower appendages…

Fast forward to today, and I’m thinking about running fast again.  Why?  Well, I just made it through a week of 43 miles, with a 13 miler followed by an 18 miler two days later at the end.  The trick?  Spinning.

Now granted, in the interest of full disclosure, it’s not like I’ve been sitting at a desk all winter, and barely exercising – I do maintain a basic level of fitness through my job.  And that first 4 or 5 miler was run a bit faster than the last two long runs, but still, I think there’s something to this ’spinning’ thing.

If you’re anything like me (and for your sake I hope you aren’t), when you hear the word ’spinning’, you first think of spin classes and health clubs and personal trainers, and then you’re about ready to vomit.  Next you envision Cat 4-5 cyclists geeking it out about gizmos and gadgets for training, spending more time tricking out their bike and training gear than they do actually riding, and you want to roll your eyes.  But seriously, once I get beyond those initial reactions, I think there really is something to this ’spinning’ thing.

I first became a fan of biking as a recovery tool when I lived in Lake Placid.  Back then I used to train a lot more and a lot harder than I do now, so it wasn’t uncommon that I’d feel like hell some evening after a hard interval session the day before compounded by spending all day on my feet fixing bikes at my not-always-fun summer job.  Not far from my apartment, there was some sweet single track, and often that would be the only way I could entice myself out the door to exercise when I got home at night.  Given my mental and physical state (Marge, my roommate at the time, might consider it more of a ‘condition’), I knew I could make an easy bike ride easy enough that I wouldn’t have to work too hard (major bonus), and I knew that the technical challenges could be the right mental boost to actually make the whole deal ‘fun.’  (That is, provided I didn’t crash all over the place and have a minor meltdown in the woods – which can also be cathartic.)  That was enough to get me out the door and lo and behold, every time I did that ride my legs would feel awesome afterward.  Score one for spinning!

So last summer, I got on this marathon kick and started hammering stupidly (aka necessarily) long runs on the road (note: not that fun, so it didn’t happen that often – only to compound the recovery issue).  These were the sort of runs where you could feel your legs starting to fall apart towards the end, not coincidentally about the same time as your mind starts to lose acuity and you start to really feel the onset of dehydration and depleted energy stores.  And I don’t mean my legs would fall apart like just get tired, but fall apart like feel the muscles stiffen and start to hurt when you’ve still got 5 miles to go.  Must… Keep… Running…

I’m all about recovery after a training session, after all, as lazy as I am these days, I at least want to squeeze everything I can out of the few real training sessions I actually do.  Dry clothes, rehydration and refueling are like second nature to me.  After one of those runs last summer, I decided to add to the normal routine and throw the bike on the rollers for a 10 minute spin.  Sure enough, my legs felt way, WAY better after, and the soreness was way less than I expected the next day.  Score two for spinning!

So what’s the moral of this rambling, overly long post?  In this transition season where we’re all finding our land legs again (some of us in a little more hurry than others), if after those first few runs that push your leg muscles’ tolerance for pounding, you have the ability to go for a spin (low gear, rollers/trainer or easy terrain, cadence ~100 or at least 90+), I highly recommend giving it a try.   After this past week, my faith in spinning as a post-exercise recovery tool has certainly been reaffirmed, and who knows, although we’re different beings, it might just work for you too.  (Did you catch that?  Tied all my random thoughts together in one stinkin’ paragraph.  Didn’t think I could do that, did you?)

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