Legends of a fall

Yeah, I know, not much has been written here in these here parts lately. My riding took a hit last summer and into the fall due to a pulled muscle — which was an echo of a nasty fall some two to three years ago. I was just recovering nicely when the winter “cold” (for Phoenix) set in, which traditionally means for me very little riding.

But I’ve been slowing coming back, with slow being the operative word. We’ve had a lot of rain this winter, but this past weekend the weather turned nice, and I found myself once again tackling the hills of northeast Scottsdale, sore muscles notwithstanding.

‘Twas struggling up McDowell Ranch Road when this scene popped into view. I just had to stop and get a picture. It showcases the area rather nicely.

 

Fountain Hills connection update

Rode up to Eagle Ridge a few weeks ago and here’s what I found after reaching the top:

The cul-de-sac is gone, and a new road has been paved! This is the entrance to the new Adero Canyon development that I talked about in an earlier blog post — the supposed connection between Hidden Hills and Fountain Hills.

While there is still a lot of construction going on, the road is mostly complete and winds down and back around, almost touching the cul-de-sac at the top of Hidden Hills:

Hidden Hills cul-de-sac on the left, Adero Canyon road on the right

Whether or not this means cyclists may once again be able to ride to the Hidden Hills cul-de-sac — and then on to Fountain Hills remains to be seen. But at least there is hope it may happen sometime this year.

Usery Pass Century

Usery Pass Century
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Usery Pass Century from Paradise Valley. 102 miles overall, 2,300 ft elevation gain.

Finally! I have a ride to talk about on this blog!

Yesterday I went out on only my second century since recovering from injury a few years ago. In doing so, I helped a friend complete her second century overall — a big accomplishment for her.

When asking if I’d help her do a long ride at the end of April, my friend said she wanted to  (1) do a century, and (2) go out to Usery Pass, so I concocted the easiest, flattest route I could think of, but one that was more than just an out-and-back. I have a lot of experience with most of the roads in the east valley, and the roads shown here really are the best roads for cycling. This route features bike lanes almost the whole way, and for an urban ride is about as safe as you’ll find. But being an urban ride, you do have to put up with more stop lights than a person would like. C’est la vie.

The Easy Way to Do Usery

We approached Usery Pass from the south, and did the loop around the Bush Hwy in the CCW direction, which is by far the easiest way. From the south, Usery pass is 2-4% grade, and never much more than that. There is a steep hill after you swing back south onto Power Rd, which I’ve heard called King Kong. Don’t know why it’s called that. I didn’t tell my friend about it beforehand. I let her experience its steep slopes (10-12% grade) as a surprise. She conquered that surprise with aplomb.

After reaching McDowell, we swung west and then south to Gilbert, in order to add enough miles for a full 100.

Though a windy, blustery day, the temps were pleasant, which made for a nice outing. I pulled my friend through all the headwinds, and we lucked out in having a nice tailwind most of the way back.

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My co-conspirator of the day. We’re at a small farm in Gilbert which served as a rest stop.

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Belly fat, b-e-l-l-y fat, what are they feeding you?

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A peacock at the farm displaying his feathers. I know, kinda hard to see behind the fence.

I’ve got that old feeling

I feel my endurance legs coming back after a long hiatus. I was not tired at all when we finished. I could have easily done another 50 miles. This is the way it used to feel on century rides, and it’s good to get that feeling back. After lunch in Gainey Village at the 93 mile mark, my friend wasn’t terribly tired either, and I probably could have talked her into another 20 miles, but rain was threatening.

Bonus Miles

After we reached the 100 mile mark on the way home, I joked to my friend that each mile after a 100 was a bonus mile, worth $100. We finished with 102 miles, so someone owes her $200.

I never once said I’d be the one paying out the $200. Honest!

Which brings up an interesting scenario: If someone said they’d pay you $100 for every mile after a 100 (has to be all on the same ride), how far would you go?

 

Runner’s High

A few years ago, I blogged about the cycling “sweet spot” — the amount of cycling distance/effort needed to produce the effects of “runner’s high”, that feeling of well-being (and even euphoria) that athletes sometimes get. While normally associated with running, cyclists can experience this high too, and for me, when I’m in good shape, I get this effect after 30-40 miles or so of “training” — training here meaning a mix of steady, moderate effort intertwined with more strenuous hill climbing and/or sprinting intervals. The reason I use the term sweet spot is that too little exercise doesn’t do the trick. Neither does a really strenuous or very long workout. The latter just makes you tired.

While I can experience this high while cycling,  (and in my case, this usually means after 40 miles I’m raring to go for even more miles while others want to go back home to their Lazy Boy recliners), it’s more often the case that the feeling comes afterwards, after I’ve cooled down and showered. It’s a great feeling, and can leave me buzzed for hours.

Well, It’s B-A-A-C-K!

After not cycling as much as I used to — my fitness having taken a nose dive from too much time off due to injury, I haven’t experienced much of this runner’s high the past few years. Until recently, that is. This spring I’ve been helping a friend train for century rides, and my fitness level has been steadily improving as a result. So much so that my runner’s high is back — in a big way!

This week, after participating in the Tue/Thu morning Tri-Scottsdale training rides, which for me amount to 30-40 miles of the aforementioned mix of effort, I’ve had intense feelings of euphoria afterwards, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. On Tuesday, the effect lasted all day long. Wow! Talk about a buzz! And on Thursday, it also lasted all day, but in an even more intense form — so intense I was bouncing off the walls, so to speak. My whole body was tingling.

What the heck is going on?

Endorphins?

Your body produces endorphins under certain amounts of physical exercise. These endorphins are pain-killing, euphoria-inducing chemicals that are somewhat like morphine, to put it simplistically. It’s been long suspected that this is the cause of runner’s high.

However, studies done in the early 2000s seem to disprove this theory. See this New York Times article for example. The conclusion reached is that it’s probably a mix of things, and not any one particular substance.

One thing I don’t like about the study mentioned in the NYT article is that they claim it’s “hard to experience this high” and so they did the study on rats.

Rats!

Ummm, maybe I’m unique, I don’t know, but if I’m in shape it’s very easy for me to experience runner’s high. Like I said, a brisk cycling workout of 30-40 miles is all that’s needed. So they really should have experimented on me, not rats. Ha! And I can tell them that the effects can last for hours — all day even.

Some theorize that the endorphin chemicals are too large to pass through the blood-brain barrier, so even if the body produces endorphins in the blood stream there’s no way for it to get to the brain and thus it can’t be the cause. One psychobiologist, Dr. Huda Akil, claims that “endorphin[sic] in runners is a total fantasy in the pop culture.”

Now, I’m no psychobiologist, but this sounds a bit dismissive to me. Yeah, it may not be the endorphins directly being the cause, but they certainly could cause a chain reaction of other chemicals that are. It’s up to you to decide whether this difference — that is, whether endorphins are the direct cause or not — matters. Doesn’t matter to me, for runner’s high is very real. I can attest to that.

It turns out that your body produces another natural chemical called anandamide, from the Sanskrit word for bliss. It’s supposedly similar to THC — the chemical in marijuana that produces its high. And the hypothesis is that there are brain receptors that respond to both anandamide, (a natural chemical produced by your body), and THC. So there is the possibility that this is where the runner’s high comes from. A study done by a Dr. Arne Dietrich seems to confirm this.

The only problem for me is that I don’t think this is the “high” I experience. I don’t get the somewhat drowsy, mellow and laid-back feeling of a marijuana high, (but I wouldn’t really know, for I’ve never partaken of that substance at any point in my life.) No, the feeling I’ve gotten lately is very much an intense feeling of euphoria and bliss that doesn’t make me drowsy or mellow at all. Quite the opposite, I’m very much alive and “on fire.”

Kundalini awakening?

And this last description, of being “on fire” leads to another, wilder hypothesis. My two intense feelings of runner’s high came about under the following conditions: (1) A solid vinyasa (flow yoga) workout of 1-1/2 hours in the evening, followed by (2) a moderate to hard 30-40 mile cycling workout the next morning.

Yes, this combination of yoga and cycling did the trick for me twice this week.

Hmm… yoga …

There’s a form of yoga called kundalini yoga whose main purpose is to awaken the so-called kundalini energy in your body, that supposedly lurks, to put it simplistically again, at the base of your spine. This energy, sometimes called the serpent energy, can “uncoil” and flood your body, causing all sorts of sensations.

Some think this form of yoga is dangerous, having nasty side-effects. I don’t know. I actually practiced kundalini yoga for a brief period back in the late 80s. In fact, it was the first form of yoga I was exposed to. We did a lot of poses that involved a form of breathing known as the breath of fire — a rapid in and out breathing pattern, done in such a way as to not cause hyperventilation.

I only practiced kundalini yoga for six months or so. I don’t remember why I quit, but I think I lost interest, or got busy with other things. At this time I did get exposed to the more conventional forms of yoga, and went to such classes for a while, something I wouldn’t start up again until 2008 when I joined the Yoga Pura studio here in Phoenix. These days, I really enjoy the sun-salutation sequences of vinyasa class.

But anyway, the descriptions I’ve heard of the kundalini energy have me wondering if that’s not what I’ve been experiencing this week. Could it be that through a combination of being at the right level of fitness, and doing consistent workouts of both vinyasa yoga and cycling of just the right intensity, that I have inadvertently awakened this energy?

Of course, most scientists poo-poo that any such energy exists. That doesn’t bother me in the least, even though I consider myself a rational, science-minded guy. There are probably a near infinite number of things that scientists have yet to discover. It only stands to reason. The scientific discipline hasn’t really been around that long, in the grand scheme of the universe. And the universe is large and mysterious and filled with wondrous things, more than science has had time to figure out. And I also note that the discipline of yoga has been around for thousands of years longer than western science.

Now that my curiosity is piqued, I see I’ve got more research to do, both of the runner’s high — and of the awakened kundalini.

I have no idea if I’ve really awakened this energy. Chances are, not. But it’s something to ponder. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing both the yoga and the cycling — and see where this potent combination of exercise leads.

Okay, I’m off for another round of yoga, cycling — and bliss! Ha!

 

 

 

Surviving vinyasa class

As we get older our backs tend to be one of the first things to notify us of the passing years.

And I am living testament to the fact that you can survive a whole vinyasa (flow yoga) class with a sore back. Yup, I tweaked said back the other day simply picking up a blanket, right before class began. Yet somehow I made it through all the sun salutations and warrior poses and runner’s lung twists and bridge poses of the next one and half hours. Exactly how I was able to do this, well, I don’t know!

I suspect that after dealing with serious injuries over the past few years, I’ve become an expert on carefully moving my body, and knowing just how far I can push things. After taking yoga classes for the last eight years, I generally know where those limits are in class.

I remember my physical therapist telling me once that the best way to respond to tweaking your back is to keep moving it afterwards. The tendency is to want to lie down flat and stay still for a while. But that usually just makes it worse, the stiffness longer lasting. You might be out for days in such a state.

Along with the aforementioned experience in yoga class, a few weeks ago I tweaked my back while pumping my bike tires just before a ride. Man oh man did that hurt! I thought my day was over before it began, but I defiantly went out and rode anyway, 77 miles in all, with no ill consequences, and by the end of the ride my back was only just a tad bit sore.

Just as it is for yoga, in cycling I guess I know exactly where my limits are. It’s a handy skill to have!

Sittin’ in the sun

During January the weather in Phoenix was cold. Well, cold by our standards anyway. Down to the lower 30s-40s in the mornings, I never felt much like going out on the bike. I’m simply not a cold-weather rider.

In fact, on the rides I did do, the only thing I was looking forward to was hanging out afterwards at the bakery in Gainey Village. They have an outdoor patio that’s south-facing. Now, during the summer this is the kiss-of-death. Nobody in their right mind would sit out there. But during the cold weather months, it’s just the ticket. I can sit in the sun, sip an ice tea, enjoy the warmth on my shoulders — and the company of occasional friends and acquaintances that might happen by. That south-facing patio is gold.

As the February days spin by, Phoenix is now slowly warming up to its natural self. The temps are ideal by mid-morning, and we’ve had some mighty fine, crystal clear weather. So now I’m enjoying the actual riding a bit more, and am enjoying “sittin’ in the sun” in a different way — on my bike. Due to the fantastic weather, the last two weekends I’ve ridden over 200 miles.

Relaxing in vinyasa

Basic joke at my in-laws:

Guy is lying in a hammock on a lazy summer day, sipping a brew.

Up comes somebody else who sees this and with hands on their hips, says to the guy, somewhat sarcastically,

“You need to learn how to relax!”

Ha!

Over the holidays my yoga practice was basically non-existent. Stiff as a board and hip hurting, class wasn’t enjoyable, so I didn’t go very much. Any little excuse was successful in keeping me away. After New Year’s resolutions I tried to fire the yoga back up but was only partially successful. The classes still sucked, but at least I was going.

All that changed towards the end of the January. I started taking magnesium every day, and almost overnight, I was breathing better, sleeping better — and vinyasa class (flow yoga) no longer sucked. Blood pressure? Down 20 points on average. (It sucked before.)

Yeah, I know, sounds like an advertisement for magnesium! But I’m here to say, it truly worked, and was a night and day difference for me. I am astounded.

Not longer after starting these supplements I went to class one day and the topic was “relaxing (into whatever you are doing.)”

For whatever reason, that message went straight to my body — my mind seemingly had little do with it. I was automatically able to relax during class, and the poses just, er, “flowed.” I felt very little stiffness. I could enjoy the basic sun-salutation sequences, and for the first time in almost two years, I could actually transition from three-legged dog into runner’s lunge and up to crescent pose on my right side without hurting — well, at least one time anyway. But even doing it once in a row seems like a minor miracle.

I’ve had solid classes ever since, and I have maintained a state of relaxation during the flow sequences. It’s made classes fun again.*

* I still can’t do half the poses — ha! But that doesn’t matter. Many of them I’ll probably never be able to do, and that simply makes no difference to me. What matters is getting looser, feeling better while cycling, and well, learning how to relax.

 

 

Addicted to Bike

 

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It’s memories like this (Grand Mesa, 2005) that keep me riding.

I thought after two bad injuries the last few years that maybe my cycling days were over. Oh, sure, I planned on riding every now and then, mostly as a “ceremonial rider,” but not at the frequency I used to (as in 4-5 days a week.) After starting prematurely to ride last fall (when I subsequently determined it was too scary and painful), I basically kept off the bike until February of this year.

Then I did a ride on a nice Saturday, another ride the following Saturday, and then another a week after that. The weather on these weekends was absolutely fabulous. How could I not ride?

“Okay,” I thought to myself at the time. “I think riding one day a week is good. It allows me to experience the joys of cycling without exposing myself to too much risk. I sure don’t want to fall again.”

That philosophy worked for a while. But by April, the weather was getting even better. So I snuck in a weekday ride, testing the waters by joining the Tri Scottsdale group ride on a Tuesday morning. Felt so good that I went back a week later. And then the next. By mid-May I was back to four days a week — something I had told others I was trying hard not to do. “I don’t want to get into that trap,” I had said to them.

When the summer heat slammed down, I thought I’d lay low for a while, my new philosophy being, “I won’t ride unless the conditions are ideal. Why expose myself to all the risk when it’s crappy out, such as being really hot, or humid, or raining.”

Bwaaa-ha-ha-ha!

What I fool I be. Did I really think that kind of philosophy would hold up even during the hot summer months?

By the end of July, after riding the most miles per month since crashing a year and a half ago, it was clear that:

I might as well admit it, I’m Addicted to Bike.

(Yes, queue the “Addicted to Love” music right here.)

I don’t ride quite as regularly as I used to, though I often do at least 3 days a week. The difference now is that cycling is down in my list of priorities. Most anything else will pre-empt it.

Update: I wrote this post a few months ago, back when it was still warm in the early mornings. I never got around to publishing this commentary. Now that it is getting dark and cold on the early mornings, I find my motivation for wanting to ride has gone down right along with those temperatures. Guess my “addiction” has its limits. It’s not as strong as my body wanting to go into hibernation for the winter, apparently. 🙂