Sep 022013
Listening to Your Legs–Or Not, As the Case May Be

Disclaimer: I’m not any kind of trainer, certified or otherwise. This is my personal experience and YMMV.*

Women Muscular Legs
Very Important Disclaimer: These are not my legs.

As I’ve ridden more the past few months I’ve learned two things:

  1. Listen to your legs.
  2. Don’t listen to your legs.

Listen to Your Legs

Dear Sweet Hubs, who trains for race season with spreadsheets, a power meter, and calculation of training stress balance and scores, studies the scientific, nutritional, mitochondrial details and has data to back up his decisions about whether or not to ride. I just get tired legs.

If I had listened more to my legs the first week I added all that mileage, maybe they wouldn’t have had to scream at me quite so loudly, what with the charlie horses all night long and cramps on top of my feet and what-not.

Those first days of extended mileage when I got on the bike and my legs felt heavy before I even started riding, they were telling me something about accumulated fatigue byproducts and overdoing it. Hubs asked if I was taking in enough phosphorus and calcium. I tried to remember to eat a banana every day, but when you like your bananas on the green side the way I do that’s a tough target to hit–they kept getting overripe by my standards.

I started listening to my legs. When I leave my office it’s pretty much one long uphill climb through downtown Seattle for about two miles to get to the Melrose Trail, where my route flattens for a little while. At just past the one-mile mark, however, I pass a convenient Metro stop where I can catch any of 3-5 buses that run toward my neighborhood on various routes.

If I rode that far and thought my legs just weren’t up to the 10 miles that lay ahead, I stopped and caught that bus. I also added a Nuun tablet to my water bottle for the trip for a little dose of electrolytes and I’m trying to remember to take my calcium.

Don’t Listen to Your Legs

Here’s the deal, though–my legs are smart but lazy. They want me to bail on the ride and give them a comfy trip home on the bus while I read my Kindle. They just don’t know what’s good for them.

Now that I’ve settled into the mileage to the point where I rode a “Full Trip Friday” last week, both to and from work for a total of over 22 miles (and no charlie horses afterwards to disturb my well-earned sleep), I’ve come to recognize my legs for the whiners they are.

I set off on that ride that starts with the two-mile climb. At one mile they’re hinting, “See the bus stop? See it? Right there? Pike and 6th!”

“Hush up,” I tell them. “You just aren’t warmed up yet. In another two miles you’ll be loving this.”

I’ve learned that if I tough it out through the climb and get to the part where I get some flat mileage and even a tiny bit of coasting, they’ll be warmed up and happy to keep pedaling. I’ll feel strong, as if I could ride forever.

I could wish for a ride that didn’t start with such a long climb. But hey, much of it is gradual and I did move to Seattle, with its (ahem) varied topography. (I’ve added “Topography!” as a new cuss word in my vocabulary. All you have to do is say it in the right tone of voice.) And the route has taught me that sometimes my legs don’t know what they’re talking about.

One more change may have helped: I switched from busing to work/riding home to riding to work/busing home. Too many times I’d work later than I meant to, or get to the end of the day and have accumulated overall fatigue, and just want to get home without working so hard. I found an express bus stop even closer to my office than the one-mile mark.

By riding to work I start the day with my brain fully oxygenated and I feel pumped up. I still have to start with some climbing and have that moment hit where my legs complain; I have a particularly steep hill right at the one-mile mark. But I get a lot more company on this route with its bike lane leading straight to the University Bridge, which is also motivating–whether I’m trying to stay in front of someone or watching someone’s back pull away from me, there’s this teensy-weensy competitive voice that makes me pedal just a little bit faster. And no matter what happens the rest of the day to wear me out I’ve had my ride. Any day with a ride is better than a day without.

So There, Legs

Today I rode nearly 26 miles in a fairly compressed time frame–headed to the 8 a.m. registration for PROS (Perimeter Ride of Seattle) to thank the riders who participate and donate to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, stood around for maybe 30 minutes, then got on the bike to ride home.

That’s a tougher haul than Friday’s ride, when I had a whole day between the first half and the second half of my mileage, and I texted my husband that I might have to take a break at a coffee shop somewhere along the way. (I had my Kindle to keep me company just in case.)

But once again, once I was warmed up and rolling–and thankfully making use of the nice flat Ship Canal Trail and then the Burke-Gilman Trail for a big chunk of the route–my legs settled in. While they have informed me quite firmly that we will not be attempting PROS ourselves any time soon (86 miles following the exact city limits of Seattle, climbing lots of hills), they have resigned themselves to the fact that I have caught on to their whining and they’re not getting away with it.

When should I break it to them that we’re going to try bike touring?

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*Your Mileage May Vary–and that’s totally cool.

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