From Zero to Mouth Breather

Hello again and welcome back to my journey to attempt to achieve greater fitness. To catch you all up, I – an average mountain biker of average fitness- have decided to hire Spencer Paxson to try to help me suck a little less on bikes. My goals are simple: be able to ride longer and not want to die at the top of climbs. I’m not looking to win any races or be the best or fastest at anything. I just want to enjoy longer rides as often as I can. I want to enjoy type two fun, and you know what? I think it’s working!

Our plan is pretty simple. Spencer has set me up with a workout schedule that includes a few high-intensity interval sessions a week, some regular trail rides, yoga, and a few other quirky things are thrown in-including rides where I only breathe through my nose. When I first thought about this I figured it would be easy. I teach yoga and a huge part of yoga is what we call Ujjayi breathing- where you inhale and exhale slowly through your nose as if you were fogging up a mirror. Benefits of this kind of breath are tension release, increased endurance, and body temperature regulation. Personally, I like to think it helps me control my heart rate, which comes in handy when I get stressed out about whatever. It’s also a great party trick when you go to the doctor’s office and lower your heart rate to 40bpm. They usually think they’re miscounting or I’m dying. I always laugh just a little…

The slow pace climbing is getting me to some pretty views!

Back to the plan! Turns out nose breathing is freaking brutal. I was able to find a shallow shuttle road where I like to ride my downhill bike and up I went on my Process. The point of nose breathing is that it absolutely forces you to go at a minimal pace in order to keep your heart rate down. Steady-state endurance is the name of the game. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cheat a few times and drink in some massive breaths. Mouth breathing never felt so good! After a little while, though, I found my rhythm and before I knew it an hour had passed and I’d scooted my way four miles into the mountains for a super ripping descent down. I tried keeping the nose breathing going for the descent but I was too busy whopping it up and giggling down the trail in order to keep that business up. If you want an interesting physical challenge, try this!

For the first time in my life, I started using Strava (privately though, so no one can see how crappy I am at everything) to record my distance and elevation. I have to say, it is pretty fun to see how far I’m riding and how high I’m climbing. Sometimes I surprise myself with how far I am going. Other days I’m disappointed that my favorite loop is barely 4 miles. Do we even call that a workout? Who knows. The main focus of all of this is my perceived exertion. We’re rating this on a scale of 1-10 where 10 is pure vomit-inducing output and 1 is akin to walking at a very chill pace. I tend to live in the 5 zone, which is pretty heavy breathing while trying to maintain conversations with my riding buddies. Spencer is having me do my intervals at around an 8 and my regular rides around a 3. It turns out it’s hard to not go at a 5. It’s my comfort zone. That tiny bit of pain I feel as I climb is what I’m used to, so I’m learning to slow down- perhaps a good metaphor for the rest of my life.

Looks like the perfect day for a ride!

On one of my first prescribed rides, I pedaled out around 6 pm. It was pitch black, raining sideways, and really freaking cold. It was about a week before Christmas. On my mind were the looming holiday parties and social events I wanted to attend. I found myself climbing and stressing over how I was going to fit in all of these workouts with my desired social calendar. I also hated myself just a bit because I chose THE WORST TIME OF YEAR to do this. It’s horrendous weather – mega wind, constant near-freezing rain, and dark 16 hours a day- the exact hours I’m not at work. ‘Why didn’t I wait until at least the holidays were over?’ I was mentally kicking myself. I decided if I could push through the holidays I could push through anything. So, up and away I went, spinning and logging every little meter.

I’m essentially on week 4 of a roughly 12-week program. Here’s what I’ve learned: using an indoor trainer is saving my sanity on the super harsh winter days. Doing intervals in a controlled environment is paramount to success for me. I was really struggling to find a road that had the proper pitch where I could properly execute the full length needed for these workouts. Toning down my pace from a five to a three is harder than I thought it would be, especially on social rides. I want to be on the wheel of whoever is in front of me, but the reality is that the fast people that I ride with are… really freaking fast and it’s not feasible for me to be at their pace, especially not in my “three” zone. I’m finding that I enjoy pedaling the cross-country style rides way more now than I did even a month ago! That is a HUGE victory for me. I’m fretting way less about the distance and elevation. Instead, I’m focusing on pace and am much more able to take in the beauty of the woods and feeling of accomplishing a longer, more challenging ride. Perhaps my most celebrated victory came yesterday on a simple ride. There’s a section of singletrack that has always put me in the pain cave for whatever reason. I think it’s just steep enough to make me struggle throughout the duration of that section (I’d guess it’s about 12-15 minutes). Yesterday I got to the end full of breath and energy and found myself smiling, silently celebrating this tiny little milestone.

My buddy gave me a Garmin, which is super helpful. Turns out hair elastics work great as Garmin mounts, too!

In summary: I think it’s working! It’s still early. I still have a long way to go, but I like the structure that Spencer has laid out for me and I’m excited to add some gym elements to the program.

You can check out Spencer’s training and coaching at Prime Sports Institute here!