The Physiology of the Perfect Ride

Playing hooky from work today, cool morning (but not cold), a little wind but not so’s to be too much trouble. Just me and my bike. The perfect ride.

Our story begins on Wednesday, when I had what I can only describe as a shitty ride. I wanted to do intervals, so I set my heart monitor, warmed up well, and started cranking. It’s a workout I’ve been doing variations on for the last couple of months – warm up well, then do repeats cranking up to a sprint until I hit my anaerobic threshhold (167 – my max is 185 – 190), slowing down to low heart rate recovery (128) – lather, rinse, repeat.

Wednesday I just didn’t have it. It was hard to get the heart rate up, it hurt, I had to really struggle to get the heart rate up over 167 (my usual break point), recovery took forever. But like a dumbshit, I listened to the heart monitor and not my body, and kept banging away at it.

It wasn’t until I got home after an unpleasant hour of this that I figured out why. I was wheezing. Just a touch, but enough to impair my lung function. I was going into oxygen debt sooner. My anaerobic threshhold was probably five or 10 beats lower than normal.

I’ve never been seriously asthmatic, but as a child I had occasional serious attacks, and I grew up in one of America’s smoggiest cities, before the air pollution efforts of the late ’60s and 1970s really took hold. The results were apparent on a doctor’s visit a few years ago. I was there to talk to him about sleep apnea, but he’s a pulmonary guy, so (I think out of habit) he gave me a lung function test. Two tests, one normal and then a second after using an inhaler. I was amazed. I felt fine, no difficulty breathing, just normal. But after the inhaler, my lung capacity was about 15 percent greater. That means when my lungs start to shut down with asthma (pollen or exercise-induced or both) the numbers must have gone south in a hurry.

I found some exercise physiology charts that suggest what may be going on here. I don’t think my case is as extreme as those diagrammed there, but I get the idea.

Today, I warmed up 10 minutes, stopped and took a couple of shots from my inhaler. Bang. My lungs felt clear, my legs were spinning, my heart rate easy, I was able to crank it up whenever I wanted without the pain. I rolled easily at a pretty high aerobic rate out to the river and through the bosque, with a nice easy climb back up out of the valley and home, a bit less than two hours, perfect start to my day off. There’s for sure something to be said for a day of rest, but I clearly need to spend some time sorting through and understanding better this pulmonary function issue.