I used to take bike riding quite seriously. Back when I was childless and unmarried, I put a lot of my time and energy into training and racing road bikes, and a bit of cyclocross. For most of my life I hadn't lived an active lifestyle at all, so when I got the bike bug a few years after I moved to Calgary I was as surprised as anyone. But I came to love riding, and I really dug in to the metrics and minutiae of training seriously. I loved racing time trials, though I'm not sure if I ever really liked the other races. But the racing was the tiniest fraction of the hobby, though an important motivator for training.
When I found out about my heart valve problem it was stressful in many ways, but in one way it was a great relief: I had been training hard and working very seriously at improving my condition on the bike, but I kept falling short. It was endlessly frustrating to me that folks who were haphazard in their training and spending a lot less time on the bike were outperforming me. In fact at one point I wondered if I might be suffering from some sort of low-level chronic affliction (much like four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who famously suffered from bilharzia for years, and upon discovery and treatment began his meteoric rise to the top of the sport). The leaky valve explained a lot. The diagnosis left my athletic pursuits rather deflated, and learning that the possibility of a mechanical valve and the anticoagulant that comes with it left me wondering if I'd ever be able to really get back at it. A minor crash, a bump of the head, things that would be a drag for a normal person could be extremely serious or deadly for someone on anticoagulants, like a subdural hematoma, for example.
But here I am on the other side of the surgery, no anticoagulants necessary, and cleared to exercise. My fitness is really starting from scratch, but I can draw on my knowledge from my racing days and use the equipment I've got to get back in shape, and hopefully get ahead of where I was in my leaky-valve days!
As I wrote in a previous post, I'm fussy about bikes. I'm choosing to do all my workouts at the rehab running on the track, but at home I'm doing all my cardio so far on my time trial bike on the stationary trainer. I was curious if my sternum would be ready for the weight that is necessarily put on the arms in any sort of bike riding, but having gingerly tested things out at first I found that it was no problem at all.
I've always preferred my TT bike on the trainer as the style of handlebar offers a wider range of hand and arm positions, which is useful during an indoor ride. I don't have a chance of getting down into the aero bars yet, but I look forward to that. Back in the day my position worked well out on the road, but I could never seem to hold it on the trainer and I never could figure out why. Anyway, I'm using a Tacx Satori magnetic trainer, which has always been great.
The other key piece of equipment I'm using is a power meter, in my case a first-generation Stages brand, left-crankarm only power meter. There's a lot better, newer, and fancier out there, but this is what I've got and I'm familiar with its quirks. Is it accurate on an absolute scale? Probably not 100%. But in my experience it's been good relative to itself, and all my pre-surgery benchmarks were measured on this unit. So left crankarm power it is.
For non-cyclists, a power meter is a device that measures your body's output, that which you are putting into the bike, in watts. Power=work/time. Work=the scalar product of force, which is measured by the power meter, times displacement, which in cycling terms is measured as cadence, or revolutions per minute of the crank. What that means in practical terms is that the power meter tells you second to second how much energy you're putting into the bike. It's a great metric because it's instantaneous, unlike heart rate which takes some time to adjust to your level of exertion, and most importantly because it's unaffected by external conditions. Running is often measured by pace rather than power because running power meters are still in their infancy. But pace is a problematic metric because while running outside pace can be affected by many factors: wind, gradient, the surface you're running on. The same things affect someone on a bicycle. But with a power meter, I know that putting in 250 watts on a 3% uphill and a headwind is the same amount of effort as putting in 250 watts on a truly flat road with a tailwind. Simply, the power meter measures your input to the system (power), not the system's output (speed). And the relationship between power and heart rate is of paramount interest.
This is getting pretty technical. And it's going to get more technical as I dive in to my own (at this point very low) numbers in future posts. But it's a great way to measure progress, and I am indeed seeing progress at a rate much higher than I would have expected.