The Science Doesn’t Lie!
What is middle age without a traditional mid-life crisis? Thankfully, a professional sports coach is just waiting to batter you into shape. If nothing else, the training will leave you in better physical and emotional shape to deal with your grey hairs. – By David Moseley
It’s not easy being fit. Once you get there, you have to (or should at least want to) stay there. But first you have to get there.
And sometimes, that can be the biggest hurdle. For men and women of a certain age – say, those who have been out of varsity for more than 15 years, or sitting (or standing, or bouncing on giant gym balls or whatever the trend is these days) behind a desk for 15 years, essentially anyone in those mid-30s doldrums – there’s a longing to be lean, lithe riding machines.
Doing something about it is a different story, though.
Time is the eternal deterrent. Time and a lack of focus. Or perhaps time, a lack of focus, and a smidgen of apathy towards raising one’s training intensity. It’s really a combination of factors that even the best-intentioned struggle with.
For me, lack of focus and a lot of apathy about training outside of my comfort zone were the snack-munching monkeys on my back. Then one day I looked in the mirror (and, I should admit, at the scale as well), and decided I wanted to get fit fast – ever hopeful that renewed training vigour would chase away the bag-eyed man before me.
Also, I suppose, with that time-honoured magical number of 40 fast approaching, I wanted to stare the demon down in the best shape possible.
Is there a fast track to fitness?
I’ve dabbled with near-impressive fitness – a solid four-year period in my late 20s and early 30s of almost-but-not-quite sub-90 half marathons being my personal Olympian moment – but somehow, I’ve always managed to fall back into slovenly suburban bliss.
Eventually running fell by the wayside, and mountain biking took over. But social mountain biking; like, ‘Hey, let’s klap 20km and then drink 10 beers’-type mountain biking. To get fitter and faster, I would need some motivation; a firecracker up the backside. When the saggy-jowled beast in the mirror grinned menacingly that morning, I knew what I had to do – call in the makeover specialist.
The man with the plan was Dr Mike Posthumus: Sports Performance Manager at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA), mountain-bike coach to the stars, and ruggedly-bearded mountain biker of robust repute himself. My challenge to Dr Mike was simple – get me in stellar shape for the 2017 Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush, so I can improve dramatically on my 2016 finish of 199th place. And make my midlife midriff less ‘paunchy’ while you’re at it. Oh, and I only have seven weeks to train.
Sizing me up – no doubt calculating the risk of my commitment versus his reputation as a man who gets things done – Posthumus said simply, “No problem.”
The seven deadly spins
The training began with a test to determine my mean maximal three-minute power. From there, Posthumus put together a programme that included (roughly – it changed slightly every week): two 50-minute commutes to work a week (there and back, so four rides) at an easy pace, interval sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (or just two of the three days), a two-hour ride on Saturdays and a four-hour ride on Sundays, both at an easy pace.
Scattered throughout the programme were sessions on SSISA’s Grucox eccentric bike. The intervals were all done at SSISA’s Endurance Studio, on Wattbikes – tools of mass perspiration devised to acclimate the human body to an (after)lifetime in hell.
Another aim of my little crusade was to see if I could get my head around indoor training. I’m no fan of gyms, treadmills and stationary bikes. The thought of pedalling and going nowhere has never appealed; and living in Cape Town, in close proximity to Table Mountain, I’m lucky enough to be able to nip out the front door and ride without much hassle. But the idea of ‘training with purpose’ intrigued me, and the Endurance Studio’s bikes were the perfect way to focus on the prize.
Honestly, the first two weeks were not pleasant. Extra internal motivational talks were required to face the dark, cold winter mornings (I started training in August), while the first few sessions were brutal. But at least they were only an hour – usually a 10-minute warm-up, followed by a 30- or 40-minute interval workout, and then a 10-minute cool-down.
Around the third week, though, I found my groove. I was knackered most of the time, but found that on my weekend rides, riding at a very easy pace, I could go and go and go. The interval sessions hurt, but the pain was halved by the knowledge that I was getting out exactly what I was putting in.
For the Berg & Bush challenge I realised that I would need a race partner who was stronger than me, and who could motivate me to put the training to good use; as they say in the comics, with great fitness comes great responsibility. I also knew that during a race, I would be easily tempted to stop and fart around at water points, or throw in the towel if I wasn’t ‘feeling it’.
So for this part of the task, I turned to multiple Cycle Tour sub-three finisher Jan Braai. Despite making a living off fine flame-grilled dining, Braai can handle a bike. He has a catalogue of impressive cycling and triathlon records to his name; but more importantly, he has a highly competitive nature. In other words, he’s not prone to dicking around once the racing starts.
And when the racing did start, I regretted my decision immediately. Jan’s words said, “We’ll just take it easy for the first few kilometres,” but his legs said otherwise. From the outset, he was determined either to win the event, or to test the efficacy of Dr Mike’s training.
After five kays, I was so far back in the pain cave I thought only future archaeologists would be able to dig me out. But then something strange happened: I kept going, and going and going. Yes, I was hurting; but I kept chasing. Sadly, we missed out on the boerie rolls at the water points, but when we finished each day there was hardly anyone in the race village – a sure sign that you’re at the front end of the field.
I was astonished. No queues at the shower, no hustle for beers, and so many bean bags open. What joy! I understood there and then why people train so hard – to get the best seats at the race village bar.
Overall we finished 44th; a significant (in my mind, anyway) jump from 2016’s 199th position. I struggled on the climbs, but I recovered quickly enough to do some damage on the flatter sections and to push it on the technical trails.
And I was frequently short of breath, but that may have been thanks to either the thin Drakensberg air or a stomach thick with post-ride celebratory beers. Having never ridden a race at a such a venomous pace before, I had little to compare it with; but there’s no doubt that in just seven short weeks, my form had benefitted from that structured training programme.
Ultimately, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Two months after Berg & Bush I was simply popping in to the Endurance Studio for a weekly Wattbike class to top up my intensity levels, while carrying on with my usual rides. I’ve never felt better on the bike.
Sadly, the greying guy in the mirror hasn’t disappeared; but at least I can ride away from him faster than ever before.
Want To Wattbike?
Pedal furiously, in the comfort of your own home.
Wattbike Pro or Trainer
These are the same bike; the only difference is that the Trainer is low-to-medium power, and the Pro is medium-to-high.
The Wattbike Trainer/Pro retails for R59 500 incl VAT. This includes a two-year warranty, and an induction to the product where possible.
You can purchase your Wattbike from Penta Systems (Pty) Ltd, based in Fourways, Johannesburg. Contact them on 011 707 2900, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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