I like to think of training to be a pretend bike racer not so much as a healthful activity as it is a deep exploration of one’s own body. Now that phrase may sound like the subtitle to a Cinemax After Dark movie or the first phrase in the most embarrassing lesson in sixth grade health class, but in essence that is really what training is all about. You ride your bike at different speeds and at different levels of effort in order to bring about the physical changes and adaptations that make you faster. This to me is the essence of training, do certain things and get faster.
But if only it were so easy. What things should you do? How often should you do them, and how long should you do these things? These are the questions that make exploring your body complicated. Some pretend bike racers hire coaches in order to find the answers to these questions, but I am too stubborn and thrifty to ever consider paying someone to tell me how to ride bikes. For me it would be like hiring someone to explore my body for myself—it seems to defeat the purpose.
Luckily, there is now technology that can help with one’s own body exploration. Because I am awesome, I was able to con the people at ithlete to send me a heart rate monitor chest strap (it needs to be an ithlete compatible model, and no, it doesn’t work with the Garmin ANT + chest strap—sorry, most of you!) and an ECG receiver, which plugs into my iPhone and gets the signal from the chest strap. Together these two items cost $94.99, and I got them for nothing, again, reference the aforementioned awesomeness from above.
The ithlete system seeks to answer the essential athletic question: am I tired? On the surface this is an easy question to answer, it would be like asking yourself whether you were asleep or not—the answer should be obvious—if you are listening to James Taylor, you are asleep. But to be able to quantify how tired you are is another story. Are you "regular" tired (stayed up late to watch "Top Gun" again, because beach volleyball is terrifically masculine) or are you "really" tired (stayed up to watch "Gone with the Wind", because, what the Hell, seriously? It’s FOUR hours long)? The ithlete app seeks to answer this eternal question by measuring heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is the time gap between heart beats as you breath in and out. This time gaps varies as you breath in and out and HRV drops when you are tired. You measure HRV every morning at the same time and BOOM, science!
The ithlete app track your HRV over time and can tell you when you need to rest and when you can immolate yourself with athletic efforts. I’ve been using the ithlete app for about a week and I’ve discovered a few things. I need to adjust when I do my intervals. Normally, I’d do a few intervals on Tuesday, ride on Wednesday and do more on Thursday. But my HRV data indicates that I could be doing those intervals on consecutive days, with a rest day following those days. I’ve also found out that my active recovery days need to be REALLY slow, like amazing slow. For instance, ithlete gave me a red light (there’s three indicators that tell you how to ride, blue, amber and red (in order of "stay the hell off of your bike"—why they don’t use normal traffic light colors is beyond me—it must be a British thing) on the morning of the 29th. The red light can be interpreted as telling you to not ride at all, but I decided to see what a really easy ride would do. I did the ride below.
I averaged 14.8 mph, and was passed by Corgis and pensioners, but I stayed diligent about being slow, and my diligence was rewarded, the next day my score was back up to where I could kill myself with effort again. Success! I would now like to take a moment to thank and also blame ithlete for bringing a whole new obsessive technology into my life. I can see this app quickly becoming a new "thing" like Strava or weighing your poop (you don’t so that?), and I bet that more than a few of you have already bought yourself this app, because you are obsessive cretins like I am. But don’t blame me when you start anticipating your morning HRV number like a retiree watching the tumblers turn on a slot machine, you were freakily obsessive before I told you about ithlete.
Roman’s Beer Corner
Ithlete says that alcohol consumption (I assume that means the night before, not WHILE you are using the app) can affect HRV—I guess I’ll have to put that theory to the test—and what better way to test this theory than imbibing Roman’s pick this week. This week he’s picked Lagunitas Sucks, which started as a Brown Shugga substitute, but stayed around.