I, along with my Blue Ridge Parkway co-rider Rusty McCain, participated in a Blue Ridge Bicycle Club (which we belong to) event today that served as our last training effort before we hit the Parkway on Wednesday. 15 of us tackled a challenging route out of Brevard, NC that was 43.4 miles in length with 3,400 feet of climbing. This was a fairly fast group. There were probably five of us in the last group, trailing the faster riders. I averaged 14.9 MPH which was about a half to a full mile per hour slower than the faster riders. However, my intent was to spend quite a bit of the ride cycling in my higher power zones.
Earlier this summer, Rusty and I were fortunate to have our VO2 max tested at the Furman University Performance Testing Lab in Greenville, SC. This lab has been closed to the public since COVID, but through persistence, they offered to test us if we agreed to participate in a research study two professors were conducting. We were required to be wired up, have our blood gas monitored among other tests while riding a stationary bike at increasingly difficult rates of exertion. In many ways, it was very similar to how they conducted our VO2 tests the next day.
VO₂ max is the maximum (max) rate (V) of oxygen (O₂) your body can use during exercise.
Oxygen is a critical ingredient in the respiratory process that’s involved in breathing. As you breathe in oxygen, your lungs absorb and turn it into energy called adenosine triphosphate (ATP)Trusted Source. ATP powers your cells and helps release the carbon dioxide (CO₂) that’s created during your respiratory process when you exhale. The greater your VO₂ max, the more oxygen your body can consume, and the more effectively your body can use that oxygen to generate the maximum amount of ATP energy. In other words, the greater your VO2 max, the harder you can work (in our case, ride a bicycle faster). Unfortunately, as we age, our VO2 max declines. This is particularly true once you hit the 70-year-old mark. The goal for an aging cyclist like myself is to develop a training protocol that will slow down the rate of decline.
Academics and sports physiologists have developed training zones based on an individual’s VO2 max. Zone 1 for example, is exceedingly easy. You could cycle all day long, maintain a conversation, and not feel stressed. There are zones for heart rate and watts of power you exert while cycling. I spent the majority of today’s ride in zone 4 and a bit in zone 5, difficult zones to work in. The benefit of doing so helps build my VO2 max, thus my endurance while riding, and more power to climb hills.
Today’s effort was difficult and other than a brief effort on Tuesday to loosen my legs after driving for two days, I will do no hard exercise before we start riding the Parkway on Wednesday. The exception is stretching. I’ve learned the hard way that as we age, the need to stretch is critical. A physical therapist I see off and on has helped me develop three different stretching routines. Unfortunately, it seems that as I work to relieve tension, stress, or pain in one part of my body, another ache pops up somewhere else. The old saying “growing old is not for sissies” is true. However, I am tremendously grateful to be able to do the things I do, and do not take these gifts lightly. I am happy to work through the pain to be able to go on long rides such as we did today.
I hope to blog again Wednesday evening after Day 1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.