A couple of months ago, I got a really fancy bike computer that syncs up with a satellite in space somewhere, to monitor everything from distance traveled to speed. It can capture dozens of bits of data, including heartrate.
I ride hard once a week and easy three other days, so I assumed my aerobic conditioning would be between very good and excellent.
Boy, was I wrong. I wore the monitor one day on a challenging Saturday ride. I was alarmed at how quickly my heartrate jumped beyond my aerobic threshold. Even at what felt like low levels of exertion, my heart was beating about 145 times a minute.
It turned out that my “easy” rides had been too easy. I was riding a stationary bike in my basement and rarely clearing a pulse of 100. So I started going on long, easy rides outside, wearing the monitor and watching it like a hawk, keeping my heartrate from 120-135.
Now my aerobic conditioning is improving, and I’m riding better.
Still, I had really misjudged my conditioning. It reminded me of when I had bad knees, and I did something similar.
My legs were strong. I liked to walk. I knew movement nourished sick knee joints.
So I walked and walked and walked. Slowly. No uphills. And with some interspersed sitting. Still, my knees got worse.
It turned out that I had fallen victim to what is surely one of the most common delusions among knee pain sufferers:
Many people think their knees are stronger than they actually are.
I can remember becoming incredibly frustrated, because I was moving, which I knew was the right thing to do, and I was moving slowly and carefully, and I was taking occasional breaks too. But I wasn’t getting better.
That’s when I had a radical rethink of how strong my knees were. That’s when I came up what I thought was a program so simple and easy that my knees could not possibly be bothered.
I started going to the swimming pool, walking around the pool, then sitting backwards on a pool chair, with my legs elevated in a position that reduced the burning I experienced constantly. I’d repeat this endlessly -- walk around pool, rest with legs elevated, walk around pool, etc.
I did that for weeks. Boring as hell. But my knees actually began to feel better.
I talk about this in the book. An experience like that is both encouraging and depressing. Encouraging, because you see progress at last. Depressing, because you see what a deep hole you’re in.
But sometimes you have to come to grips with your little delusions in order to find a better way forward.