Everyone learns to ride a bike at some point in their life. Whether being pushed along by your dad at the age of 5 or hesitantly jumping on later in life, it's a different form of movement requiring muscles that aren’t utilised normally. So when you're 22 years of age and jump onto a racing bike for the first time, it brings you back to that first time you ever got on a bike and the anxiety and fear comes flooding back.
Now, I would classify myself as fit; I religiously attend the gym everyday and crucify myself for not going if miss it, can run 3 miles (5 kilometres) on average in 25 minutes, was born a swimmer from living in Australia and having to swim away from sharks, and have played numerous team sports at representative levels for close to a decade... all in all I’m an above average athlete.
So, how on earth a 50 year old could annihilate me over a 20 mile cycling ride is beyond me. It was the single most humiliating experience of my fitness ‘career’ and arguably was made worse by the photographic evidence of me walking up a hill only 5 minutes into the ride.
However, this article isn’t about the differences in fitness levels between a 50 year old cyclist verses a 22 year old all rounder... we’ll return to this later in the article. The primary focus of this article is about the difference in fitness experienced in different activities, and ways to improve when you likely think it’s impossible.
Fitness as a broad term denotes how efficient our bodies are in completing tasks or activities over certain durations. Having a great fitness range essentially means that you have the ability to complete more activities with lesser effort, even if the tasks are completely different.
Two great examples of demographics with a massive fitness range are triathletes and crossfit competitors! Both of these athletes have enormous fitness ranges due to their individual sports requirements, running, swimming and cycling for triathletes, and boundless high intensity drills in crossfit. Understandably, when comparing both athletes it would be rudimentary to state that a triathlete would be far superior in completing a triathlon, whereas crossfiters could lift more weight comparably. So, what would happen if they swapped and competed in each others disciplines? Most people would argue that both competitors would do fairly well due to the understanding that each individual has a fantastic base range of fitness. The truth of the matter is, both athletes would struggle, not because of their fitness level, but due to what their bodies have naturally become accustomed to.
This echoes my first experience on a racing bike. It wasn’t my fitness that let me down, I wasn’t gasping for air or exerting myself too much; it was my legs that gave out, they felt like lead! Yes! The muscles in my legs had got so accustomed to lifting massive amounts of weight through squatting every week, that they couldn’t cope with the continual strain of cycling up a hill! How embarrassing... It would be the same as a crossfitter trying to complete the swim leg of a triathlon or a triathlete trying to deadlift their own body weight 100 times. Both of them would stop half way, not because their legs got fatigued, neither of them would be struggling to breathe or be completely out of energy, it would be their individual body parts maxed out to the level at which they can perform.
In truth, I stopped a total of 6 times along the 20 mile bike ride to give my legs a break. This equates to about 3.34 miles per break, a little bit over the exact distance I train when I run. I had trained my body to be accustomed to running for that distance, and my legs to do however many steps during that period. And just like the triathlete trying to deadlift their own body weight 100 times or a crossfitter completing the swim leg of a triathlon, both of them would be limited only by what their individual body parts could achieve, not by their individual levels of fitness. Athletes always have individual ways of grinding through tough training or trying to muster more than enough strength and power to achieve a personal best. But the one thing that will always remain constant is their will power and mental fortitude. There is an understanding that when you think you’ve hit your limit physically, you still have 40% left within reserve. So when training becomes hard, or you just don’t know if you can make it cycling up that next hill, just remember that you will always have 40% left in the tank when you think you’ve hit your physical limit. Even if you have to take a break once in a while, you can always do it!
Written by: Matt