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Finding balance in a new year — away from the bike

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Published Dec. 24, 2015

You'll often hear that many cyclists "love to suffer." We talk about how far we ride, how fast we ride and how often we ride. One former editor of Bicycling magazine recently claimed to have ridden his bike every day for nearly 22 years straight. A local rider says that while he doesn't ride every day, when he does, he puts in at least 100 miles.

Since I retired two years ago, cycling has become a more consuming passion for me. One of my goals this year was to ride 10,000 miles. This past weekend, I achieved it.

I also wanted to get better at racing, something I started just two years ago. So I developed a training plan and stuck to it, for the most part. Earlier this month, I won the 40-kilometer road race at the Florida Senior Games.

But those achievements have come at a price. I'm often tired and need naps. I rarely see 11 p.m. but often see the sunrise — on my bike. But exercise, like anything else, can become too much of a good thing.

I've stopped going to the gym. As any physiologist will tell you, biking is great for your heart and lungs and maybe even your brain, but it does nothing for your bones. As we age, those bones get brittle, especially if you're already predisposed to osteopenia, as I am. (In fact, avid cyclists are often prone to this precursor of osteoporosis.) More body weight may not be good for your cycling, but more weights are, as resistance exercises strengthen bones and raise the levels of human growth hormones that help build and maintain muscle mass, according to Rene Vallant, a triathlete coach.

Vallant, an Austrian who will soon help launch a new training and testing institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said there are three systems your body calls on during exercise: your cardiovascular system, blood and muscle, with the latter the weakest link. When you start to slow down and get tired, it's your muscles that are failing.

"More of your training should be muscular, at least two to three times a week," Vallant said. "And weight training should include your legs."

My gym workouts included 15 minutes of stretching, something also important for older athletes. For me, I found, for whatever reason, that I don't stretch unless I'm at the gym.

Working on core muscles is critical for any athlete, said Steven Streetman, wellness director at AllCare Health Center in Seminole. A strong core, which includes abdominal, back and pelvic muscles, can help with balance, which tends to deteriorate as you get older due to changes in the inner ear.

"I always begin people's programs with a stabilization routine," Streetman said. "Your core is your foundation."

Whether it's resistance workouts or cardiovascular activities such as bicycling, both Streetman and Vallant recommend what's called periodization. A common plan would include three weeks of increasingly hard workouts and then one week of easy ones.

I've followed such a plan for the past year, but there is another type of balance I need.

Other goals I had for retirement included writing more. But beyond this column and a few stories for a local newspaper, I haven't much to show for these past two years. I wanted to play the piano better but have barely progressed to mediocre. And I wanted to become fluent in French, but thus far, I still know only a few high school phrases. Ou est la bibliotheque? I think the problem might be that I don't have the energy for other things, and the first half of most days is all about the bike.

So after riding 10,000 miles in 2015, what's my New Year's resolution for 2016? Not to ride 10,000 miles! Ride less, make more visits to the gym and take more days off to pursue other interests.

"Rest is important for the body and mind," Vallant said. "Do different sports. Your mind gets tired as well."

Streetman said exercise should be fun.

"Find things that you can make part of your life and that you enjoy," he said. "Then, you're not even 'working.' "

Still, even if you enjoy it, find a balance. I love riding my bike and the allure of the "suffer fest," but I'm willing to chance that a little absence from one another will make the heart grow fonder and that doing other things won't make my bike feel like I'm cheating on it.

Bob Griendling is president of the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club and a member of the Mayor's Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Contact him at bob@griendling.com.

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