After finishing that very long bicycle ride back on September 9, all 243 miles of it, I have been very tired and very hungry. At least one of my co-conspirators has also felt like, how shall we say it, shit?
Falling asleep at weird times, eating compulsively, general mental and physical malaise … it’s obviously going to take my fragile old skeleton a while to get back to its normally fragile old state. This has caused me to reflect about the toll that this kind of effort takes in a big picture way, not in a “When will I feel good enough to hammer the Donut?” way.
There is a lot of sciencey evidence that says long-interval endurance sports aren’t particularly good for a whole particular bunch of people. Basically, your heart has a finite number of beats. How do you want to spend them? Because riding your bike hard for long distances will get you less mileage out of your heart, not more.
One friend has answered that clearly. She went from suited-up, middle-aged hammerhead to helmetless, floppy shorts-and-flipflops on a beach cruiser. She still gets in 100 miles or so a week, looks great, goes super slow, knows everyone on the beach path, and doesn’t get any closer to a Fartlek than I do to cigar bar.
If you think that lots of hard exercise is good for you, and you believe in science, you have a problem. A study recently came out that says triathletes’ hearts stop a lot more often than other people’s, to the tune of about 1.74 times per 100,000. If you’re over age 60 and for some incredible reason still trying to do three sports badly, your risk skyrockets to 18 per 100,000.
That is crazily out of whack with ordinary Americans, who are the world’s fattest, least active, least healthy people on the planet. In other words, if you’re a couch-sitting, Cheez-it scarfing, beer-swilling slug, there are about .5 heart attacks per 100,000 people. If you sell the couch, swear off the beer, burn the Cheez-its, cancel your 24/7 NFL subscription and start your fake middle-aged-wanker bikeracerunswimming career, your chance of having a heart attack skyrockets to 1.74 per 100,000. If you are in the leaky prostate division, it’s 36 times higher.
[*Note to people who don’t believe in global warming: Since all of the above is based on science and numbers, the same things that drive your Strava account and Garmin, you can ignore it. Please pedal harder for longer.]
It’s easy to understand why all this activity is bad for you. Your heart is a muscle and it wears out. It’s also easy to understand why this would be the same for other activities that require your heart to be more or less pinned for hours at a time, like my ride to Santa Barbara. The effect of extended exertion on the heart has been well documented in an article by Leonard Zinn, published a couple of years ago in VeloSnooze.
We all have sat up after a particularly nasty effort and laughed, nervously, while we said to ourselves or out loud, “This can’t be good for you.”
Well, it’s not.
To which I say, so what? Or better yet, to which I say, listen to this song and get back to me.
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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could. And I may have forgotten to mention that there is free food and beer for the first 300 guests, so get there early.