Emerging from a pandemic snafu, part 3

So I finally paid a visit to a cardiologist.

Upon sitting down, I explained to him that I was a cyclist, regularly riding about 100 kilometers a week, with varying levels of training load. I had signed up for the December 2022 Subic-Masinloc-Subic audax, but I contracted COVID19 a month and a half prior to the event, and I wanted to know how fit I still was to participate.

His advice was pretty encouraging. At my age, there shouldn’t be any problems emerging out of COVID19 and resuming my usual level of activity. The cycling friends I had asked were considerably older than me, most of them in their fifties, and so were at the age where getting tests like a 2D echocardiogram and blood work was standard operating procedure, even without COVID19. Still, he recommended that I get the aforementioned tests so that I could have a better idea of what my condition was.

The blood work came first. No surprise there, as it’s routine and very quickly done, without any need for scheduling in advance, unlike the 2D echocardiogram and treadmill stress test I was supposed to do. It had returned fine, although I had just breached high cholesterol territory and my liver enzymes were about as high. While these need some attention, they’re not urgent concerns and are ultimately secondary findings to what I was really after. Everything else seemed good though.

More relevant for my purposes was getting a 2D echocardiogram and treadmill stress test. This required booking, but I was able to have both done on the same day. Release of the results kept me in suspense for a couple more days. I was pretty sure of the treadmill stress test, as it required walking/jogging intervals of three minutes each as it gradually ramped up to my theoretical maximum heart rate of 181 bpm. I was jogging at 184 bpm and completing the final interval before the attending doctor stopped the test.

Ultimately, both tests yielded good results. The doctor told me he couldn’t guarantee COVID19 didn’t have a negative impact, but whatever it may have been had already up and left. As of right now at least, I am in possession of a healthy, normally functioning heart.

With these findings, and my recovery from COVID19, I have a medical go-ahead to ride the audax. If you’re reading this and plan to join the ride, and I’ve heard there are quite a few people who plan to do so, I hope to see you there.

Emerging from a pandemic snafu, part 2

Previously I documented how I evaluated my physical condition after my first (and, I hope, only) dance with COVID19, using my indoor training gear, power data, and heart rate data. After those first couple of indoor trainer rides, I was pleased that at least outwardly, my heart and lungs recovered from the illness relatively unscathed and without any alarming vices. This augured well for my December audax aspirations.

Week two post-COVID19, then, was a good opportunity to push harder with less restraint. The first thing I did on the trainer was a 20-minute FTP test, set on RGT’s Borrego Springs flat time trial route. Unfortunately, WiFi hiccups forced me to stop for a few minutes halfway through the test inverval, which in my opinion ultimately rendered the test invalid, strictly speaking.

It wasn’t a total waste, though. Since an FTP test requires one to hold maximum sustained power for 20 minutes, coincidentally it’s a good cardiovascular and pulmonary stress test. I had no concerns or complaints in either area, which is about as good as I could hope for. Also, flawed and invalid as the test may have been, the 190 W FTP figure it yielded seemed like a believable estimate. I’ll have to redo this some time, but I intend not to do so immediately as I don’t want another onset of sesamoiditis so close to the audax.

My next session on the trainer that week brought a surprise. The RGT team had rolled out a brand-new course called Dunoon, set in Scotland. A single 14-kilometer lap is 70% gravel, and hosts three climb segments all cresting at 9-11%, eventually culminating at about 500 m elevation gain.

Yet another physical stress test, then.

I’ve ridden up enough hills, virtually or otherwise, to know how my body operates as it goes through the business of scaling them. Usually I aim to click through an easier gear with each 1% greater incline, although pre-COVID19 I was able to slog through 10% and 11% grades with the two largest cogs left still. I’m glad to report that’s still the case.

Similar to FTP test intervals, sustained climbs raise one’s heart rate and keep it pegged for the entire duration. It’s not unusual to have heart rate stay at 95% of maximum even while seated if the climb is steep enough, which was what happened to me. As before, the important thing is for heart rate to slowly back off once the road becomes horizontal or downhill and less exertion is needed, and after repeated climb efforts of at least three minutes apiece, my ticker still responds correctly.

As of this writing I have still to have myself tested properly by a doctor. However, these latest rides have been very promising. Sure, I’ve lost quite a few watts’ worth of FTP, but more importantly much of my base fitness is still intact – and I’m feeling very confident about December. The doctor visit might just be a formality at this point, but I’ll wait and see.

Emerging from a pandemic snafu, part 1

The latest drama in what has been a roller-coaster year for my riding was catching that nasty little bug that just so happened to cause a global pandemic.

SARS-CoV2, and its accompanying disease COVID19, have been studied enough as of this writing to have vaccines developed against it, and mitigate its symptoms such that it’s no longer a death sentence. It’s also still so new that a complete picture of its long-term effects is still blurry at best. Documented cases of so-called “long COVID” paint a picture of the disease’s symptoms – elevated heart rate, shallow breathing, brain fog, and general fatigue – lasting months or even years after the initial infection.

What’s a cyclist aspiring to join an audax in less than two months supposed to do?

Outside of actually getting checked by a doctor and getting diagnostic tests done (blood and 2D echo are the most common ones I hear talked about by cyclist friends who’ve had COVID earlier than me), the one thing I can do is to swing a leg over my bike and test my fitness for myself.

Restraint is key here. I’m an impatient son of a gun, naturally gravitating toward putting on the power, but these first few rides are meant to feel out my physical condition and see what kind of baseline fitness and condition I have after recovering from COVID19. This is not the time to do an FTP test, hill repeats, or HIIT sessions. Fortunately, prior to the sickness, my audax preparation consisted of riding lots of hours at a very maintainable Zone 2.

My first ride back happened about a week after testing negative. Immediately my power numbers were quite a bit lower. At the same cadence and rate of perceived exertion, I was doing anywhere from 15-25 W less. Power numbers are a secondary concern compared to my physical condition though.

John-John Torres of the YouTube channel John-John Bikes, after having had COVID19 twice, suggested monitoring real-time heart rate, especially after harder efforts like pedaling 30-60 seconds out of the saddle. One thing to watch out for, he said, was how heart rate may stay elevated and not gradually decrease after backing off on the power, which is a big indication that something’s off. Fortunately for me, my heart rate reacted correctly, gradually reducing as I sat back down and let off the power after a short out-of-the-saddle stint.

Breathing difficulty or obstruction was never an issue for me, but the first few days after recovering from COVID19, it felt like every breath filled up only 75% of my lung capacity. On my usual brisk walks with a mask on during this time, I actually felt a bit light-headed.

On that first ride, that feeling still lingered a bit, but it wasn’t so bad that it felt threatening – especially at the low intensities I was working with. With no lightheadedness or brain fog to report, I was able to complete an hour at RGT’s flat Borrego Springs course on the trainer, albeit spending a lot more time at Zone 1 than I would like. This was a good baseline.

Two days later I got back on and did another Borrego Springs ride. This time I felt more like myself. Deep breaths no longer required more conscious effort, which meant I could dig deeper. Having a good baseline from the previous session meant that I could test my physical condition under more duress. I did that by spending more time out of the saddle and at higher wattages – a minute or more at around 300 W at a time. Recovering from each of these was as expected, my heart rate gradually dialing itself back along with the reduced effort.

These harder intervals aside, I spent most of this second ride at a higher average power output overall. This was reflected in a better average speed, and it didn’t felt like I was straining myself to hold 130 W average over 31.5 km, and 149 W over 20 minutes. This was encouraging progress.

These diagnostic rides are well and good, but the fact remains that COVID19 definitely took the scissors to the fitness I had built up in anticipation of December’s 200 km ride. Right now, I just don’t know how much it snipped off, and I’m operating on an ongoing educated guess. The plan is to get checked by the doctor while listening to my body and gradually adding training stress in a sustainable manner. Having had my training rides, though, I feel pretty optimistic as I head towards December.