Shifting Gears #3: Fighting off couch potato heart rate

Neal Karlinsky's fitness may be lagging, his diet may be weird, but still, he appreciates the privilege of each ride, no matter how cold or rainy it is.

Too busy to ride? So’s Neal Karlinsky. But the married father of two, who’s also a national television news correspondent (you may remember his bombshell 2010 interview in which Floyd Landis admitted to having doped with Lance Armstrong), just got his first USAC race license in 25 years. He’ll be blogging here throughout the year about re-entering the race world in middle age and trying to juggle training and team obligations with work, family, and unpredictable days-long trips to cover breaking news.

If the drug testers ever come, I’m gonna pee a steady stream of peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Plus some tortilla chips and hummus. I have no idea if it’s a good idea, but peanut butter and honey is my go to, non puke-inducing pre-ride fuel. And after a ride, I sometimes gorge myself on chips and hummus, before getting down to the real eating, but I can’t really explain why.

I blame the bike for all kinds of weird habits and eccentricities. I think I know my friend Owen’s butt better than his wife does. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happily married. But I swear I can identify a dozen different guys I know, even in matching kits, just from their butts while at cruising speed. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

On a recent ride, the butt in front of me belonged to Mike, a hard-charging racer on my Taco Time NW team. Near the end of the ride, he didn’t know it, but I was counting on that butt to drag me the last few, painful miles — and fast — or my butt was gonna be in big trouble. We dads have a constant headwind called kids’ activities. And the clock was ticking in a big way for me to get home in time to take my daughter to her basketball game. In all honesty, I love taking my kids to stuff and am painfully aware of the passage of time as they grow. But that didn’t make the decision of whether to clean myself or my bike — no time for both — any easier during the 20 minutes I had left by the time I got home. (Also, see food intake issues above.)

As determined as I am to race, my heart is with family and job first. But that’s left my heart aching. I mean really, my HR monitor tells me that my heart is the first muscle to lose fitness when I’ve been working like crazy, not sleeping and NOT riding or exercising. It’s a shockingly quick return to CPHR (couch potato heart rate). After a recent week on the road for work with roughly three hours sleep per night, not including one all-nighter, my first ride back was a mess. My average heart rate was higher than normal. My speed was fine and my legs felt OK-ish, but it sure didn’t feel good and the effort outweighed the performance. I try to fight this in the most pathetic ways. I skip the escalator or the scrolling people mover at the airport and pick up my walking tempo. I’ve convinced myself that the annoyingly distant new rental car facility at the Burbank Airport is actually a good thing, because there’s so much more walking now.

I’ve also convinced myself that being miserable is helpful. I ride in the rain a lot, but the other day, the thrashing I endured was so bone-chilling and wet, I was sure that my curse-filled thought bubble was showing. I like to think that people in their warm cars, rather than hating us for riding on the road, quietly respect the crazies in spandex spending their Saturdays filthy and freezing with a steady breadcrumb trail of snot. At least that’s the way I imagine it behind fogging Oakleys.

Before one such blustery ride, I was driving my son someplace and mentioned that I was going to head out and torture myself on the bike shortly. He looked at me and said, “You know what Dad, you love riding your bike so much, you shouldn’t look at it as torture.” And there it was, the boy had set me straight and cut right to the heart of it. Because even though I like to joke about how hard winter riding can be, I know it’s a privilege every time I get a chance to click in. Even when there’s no magic butt to draft and my training partner is my own imagination, that cold, lonely road is sweet as the honey in my belly.