Monday, 29 December 2014

Late December Warm Spell

Late December brought us some unseasonably warm weather.  No kidding, we had a green Christmas for the first time in many years.  It's not great weather for my ice bike with its studded tires but it was a great excuse to pull out my hybrid.

Clothing at this point is kind of simple.  Winter jersey, thermal tights, cycling liner with chamois, thin gloves, merino wool socks, hiking boots.  With a temperature of 5C and some decent wind, I felt cold at first.  Which is perfect; ten minutes into my ride I was toasty warm.

You might notice most of the pictures are aimed at the ground directly in front of my bicycle.  I was trying out my new helmet mount for my crappy action cam.  It works but I set it at a bad angle.

But it does give me a chance to showcase exactly why I like riding my hybrid.  It's a versatile bicycle.  If pavement gives way to stone dust or mud, no worries.

There's a nearby trail that is perfect for getting the most out of my hybrid.  The trails are varied.  Pavement gives way to broken pavement, stone dust gives way to mud, leaves and pine needles.  The trail goes from smooth to cratered and back again.

It's also a great escape from the concrete jungle.  Scenic views of the river and wetlands that help you forget about the rat race.  It's nice to wind past the coniferous and deciduous trees and just let your stresses and problems melt away.

One of the positives about riding in the cold is the lack of insects.  With all the wetland areas it can get pretty buggy depending on the time of year.  There have been multiple days this summer where I took the trail and got swarmed by black flies, horse flies, deer flies and a legion of mosquitoes.  They are persistent (follow for many kilometers), mean (bite right through padded gloves) and the larger ones are faster than you (even on a bike).
The number of humans in attendance also declines drastically.  There were people still checking out the bird sanctuary and you do run into the occasional dedicated dog walker.  I never passed anyone cycling or jogging.

Of course, there are downsides to peace and quiet.  Further into the trail you don't see anyone at all.  It's also very inaccessible by car.  If your bike breaks down you are pretty much on your own.  The last time this happened to me I actually bent my rear wheel.  I had to walk 10km out half-carrying my bike.

Maintenance also takes a downturn.  It is normal to see trees fallen over the trail from late fall right into mid spring.  But hey, outside of cutting up some trees there isn't really a lot of maintenance done in fairer weather.  There are lumps in the paved sections of the trail (locals call them eggs) that are so large if you hit them you'd total your bike and probably endo as well.  Yet another reason why I prefer my hybrid here; my road bike probably wouldn't survive the trip.

Case in point, there is a bridge going across a wetland outflow to the river.  There has been an orange cone on this bridge since October.  Every once in a while the cone would get blown around the bridge.  Every week or so someone from the parks department would come out and place it back in the right spot.  Eventually the defective part of the bridge was identified with a board nailed to it.  And of course, the cone placed on it.  Which still gets blown around by the wind, so they continue sending someone out to put it back.  I'm pretty sure it's cheaper to just go out once and fix it!

Across the river is our neighbour to the south, the United States.  New York state to be exact.  Despite being a major seaway and an international border, it's remarkably quiet when you are on the trail.  Of course when its late December there's also no boat traffic at all.  Probably because everyone has winterized their boat and didn't expect ice-free water in December.

The ride itself is a pretty good work out.  My hybrid doesn't put out flashy big numbers for speed or mileage.  But I measure my effort based on my heart rate.  One hour of riding these trails  results in greater calorie burn and steady effort than my indoor cycling class.

I'm hoping to take my icebike into these areas sometime this winter.  It doesn't perform well in deep snow so I'm hoping for the time of year where the snow has melted and refrozen a few times making an icy crust on top.  Maybe next year I'll be able to pick up a fat bike and try floating on top of the snow.

I did notice that my hybrid is sluggish in the cold.  I had just cleaned and re-lubed my chain so it wasn't that.  I figure I will need to do some maintenance on my hub and other moving parts.  I feel like the grease is either old or not up to stuff in cold weather.  My icebike seems to have a similar issue and it gets worse as the mercury drops.

Friday, 26 December 2014

My Fight Against Diabetes Part 3 - Reversal

Diabetes reversal became my goal.  I tried to maintain a bike ride 4-6 times per week.  They consisted of  hard sessions (intervals, hills), endurance sessions (80km+) or shorter recovery rides in between.  I eventually stopped logging my food.  I was dropping weight fast and I was getting very good at knowing what foods had carbs and what sort of portions I should be able to eat.  I treated most of my time on the bike like a training session; I'd extend the endurance rides further and the high intensity I would ride harder.  My old endurance distances started to become my current recovery ride distance.

A few months (and 40 pounds) later, I was back getting another A1C.  The doctor was really happy with my progress, my A1C had dropped to a 6.3%.  I was a bit disappointed as I had expected more results from my hard work.  But the doctor really helped me put it into perspective; she reminded me I did it on half of my oral dose.  She confirmed that this was a pre-diabetic level and she was taking me off all the oral medication.  I had already achieved my goal of diabetes reversal!

This wasn't the end though, not by a long shot.  There's a reason why they call it "reversal" and not "cure".  It's because there is no cure.  You can reverse the progress of type 2 diabetes but the disease is a progressive one.  It meant I would have to continue riding my bike harder and faster and maintaining my good eating habits.  But in my mind this is perfectly fine; I knew no matter what, diabetes would bring lifestyle changes.  In my case I had just made very healthy lifestyle choices.  It doesn't hurt that I love cycling too.

So my next goal became more of the same, lower A1C numbers and continuing my diabetes reversal.  I made sure to continue extending the intensity of my hard rides and the distance of my long rides.  Times when I was grimacing in pain, I would visualize that pain being inflicted on my diabetes.  The thought would turn my exercise-induced grimace into a very broad smile.

It was definitely having a big change on my physique.  My weight loss slowed but was easily explained by the muscles; my quads started becoming quite large.  My waist size continued to shrink.  I was still pretty doughy on top, but south of my waist line I had the appearance of an athlete.  I only lost ten pounds but felt like I had lost another 40!

When winter started making things difficult, I executed my contingency plans.  My road bike was put on a trainer and used at an indoor class; Project: SubZero would be my experiment riding out doors.  I also had a stationary bike if the indoor class didn't work out.  I've been so busy with the first two I have only had one opportunity to use the stationary at home.

So recently I went back for another A1C.  I was expecting a small drop like last time.  So you can imagine my surprise when my reading was 5.7%!  My doctor was very congratulatory and pointed out this last drop was done with no oral medication at all.  Her suggestion was I continue exactly what I had been doing, as it was obviously very successful.

So I continue to progress against this progressive disease.  I do this by constantly extending my goals.  My A1C goal is to be lower than 5.7% next time.  My weight goal is to lose another 50 lbs.  While indoor cycling I'm hoping to increase my functional threshold power an additional 15%.  This coming spring I am looking into a 200km brevet.  As the saying goes, get busy living or get busy dying.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

My Fight Against Diabetes Part 2 - Diet and Exercise

When I first started cycling I knew that the hardest thing would be figuring out nutrition.  I wanted to avoid the dreaded bonk.  When I went online, again I found a lot of conflicting information.  Everything from no carbs to low carbs, to high carbs.... Not very helpful!  I realized that many people were at different stages with their diabetes, and some people were probably following misinformation.

So instead I opted to do a bit of field research.  I brought my glucose meter with me and took readings at set intervals.  I'd bring food of varying carbohydrates and GI and see what worked best.  I felt that this was the best way to cut through the misinformation and to give me readings specific for me.  Don't worry, I cleared things with my doctor first; if you are reading this wanting to do the same thing, always keep your doctor in the loop!

What I found was very surprising.  Most of the time my blood sugar was at the bottom end.  I started to consume more glucose with a higher glycemic index and it would still be borderline low.  Eventually I tried very high glucose with high GI, gels and energy drinks.  The stuff that's normally considered poison for a diabetic.  I found on very long rides (3+ hours) I could have a gel or an energy drink every hour and my blood sugar was optimum.

If you read about dieting and exercise to manage type 2 diabetes, you'll see they recommend aerobic exercise and strength training.  Both activities make your body more sensitive to insulin.  In addition, while you are exercising, your muscles use up glucose; the bigger your muscles and harder the activity, the more glucose they burn.  This is why cycling is so effective for managing diabetes; you can easily vary your ride experience; riding hard and doing intervals is strength training.

One of the newer tests to diagnose and monitor diabetes is called HbA1C; or hemoglobin A1C.  The test gives an average of your blood sugar over the previous 2 or 3 months.  For a person without diabetes their value should be in the 4%-5.6%.  If you test between 5.7%-6.4% you are considered at risk of diabetes.  A reading of 6.5% or higher is considered diabetes.  At 7% it indicates poor control of blood sugar; 8-10% is considered very poor control and a much higher risk for diabetes complications.

My type 2 diabetes diagnosis was indicated by an A1C of 7.3%.  I was started on some oral medication and an appointment was set with the diabetes education centre.  Before I got talking to them, I decided to start exercising; the one thing I knew about diabetes was losing weight helped.  And I was massively overweight, I'm pretty sure I was in the obese range.  I couldn't even ride a bicycle properly then.  I just started by walking.  Walking longer distances, harder and faster each time.  It helped me lose enough weight and gain enough strength to start riding my hybrid.

My next appointment with the doctor was a big eye opener.  My A1C reading was 6.5%.  Since I was logging all my food and using apps to track my exercise activity, my doctor was able to review the data with a high level of confidence and no worries about exaggeration.  What she said surprised me.  She told me to cut my oral dosage in half and told me, "If you keep this up you could reverse your diabetes."


There is no cure for diabetes but in some rare cases a type 2 diabetic can "reverse" the condition.  It involves a lot of work but you can bring your numbers down to the point where you no longer need medication to manage your diabetes.  It's not a cure because you are basically locked in a battle with a progressive disease; it constantly fights your attempts to control it.

To be continued in part 3 where I work hard at my new goal of diabetes reversal.

Friday, 5 December 2014

My Fight Against Diabetes Part 1 - Diabetes Education

I still remember my doctor telling me not to make any big changes and to get educated about diabetes first.  My instinct was the complete opposite.  I didn't want to wait three weeks until the diabetes centre had an opening.  I needed to deal with this NOW!  But I fought the instinct and took my doctor's advice.

Now I know why she told me to do that.  There are a lot of myths out there regarding diabetes and there are also a lot of unaware people have adopted this bad information as gospel.  So you will be hearing this bad advice from people you love, people you trust and fellow diabetics; all of which are just trying to be helpful.  The diabetes centre was great for debunking this bad information.

For example, lots of people (including many diabetics) would give me advice about carbohydrates.  Most of it consisted of how you should be cutting it drastically from your diet  Yes, too many carbs is bad; but too little carbs is bad too.  It's kind of like suggesting the best way to avoid drowning is to never drink water again.

People will tell you what you can and can't eat.  Sometimes this is framed as "helpful advice" but I've even had people literally say "You can't eat that," in a restaurant.  They just saw carbs as some kind of poison.  They don't care about the glycemic index or how much of the carbs are dietary fiber.  Or how many there were in the meal.

The truth of the matter is, your body needs carbohydrates; moderation is the key.  For each meal I would have anywhere between 45-90 grams of carbs.  For a snack I would allow up to 30 grams of carbs

The other thing the diabetic centre made me aware of was the glycemic index.  Foods high on the index release glucose more rapidly; foods lower on the index release more slowly.  So for regular food I tried to stick with lower GI foods.

The centre also encouraged me to exercise, which is one of the best ways to manage type-2 diabetes.  They recommended both aerobic and strength training.  They gave me great information to help me along my journey; for example how to count net carbs properly (subtract dietary fiber from total carbohydrate count).

To be continued in part 2 where I will discuss my exercise and the impact of nutrition on cycling.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Indoor Cycling Week 4

Due to scheduled plans I wasn't able to attend the first 2 days of indoor cycling class.  That's just the way life goes sometimes.

I was determined to go on the third day.  I don't want to miss a whole week.  Even with a nagging cough and lingering migraine, I was still hell bent on going.  I took what I could to deal with the migraine and just hoped that coughing wouldn't be an issue.

The class was doing more over-under intervals.  As this is the third class of the week, the duration is an hour and a half.  After warming up and getting up to speed, we did 130% FTP 1 min, easy spin 1 min, repeat 10 times.  Then second set was similar, only we did 150% FTP.  The last set was also similar but the lowest amount of effort, 120% of FTP.

The bad part was I felt my smart phone at home.  Since my smart phone is the brains of my sensors, I basically lost any sort of read out.  No speed, cadence, heart rate, etc..  So I had to guess what my FTP was.

The good part was everything else turned out great.  I did still cough a bit, but almost always when I was easy spinning.  The head pain had dissipated when we had arrived.  During a particularly hard effort when my legs were burning and my lungs were on fire, I found myself smiling, really enjoying the intensity and burn.  What can I say, it's addictive!