Today, I have some great news, some good news, and some more good news.
About two years ago, my wife found out she had breast cancer. About a year ago, she finished up her treatment: surgery and chemo. Yesterday afternoon, she got back the results of her 1-year followup appointment.
Of course, she’s still high risk for the next four years or so, but decreasingly so. I hate to say we’re out of the woods, but it sure feels like it.
My wife’s actually feeling a little under the weather today, so I took the day off for her to rest and recover, and for me to play with the kids.
Later this afternoon, she’ll probably go to see the new Sense and Sensibility movie with a friend.
Why is this good news? Well, since I’ll be watching the kids, I don’t have to go see Sense and Sensibility, of course: I get brownie points for being a good husband and I get to avoid a movie I desperately want to not see.
More Good News
The only thing is, I’m not going to have time to write the Fat Cyclist entry I had planned for today. Luckily, yesterday Dug sent me an email talking about finding out what his wattage output is. I think that most cyclists — and especially anyone who has read Lance Armstrong’s War (recommended, by the way) — have wondered what their wattage is, so I was interested in what the test was like.
Plus, Dug’s a good writer, in spite of his churlish nature. And when I asked him nicely, he even cleaned it up, adding proper capitalization and punctuation.
Take it away, Dug.
Wattage Testing For Dorks
When Lance Armstrong won the Alpe de Huez time trial a few years ago, he maintained a sustained wattage output of over 400 watts, for something like 32 minutes. The rest of the top 20 in the elite pro peloton average about 10 percent less. I only mention this as a way of pointing out that you and I both suck. It doesn’t matter how much better than me you are, or how much better than you I am. Comparatively speaking, we all suck. But sometimes we forget. Well, I do anyway.
Last night, I was forcibly reminded.
My wife signed us up for a 4 month winter spin class at her gym. I’ve never been one for structured classes or exercise, but this was something we could do together, and would help me maintain some fitness through the winter. Plus, she has just finished some kind of personal trainer workout/eating program, and she is taking great delight in the fact that her body fat percentage is lower than mine. So I agreed to this spin class, knowing they’d test us for wattage, and I’d be able to lord my wattage numbers over her.
I hate tests. When they made me swim a mile at scout camp, they had to throw me in the lake and guard the dock so I wouldn’t get out of the water; I did the sidestroke, just so they’d have to stand there for entire two hours while I swam. But this wattage test was also something I could email to Fatty, and tell him I had more voltage — or ohms, or amperes, or whatever — than he has.
State of the Art Facility
Kim and I went to the trainer’s house for the test: me with my Cannondale RX2000, Kim with a friend’s Bianchi Pantani special, and our new heart rate monitors (still in the box). They oooh’d and aaaah’d over the Bianchi…until they realized it was borrowed. And too big for Kim. They took Kim downstairs, and put me in the laundry room. They had a trainer set up (next to the dirty clothes hamper), hooked to a laptop (which was resting on the Maytag washing machine).
Really elegant, very professional.
Coach put my bike in the stand, hooked a backup heart rate monitor to my earlobe, and told me to warm up. While I was spinning, he asked if I’d done any racing lately, and I told him I’d done the Snowbird hillclimb in September. Based on my finish time, he guessed I could do about 290 watts. I had no reference for this number, except Lance Armstrong’s numbers on Alpe de Huez, which didn’t really make me feel good.
All Is Vanity
I got set up in the right gear, big ring, about 5 down in the back, and coach told me to spin at 16mph (the laptop on his washing machine in front of me gave the speed). I found myself trying to control the mph minutely, embarrassingly trying to impress the coach with my ability to spin at the exact speed he wanted, and I also attempted to keep my heart rate really low, and still maintain the pace.
He paid no attention at all.
Every 60 seconds, he told me to increase my speed by .5 mph, and would periodically ask me to rate my perceived exertion, which I faked as “very comfortable” every time.
At around 21mph, I found myself looking around for a place to blow my nose. On a typical ride in the canyon, I think I expel several quarts of mucous, but I wasn’t ready to foul his laundry room — yet. Clearl, he had been waiting for this, since he immediately handed me a tissue. I guess all cyclists are alike in this regard.
When we got to 25mph, I was starting to breathe pretty heavily, and was losing my form on the bike, bobbing and weaving like a dork, my heart rate up around 185. In other words, pretty standard for me. He had me pedal at 25mph for about a minute, and just as I was prepping to up the pace to 25.5mph, he told me to gear down and cool off. I protested that I still had plenty in the tank, that I could go longer, faster. He just smiled, and said, “I’ve done thousands of these, believe me, you’re done.”
“But I haven’t even gotten out of the saddle yet, I can go faster,” I pleaded.
That’s when he explained that he was measuring maximum sustained output, not just maximum output. What you can do for about 15 seconds in a sprint isn’t the kind of fitness being measured in the wattage test. It’s what you can do over a long climb — or into a headwind — that counts.
I felt a little let down, since I’d expected to go so hard I would throw up and fall off the trainer, and need to be resuscitated. I expected drama. I expected to really show how I could push myself into dangerous territory. This was all so…genteel.
Or as genteel as it could be in a laundry room.
For My Next Feat of Strength, I Shall Challenge My Kids to an Arm Wrestling Match
But I got the payoff. Kim came upstairs, and the woman with her was gushing about how well she did (Kim’s never ridden a road bike before: only mountain biking, recreationally), and how great she looked. “Yeah, but what was your wattage?” I asked.
“175. What’s yours?”
“287.” (I snickered, but only to myself—I’m not completely insane.)
“That’s great,” Kim said with a yawn. “Hey, can we get going? I’m a little light-headed; I did the test without using my asthma medication.”
I swear, I could have done 295. I swear.