The last few days I’ve had some familiar sensations while riding: beginning Sunday, and also yesterday and today, a pinprick feeling on the tops of my thighs, followed by a feeling of warmth, like when a child or takeout order sits on your lap. And a burst of energy, of ability to work harder with the thighs, to pedal faster.
You may know the feeling, and its cause: the reopening of vascular networks. When not used regularly, they tend to shut down, and eventually the body dismantles them. I’ve been riding most of the year a few days a week, which holds my weight and most aspects of fitness, so that it always feels good to ride, but today is probably the first day in over a year I’ve ridden on a sixth consecutive day.
When the networks reopen, the muscle areas they serve can now get oxygen through blood flow, and can get energy aerobically instead of through ATP or, pushing hard, through lactic acid. This is why the warmth and sense of being able to push harder, and it’s pleasant to do so. Over these three days, my pace has really picked up, and the location of the pinpricks has moved from the top center of the thighs to points farther away, as more branches open.
I know what this is because I’ve experienced it several times before. I began to ride seriously when I approached my 40th birthday, fifteen years ago. Since then I’ve picked up riding to a daily practice a few times from a less-frequent, “maintenance” regimen, although I’ve never been as deliberate as calling it that implies, and always get vascular on the third or fourth day.
It occurs to me that my years of cycling, both in my youth and in my early middle age, make this level of fitness and training available to me on very short notice. In less than a week I’m much more capable of riding fast and far. Most people do not have this, and there will often be a disconnect when I discuss exercise. We were talking about “spinning,” riding a stationary bicycle with others, being prompted by a leader to rise on the pedals and sprint, reduce resistance and spin faster, etc., all while continually pedaling, so that the aerobic effect builds relentlessly, yet other muscles and systems are worked. I realise that I do all of those things without prompting, it’s simple and easy, and makes the elaborate arrangements and cost and scheduling of health club spinning seem silly and unnecessary.
But of course it isn’t: I can ride my bike safely from my garage and back, adjust and repair before putting it away ready for tomorrow; the skills, confidence and fitness base took years to develop, and have been sustained by frequent practice, gratifying pleasure in the simple act of riding, and the luck of good health and no serious accidents. I can sit on a hard, narrow saddle; many can’t anymore or never could. It would take years for people without this background to get where I am now, without any guarantees, and why would they?
People exercise as and when they can, and more power to them. The difficulties can be formidable, which is why so many don’t get far or never start at all.