Before I was a mountain biker, I didn’t exercise on a regular basis. My most strenuous physical activity was a weekly bike ride, via sidewalk and desolate suburban roads, to the donut shop. It was a measly two-mile roundtrip, with no elevation change.
I hiked rugged trails on the occasion I had time to drive to them. My goal was to enjoy the scenery and take its picture. I never hiked great distances, so my lack of conditioning was never a problem.
Then I tried mountain biking. After my first strenuous climb, I became lightheaded and nauseated. I had to sit to keep from falling. I recalled only one time in my life I had felt that badly, and it involved a nasty virus.
I couldn’t wait to get back out on the trail.
Gradually, I got in better shape and I didn’t dread any part of my rides. I bought a used stationary bike to keep in shape during very cold or very wet weather–and actually used it. In fact, I still do. I keep in shape so I can enjoy myself whether I ride solo or with a group.
Staying conditioned means staying on the bike for as much of the ride as possible. I love hiking, but I hate hiking while pushing a bicycle up a hill. If I wanted to walk, I would leave my bike at home.
During my annual health screening a few years ago, a nurse told me my blood pressure was great. I told her it was through no effort of my own. My genes always have kept me fairly thin, with an assist from being cheap and rarely eating out. Now, I feel like I’m out there earning my healthy stats, and I’m having an absolute blast while doing it.
So much fun, in fact, that I went with local riding pals to Moab, Utah. A few years ago, breathing while sitting still in a cabin at 9,000 feet made me feel lightheaded. On the Moab trip, I breathed easily while riding my bike at the same altitude.
Being well-prepared for anything makes it more fun, so prepare yourself the best you can for mountain biking.