Mountain Biking for Fitness

It can be a sad day when a lifelong recreational runner finds they have to stop running temporarily or even long term because of a running injury. The types of injuries that can interrupt training are numerous, but often it might be an achilles problem, a knee problem or calf strain or soreness in the ankle or lower leg. For the keen runner this can be a big hit, and it can have quite a negative impact on their sense of wellbeing.

Most runners experienced an injury periodically during their running career, and for the recreational runner any time out can result in significant weight gain, and a drop in fitness in their general sense of wellbeing. The problem with this is that the actual effort required during the run is generally very significant, and runners in their 50s and 60s can sustain a heart rate 140 or even 150 BPM for an hour or so if they are very fit. It is difficult to sustain this level of heart rate with other activities.

However a smart alternative that emulates the joy of running in the outdoors and allows for almost the same of level energy intensity is mountain biking over generally flat or undulating land over biking or walking tracks such as exist in and around many cities in New Zealand. One very good example is the riverside track along the banks of the Hutt River, which is a mixture of tarseal and rough metal. For the mountain biker who leaves early enough in the morning, this track is generally free of walker’s with their dogs, and the biker can go flat out for as far as they like. For a Lower Hutt biker a ride up the river then back is an excellent get fit activity, as the up river portion is not only slightly uphill but is almost always into a headwind, and the return journey is almost always with a tailwind and slightly downhill. The trip out feels like hard work and the trip back feels simply exhilarating.

The ride is made even more enjoyable if the biker has an iPhone with the RunKeeper app mounted on their handlebars, and if they are wearing a heart rate monitor then the iPhone will continually display in large font the distance travelled, time elapsed, current speed, average speed and heart rate. The average speed indicator can be used as a personal challenge for the biker, as can the heart rate monitor, and provided that their legs are fit then they should be able to manage a sustained heart rate in the high 140’s for at least an hour. The riding is intense at times, particularly on the rough track sections which are heavily potholed and in some cases heavily metalled, but at all times the riding is exhilarating and the sensation of wellbeing is identical to the running experience. A major added advantage especially for the older rider is that after the bike ride they can still walk comfortably and are not nursing sore joints and ankles. The only minor disadvantage is that it takes probably 4-5 minutes longer to dress for a good bike ride then it does for running, simply because you need to lace up riding shoes and put on a helmet and get your bike out. This is only a minor inconvenience.