An hour a day, an epic a month

Chris Underhill with Friends of the Mountains-To-Sea Trail went with me on the first half of last week's epic.

I’m going to add to Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge’s premise in “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy — Until You’re 80 and Beyond” that an hour of good exercise a day is key to living a long, healthy life. Just as vital: Getting in one epic workout a month.


It’s a term mountain bikers know well: A ride that goes on forever, that you don’t want to end, and that you don’t realize how taxing it is until you’re at trail’s end and hoisting — or trying to hoist — your bike onto your car roof rack. But epic is a term that can apply to just about any pursuit, from walking and hiking to paddling to road biking to skateboarding to ... whatever elevates your heart rate for an extended period. Exercise for an extended period and your elevated metabolism will help you burn calories not just during exercise, but well beyond.

I first tapped into this epic phenomenon during the inaugural Cycle North Carolina. For two weeks, a couple hundred of us rode 55 to 70 miles a day. I wasn’t surprised that I could eat everything in sight during the ride; I was surprised, though, that my appetite continued without repercussions on the scale for another couple of weeks. It was like a car’s engine stuck on high idle at a stoplight, continuing to burn fuel without going anywhere. Into the third week, though, my “idle” dropped back to normal and the extra fuel I was still taking on began accumulating as fat. That’s why I try to do an epic a month.

Last year, for instance, I did a 56-mile mountain bike ride (on fire road) in May, a 37-mile, two-day backpack trip in June, a 23-mile mountain bike race (singletrack) in August, and a six-hour endurance mountain bike race in early October. I kept my metabolism revved for most of the summer, averaged a good hour a day of exercise between epics, didn’t pay much attention to my diet and stayed at 165 pounds (I’m 5’ 9”) into Thanksgiving. I’ve been exercising steadily since, but between winter’s lethargic pull, the demands of the job I used to have and, most importantly I believe, the absence of epics, my weight has crept up to 173. And so, I’m reviving my epic-a-month plan. Last week: I hiked 43 miles in two days on the Falls Lake section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail http://www.ncmst.org/hikingtrips.html , nearly 14 hours of hiking total.

One caveat to the epic: While your body may continue to demand and burn fuel at accelerated levels for several days, it may take a while to return to form. This morning, Alan, also coming off an epic in last week’s Assault on Mt. Mitchell, and I did what usually is a spirited and peppy hour-and-a-half to two-hour mountain bike ride at Umstead. It was neither — but it was still good.

Getting back on the horse always is. Even if you have a hard time getting the horse to move.


Anonymous said...

Joe, I know what you mean. The first day of our hike was epic enough for me..longer than I'd gone in years. I followed up with 12 miles over two days on the MST between Stone Mountain and the Parkway. It was considerably harder than that amount of hiking usually would be, and the lack of pep was definitely noticeable, along with some lingering aches and pains. Still, it did feel good to go right back at it.


Joe Miller said...

That stretch of MST along the Blue Ridge escarpment, is especially challenging; Not sure if I would have been up for it. But the back-to-back efforts, you do that a few times and it's amazing what it does for your strength and stamina.