Monday, October 12, 2009

Bike is a Four Letter Word: Reflections on my Week of Riding

Note: This post is a bit long and rambling, but it was a great exercise in self reflection for me as I evaluated my progress and goals in biking after a not-so-great day on the road for me over a week ago. Feel free to read on if you're interested in following my newfound passion for road biking and the bumps I'm hitting along the way--both literally and figuratively.

Last week's riding started out with the four letter word Ouch! (and a few others come to mind . . . ) and ended on a more positive note with the four letter word Goal.

It was an interesting week for me that actually taught me a lot. It started out with a fall that bruised my body and my pride, making me carefully evaluate what I want to get out of riding, recognize my limitations and weaknesses and set some goals.

Climbing has been my toughest challenge in road biking since I started riding in late August. I thought nine months of biweekly spin classes would have prepared me for the hills, but spinning at the gym and riding the road are quite different experiences. Both are great workouts, but those real life hills are serious business. I've learned from the start to listen to my body and stop or ride onto a side street that runs parallel to the mountain (if there is one), to allow my heart rate to recover for 1-2 minutes before continuing up the mountain. It's going to take more training and practice to make it up in one charge.

Last week started with a ride that set me back both physically and emotionally, but in the end prompted me to do some constructive self evaluating. It was the Sunday morning before last, and the ride started with me having just gotten my period moments before setting out. A little voice inside my head said, "Maybe a ride this morning isn't good idea. You're not always 'with it' that first day or so." But this other voice--the stronger, optimistic, positive attitude voice that I try to listen to as much as possible said, "Pish posh! Just do it!" So I did.

As I expected, I had to stop on one of climbs to recover, which was fine. Then a detour in our route had us riding on some unfamiliar roads and when we got to a traffic light at the crest of a climb, I admit I was grateful the light was red so I could recover. Then I saw the steep hill before us that disappeared around a bend, and damn it if the sight of that hill didn't make me start to cry. Not exactly the example of a striving athlete, I know, but as much as I tried, I just couldn't help being overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, frustration and maybe even a bit of self pity. My husband, being the sensitive, supportive guy he is, gave me an encouraging hug and kiss and quickly planned out an alternate route. Barely ten minutes later, in a split second of poor judgement, I had a little crash. I was already aware of the limitations of those thin tires on road bike and how crucial it is to avoid riding over obstacles like stones, small tree branches, and curbs(!), but for this novice, a split second err of judgement gave me a painful first hand lesson I won't soon forget. Thankfully I was wearing a helmet and my injuries weren't more than some minor scrapes, bruises and bumps, but it still hurt like heck, bringing me to tears again. Adding insult to injury, I got a flat when we were about halfway home from my fall. Thanks to my husband, we had a spare tube, tools and pump on our bikes and he had the know-how to replace it for me.

In all honesty, I felt rather defeated after this ride. I wasn't giving up on road riding, of course. It's a lot of fun, a great workout and I actually enjoy the challenge. But there is a fine line between being challenged and being overwhelmed. I think I hit that line this particular day and it was difficult and sad for me to admit it that I couldn't physically do something just because I wanted to do it. As much as I knew since I got my bike in late August that I would need to improve my riding strength and endurance, this day forced me to acknowledge that I had far to go and a lot of work ahead of me in order to conquer those $@#% awesome hills.

The next morning, I woke up feeling achy from the fall and debated on whether or not to go to my regular Monday morning cardio interval class at the gym. I got dressed for it, but wavered all morning while getting the kids off to school, but when that inner voice said, "If you're striving to be an athlete, it's not going to happen staying at home," I headed for the gym. I was already running a few minutes late at this point due to my indecision, and I should have thought it a sign when I couldn't find parking. I circled the neighborhood a few more times and finally got a spot. On my way in, I ran into two very fit, energetic women whom I know from classes and they both tell me that the class is so full there's no room to work out in there. This has never happened to me before and I even usually get there with barely a free moment before class starts. I don't know why it was so crowded that day. The thought of using the fitness room--either the elliptical or treadmill--just bored me to death. One of the gym employees suggested we try the fitness room used for personal trainers and private small group sessions, so we went to check it out, but it was being used. Defeated again, I headed home and declared it a mental health day.

One of the trainers that had been in the fitness room that morning was my friend and biking inspiration, Maureen. I have been spinning next to her in class since January and we've become friendly over the months, sharing small talk about biking and our families before and after class. In the winter, I learned that she and her husband have been serious riders for many years, which I wasn't surprised about from observing her in spin class. She always demonstrates great form and endurance and I like spinning next to her because it encourages me to try to 'keep up.' A few times, Maureen suggested that if I was interested in road riding, that she'd be happy to ride with me. It certainly boosted my self confidence that she thought I'd be a worthy riding partner. Especially after I learned that she was not only a certified fitness instructor, but also a personal trainer, and she regularly runs marathons. What would she get out of riding with me? We had plans to ride one day in early September, but she had to cancel so we still hadn't ridden together.

So when I got home from Monday morning's non-workout visit to the gym, I emailed Maureen and told her about my fall the day before and how I was having an 'off' day or two, but was hoping to be back on track the next day. She emailed me back and suggested we ride together on Tuesday afternoon. So after going to Zumba (fun!) at the gym on Tuesday morning, I met Maureen for an 18.5 mile ride in the mountains. She took me on this great route that was both challenging and scenic. Yes, I had to stop a few times, but she was very patient and supportive and even gave me some tips. I was so glad I said yes to the ride. I was so close to saying 'no thank you' because I was afraid of hurting my pride more when I had to tell this strong, fit rider that I had to stop when she could have been high tailing it up the mountain, but in the end, I think the fact that I said yes to joining her on a ride and following through with it made me feel pretty darned proud of myself.

I went to spin class on Thursday prepared to work harder than ever before. I checked my heart rate monitor frequently and pushed whenever necessary to keep my heart rate at the high end of my target heart rate range. I also tried to imagine the road in the mountains when I was spinning, making my spin class simulate the road as much as possible in my head. I have to say, this kind of visualization really helped me stay in the zone, so to speak. It was probably one of my best spin classes ever.

Saturday, my husband and I went road riding, and I took him on the route that I did with Maureen. I still had to stop in the hills, but not often as I did previously. Not because I didn't feel the urge to, mind you, but because my husband is so strong and sweet that he would give me a boost when I was nearing my limit. Don't laugh, but a few times when he sensed I was at my limit, he would pedal up from behind me and put his hand on my back and give me a boost. He did this on steep hills, pedaling for both his own body weight, and some of mine. I know it sounds crazy, and I probably looked ridiculous getting a push from another rider, but I he helped me get up those hills with a few less stops. Okay, don't tell anyone about those boosts. It is a little embarrassing. *blush*

Yesterday, my husband and I decided to mix it up a little and went mountain biking. We drove about 30-40 minutes to a park that has biking trails and spent about an hour riding the trails. I used one of my husband's mountain bikes (he has six bikes) that is now officially mine (now I have three). It was a gorgeous fall day here in New Jersey yesterday and the scenery in the mountains was so beautiful. The trees have started turning colors, the tall grasses were yellow and weeping, and the streams were so pretty. Plus my husband was leading most of the time on trails so the view was even better. It was a nice change from road biking and certainly technically very different. The terrain is obviously unpredictable, but that's part of the appeal of mountain biking, I think. I'm looking forward to hitting the trails again and hopefully taking some pictures of the views next time.

Overall, it was certainly a productive biking week for me. I learned quite a few things about myself both physically and mentally regarding biking and have made some goals:

1. Drop some pounds. This one is really an ever present goal for me anyway, but as far as biking goes, I know it will be easier to get up those hills if I'm not carrying all this extra weight up with me.

2. Increase the resistance on my bike in spin class and not ease up when it gets tough. You can't change the terrain when riding on a road, but in spin class, it's too easy to just ease the resistance when the going gets tough. I'm vowing to myself to not ease up any more in spin class. I'm hoping this will help condition both my legs and my heart for those uphill climbs.

3. Improve my efficiency on uphill climbs by standing up out of the saddle more often and for longer periods of time. I try to do this once in awhile, but my pedaling gets all jerky. Maureen suggested I actually shift to a higher gear when standing to put more resistance under my feet when pedaling and then lowering it again when I sit back in the saddle. It's a skill that I definitely need to work on.

And that's what I'll be working on for a while.


  1. YAY! I have a bike and I wish I rode more. You must feel so refreshed and energized.

  2. I hope the fall has left you with no lingering ill effects?

    I think you're amazing Christine! Very inspiring! I don't have a bike any more - I haven't ridden since university - but you've got me wishing I do. Keep going! I look forward to more updates :)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. (deleted previous comment 'cause I'm an idiot)

    You bike over eighteen miles and on HILLS????


    I occasionally ride a little over fifteen miles round trip, over fairly level ground. I think doing half of what you are doing would likely kill me.

    Go you, Christine!

    (and the boost thing? melting over here--what a guy you have!)

  5. Wow! How cool! It must feel so great to feel progress so fast. And I can't believe you're riding so far! Over hills! Good for you. I bet you will start feeling so energized now.

  6. KB ~ After the fall, not so much. I felt pretty battered that Sunday afternoon and whiplash-like achy the following day, but you know... after I practically worked out all day long that Tuesday, I felt renewed both physically and mentally.

    Overall, the biking has been really great. I'm so glad Gabe encouraged me to put all those spin classes to practice on the road and buy a real road bike.

    orannia ~ I'm fine now. I milked a lot of pity and TLC from my husband and girls for a few days... I think I filled my sympathy quota for a long time. LOL

    Hey... isn't it spring in NZ now? Maybe it's time to start biking! :)

    azteclady ~ LOL @ your deleted comment. ^_^

    All my rides in the hills now average 17-24 miles--but those rides aren't ALL hills. I'm quite proud of that, but am still aiming higher.

    I did do one ride with Gabe that was mostly flats and was over 30 miles. *proud*

    The boost thing is pretty darned cute, isn't it? Even if it is a bit embarrassing for me. Imagine how strong he's gotta be to not only ride up to me, but to push me with one hand and make us both speed up the hill at its most difficult part!

    Carolyn ~ The 18 mile route I did with Maureen and then with Gabe is my favorite so far. It is both really challenging with a few tough hills up into a wildlife reservation near us, and then a long, rolling hill segment along the ridge of the reservation, and then another winding hill on the way back--and it's also so beautiful and peaceful. I love it. Someday, I'm going to do that loop without having to stop at all. I don't know if it will be next spring or next fall.... but I'm going to do it, damn it!

    Thank you all for your encouragement! And for reading that long post. I appreciate it! :)


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