April 5, 2013

Breakthrough on the Bike

I've always said that of the the triathlon disciplines, biking has always been my "nemesis".  I am slow, painfully slow, and that can be discouraging to me while racing.  It's hard biking when all I hear is other cyclists yelling "on your left" as they pass me!  I've definitely gotten better over the years, though.  I only started biking-for-triathlon in July of 2010, and back then a long ride for me was 10 miles.  Now, I've completed several rides of 50 miles or more when training for my half-Ironman, and am currently in training for my first century ride in June (part of my "do something in each sport that scares me in 2103" plan).  This 103 mile ride is scaring the hell of out of me; I've been training, but not as much as I should be.

The truth is, though, that I've been enjoying biking.  To say biking is my nemesis is wrong.  When I'm out there biking, for the most part I enjoy it.  Yes, there are times it's tortuous---when it's too cold, or too hot, or my legs are burning at the sight of yet another hill to climb--but by and large, being out there in the fresh air, conquering hill I never thought I'd be able to do, can be fun and even exhilarating.

Why, then, do I dread each and every bike workout?  Unlike running, where I might initially drag my feet getting out of bed but am ultimately looking forward to, biking I have to talk myself into.  (Swimming is the same way, for that matter....I seldom WANT to swim, but once I've done a few laps I enjoy it).  I've really been thinking about it, and I think I have found the answer:

I fear the pain. 

Yes, the pain. The pain that comes in my quads, which burn with lactic acid at each and every uphill.  Unlike running, where if I have pain (ie my sciatic nerve acts up or my plantar fasciitis screams) I can take a walk break and still move forward, with biking there is no "rest" without stopping.  You can "rest" in running by taking a walk break, and you can rest in swimming by doing the breast stroke or side stroke---in both running and swimming, these are ways of cutting back the intensity and still move forward.  And I'm all about moving forward.  Heck, when I did my half-Ironman in September, and was dry-heaving and retching in the middle of the run, I was still shuffling forward.  Had I actually thrown up, I would have done it walking.  The only times I've ever STOPPED in a race have been potty breaks, or to re-tie my shoes, or, in the case of my half-Ironman, to dump sand from the beach out of my  shoes.  (I did stop in Dodgers Stadium during the New Year's Race Los Angeles to take pictures, but at that point my mind was fried and I was not really racing).  With biking, there really is no downtime.  Yes, if you're going downhill you can stop pedaling and coast, and if you're on flat ground you can put it into a very low gear and spin your legs out.  But if you're going uphill, if you stop pedaling, you fall over. On many of my training rides I end up stopping to rest, and I hate doing that.

I've recently reframed my thinking with the biking pain.  Why am I dreading it so much?  I don't fear pain while running, and I can tell you that I have some discomfort on most runs, especially recently with my sciatica. I don't fear it.  I run through it, or walk through it, or put my mind someplace else, but I don't fear it.  Why should cycling be any different?  Maybe when I'm faced with a steep hill I can EMBRACE the pain, expect it, and in that I can control it.  Famed triathlete Macca says to "embrace the suck", to expect the pain so that when it comes--and it will--you're not surprised.  I am going to try doing that---to know that when faced with a big hill the pain will be there, but that I can get through it.  No hill lasts forever, and the beauty of going uphill is the thrill of going down after.

Another thing that happened recently to change my views on biking was that I got to witness a group of women starting on a cross-country bike ride.  My cousin's girlfriend's aunt (you got that?) raised a ton of money for Alzheimer's research and the opportunity to ride from San Diego to Florida with a group of women, all over age 40.  Since they started in San Diego, I went to see them off.  I watched them dip their wheels into the Pacific Ocean and go on their way.  Most of the women seemed really fit and decked out in biking gear, but a few of the women were heavier.  One was even wearing jeans, not biking shorts, and had regular pedals, not clipless, or even cages!  It was really inspiring to me, to think that these women, most of them older than me and in all shapes and sizes, were going to bike over 3000 miles in 3 months. (On a sad note, a few hours into the first day my friend fell on the wet streets, as it was raining, and separated her shoulder. She had to fly home, but will try again next year).

Both of these events---seeing the courage of these everyday women, and realizing I need to embrace the pain---have changed my views of cycling.  And---I just got a new-to-me bike, which I'll write about later.  Hopefully my views will translate into even more enjoyment on the road!


  1. I really admire you triathlete types. I'm training for my first marathon, and I can't imagine putting in the same level of training for biking and (most of all) swimming. Maybe someday, but for now it's all about getting through 26.2.

    Happy training!


  2. Sounds like a great breakthrough!


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