Life is always easier if you're in the right gear.

5 Life Lessons Learned on Bike

2013-01-23 06.18.37Cycling is a great metaphor for life.  Actually, any athletic endeavor works metaphorically here, especially if it is one that requires commitment, endurance, and patience in order to improve. I, however, am most passionate about cycling, so I’m choosing the bike to help me illustrate some life lessons these days.

This last week, was a very successful one as far as the bike goes.  I achieved three all-time bests:  I achieved my highest mileage on a ride (62 miles),  I reached my highest mileage in a week (188 miles total), I pushed my average speed from 12.1 mph to 13.2 mph.  I’ve lost 2.8 pounds, which is nothing for all the work I’ve done in the last two weeks, but I am watching the calorie intake, changing what I eat, and…most importantly…switching out the celebratory alcoholic beverages for the more sedate and healthy water.  That last is a huge change for me.  I know I’m getting stronger on my bike.  I know I’m changing my eating habits.  The body fat will eventually disappear and be replaced (I hope) with lean muscle that helps me ride like the wind, or at least get up the hills without feeling like I need an oxygen mask.

188 miles on the bike is a lot of time.  If I recall my Map My Ride statistics correctly, that’s just over 24 hours for me.  That’s a lot of time to think. It’s a lot of time to process life challenges, which is one of the big reasons I love to ride. I always feel better after a bike ride, no matter what challenge I happen to be facing.  Here are some lessons, I learned this week, while on bike:

2013-05-04 13.31.32Lesson #1: Food is fuel.  Eat only what you need.

I once had a personal trainer tell me that 80% of the weight loss battle is changing what you eat.  More recently, my ex who has lost 35 pounds in the first quarter of this year said, ” You have to eat like a bird, and work like a dog.”  When I’m riding for long distances in the heat, I’m learning it is important to eat while on bike, but also to eat the right kind of food while on bike.  I’m not sure I have it completely dialed in as to what the right kind of food is, but I’ve noticed that having a little bit of something every hour or so, really helps. I also noticed this week that on the rides where I started out with a good breakfast (not a huge pancake meal, mind you, but a decent yogurt & protein mix meal or an omelette), I rode much better than days when I just took off on the ride and figured I’d eat somewhere along the way.

I also paid attention to what I ate.  I focused on choosing foods with more protein and other nutrients, instead of foods that turn instantly to sugar in the body.  I was also more mindful of the amount that I ate.  With the “food as fuel” mindset, I was less tempted to binge, because I was listening to my body more effectively.  Face it, if you stop at at that little cafe mid-ride and gorge yourself, it’s not going to taste as good when it comes up midway up that next hill you’ve got to get over on the way home.  I still have work to do in this area, but I’m changing the mindset from “food as comfort”, or “food when bored” to “food as fuel”.

2013-03-07 20.49.05Lesson #2:  Don’t forget your shoes.

There is nothing like riding 25 miles out from home and finding you are without something you desperately needed.  It could be that extra water bottle, an energy bar, a bicycle tube with CO2 cartridge, money, or whatever.  Having the right gear is especially important. This week, I decided I was going to try to ride on some of the Velo Club’s group rides.  I was excited, and kind of nervous.  I didn’t want to be late.  I made all my arrangements and got to the meeting place just in time, only to discover that I’d forgotten my shoes.  Since I ride with the clipless shoes and pedals, there’s just absolutely no ride without the shoes.  I was able to drive back home and ride out to meet the group along route, but this was an embarrassing and avoidable mistake.  It taught me that I need to establish a systematic routine for getting ready for a ride.  I also need to begin my preparations the night before, since I tend to be fairly lethargic in the early morning hours.  It was a good lesson to learn.  Sadly, I am now known as “That girl.  You know, the one who forgot her shoes.”  Don’t you be that girl…or that guy.

Lesson #3:  Don’t take yourself so seriously.

I’ve long considered cyclists to be “the cool kids” of the athletic world.  I mean, think of it: they glide along on sleek bikes, dressed in colorful form-fitting garb, legs pumping in unison even though they are on separate bikes, moving, snaking, gliding around turns, up and over hills and across the miles. Cyclists look cool and they are cool. Not just anyone can pull off wearing chamois-padded lycra spanx, funny shoes, and helmet hair.   I’ve never seen an unattractive cyclist.  They always seem to exude confidence and coordination when they sit at those coffee shops around our valley on Saturday mornings.

In my efforts to be officially accepted as “one of the cool kids” these last few weeks, I’ve made a bunch of mistakes.  I’ve already confessed to the embarrassing shoe situation, but there is also the fact that I was still riding around with the standard reflectors that came with the bike.  I also showed up twice, for group rides that were significantly above my level. I didn’t realize this, of course, at the time.  I didn’t get dropped, but I know the guys probably didn’t appreciate feeling like they had to slow up their ride and wait for me to regroup after the hills.  I’ve also fallen while still clipped in, and I almost ran into the ride leader when stopping at the bottom of a hill.  Finally, I learned that I was shifting completely ineffectively just before and during hill climbs. I have been anything but “cool” this week.  I could really be down about how inept, clumsy, awkward, and fumbling I’ve been, but somehow, it all just strikes me as funny.  I’m not sure if any other people have these problems when they learned to ride fast on bikes.  It’s definitely keeping me humble.   I just figure, with every mistake or gaffe, I’m learning how to ride better.

2013-03-11 21.22.55Lesson #4:  Set goals, be flexible, and don’t forget to rest.

Every piece of fitness literature I’ve ever read, talks about the importance of setting goals.  I want to lose 45 pounds. I want to average 16 mph on my rides.  I want to be able to soar up hills, or at least not feel like I’m going to die midway up the climb.  I  want to learn to fix healthy meals.  I want to ride in a metric century and then a century.

Goals are good, but when on bike, I’m finding that I have to be flexible and respond appropriately to the situation.  So many factors can impact the ride. On the ride that was too fast, where I chugged up the hills, one of the guys hung back and coached me along the way.  Knowing that I’d just ridden 62 miles the day before, he remarked, “You’re carrying residual fatigue.  No wonder you’re having a tough time today.”  Sure enough that day it was a push to get 18 miles in, but then the very next day I rode for 47 miles, including some fairly long hills and I felt fine.  I even was able to accelerate up some of the hills, which surprised me.  I had to relax and give myself a break on the day that I couldn’t perform to my own expectations.

2012-06-15 10.56.30Lesson #5:  Make sure you have a riding buddy.

This is a lesson I’m still learning, but I see the value in it.  I tend to ride solo.  I love riding enough, that it really is no problem to get out on the bike.  I’m just not competitive enough to push as hard on my own.  When I ride alone, I tend to choose routes that are easy and less challenging.  When I ride with others, I want to save face, so I take on the challenges of the ride and stay with the group.

On one particular ride, the ride leader stressed the importance of a ride buddy.  I honestly think he was trying to make conversation so I would keep going and not give up, and it worked.  He did make a good point: If something happens on the ride, it’s good to have a ride buddy, so that you don’t get stranded.  This ride leader was a good ride buddy.  He sacrificed his faster ride, to make sure I had a good experience.  The very next day, I had a chance to be a ride buddy to someone else.  It’s really tough to hang back when the person isn’t climbing the hill  or keeping the pace you want to keep, but it sure is so rewarding when you get to the top of the hill and find you’re both still on the ride.   Having a ride buddy is also an important safety consideration.  It’s always good to be prepared for any eventuality out on a ride.

There really are so many life lessons to be gleaned from cycling.  Lessons about endurance, focus, patience, dedication, overcoming challenges, self-reliance, teamwork, communication, and more.  The five I’ve mentioned in this post, aren’t even the most significant ones; they’re merely the ones that I dealt with this week. Maybe you’ve learned some lessons along the way this week as you journey toward a healthier you.  Feel free to leave a comment and share your experience.


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Hi, I'm Cat A.Olson, @According2Cat on Twitter, or @TheDigitalCat on Instagram, and I write about my cycling adventures. In 2010, after 25 years off the bike, I decided to get a bike and start riding again. In 2012, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an early and completely curable form of breast cancer. I had five weeks of radiation treatment and I rode my bike to nearly every treatment. In 2013, I decided to get a faster bike. I'm finally getting serious about losing weight, and riding really fast with the cool kids.

I ride every chance I get, as fast as I can, for as long as my body will allow. I'm learning how to embrace challenges like helmet hair, padded pants, clipless shoes, flat tires, bugs in my teeth, and...ugh...hills. I'm learning that both cycling and life are easier and a lot more fun when you're in the right gear.

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