I Want To Ride My Bicycle: Part 2

The other day I posted Part 1 of this little series, talking about my newfound love of cycling. Today I want to talk more about why I love it so much and how it compares to running (for me).

To start, being physically active was always part of my life. I played a lot of sports growing up and have so many great memories of childhood in the context of sports. Teammates became close friends. I learned how to compete and push myself individually but also how to work together with others as a team. Finding something I was good at and could excel in (or make progress in) was also a great feeling. And for me, that was sports (not so much academics lol…I was an okay student). The one sport in particular that made the biggest impact on me (because it was both the hardest and most rewarding) was running cross-country.

 

I started running x-c in middle school (when the course was 1.5 miles) and continued all throughout high school (3 mile courses). I stopped, however, after graduating and going to college. Kind of kicking myself now for not playing some sort of sport in college, but, alas…what’s done is done. I had different goals then. I would occasionally go for a run here and there during my 20’s and tried to “get back into it” a few times since getting married and having kids. However, I’ve been pretty unsuccessful.

Now that I’ve “gotten into” cycling, I can see a lot of similarities between the 2 but also some key differences that I think explains why I’ve had such a hard time running again. I’ll start with the similarities. While both cross-country and cycling are team sports, there is still a huge emphasis on individual performance. You have to dig deep within yourself and push yourself to see how much you can suffer. (Let’s just call it what it is. Suffering lol.) In both sports, you can cross the finish line with a huge sigh (or gasp) of relief, and think, “Holy crap..I just did that. I ran ‘x’ number of miles without stopping….up and down hills!” or “Wow, I just rode ‘x’ number of miles and ‘x’ amount of feet in elevation gain!” There’s something oddly satisfying about pushing yourself to the point of complete exhaustion. It’s amazing how much your body can do and how far it can take you. Running and cycling are both great examples of what the human body is capable of.

The difference is, with running, the suffering starts a lot sooner. And if you haven’t run in a long time, it’s like starting back at zero again. Progress is slow. (Just speaking from my own experience here, might not be the case for others). And it’s because running is more high-impact. It’s harder on your body – your feet, your knees, your digestive system, your heart and lungs, etc. So it takes a while for the shock to your body to subside and get used to it again. It’s like my body was saying to me, “Oh…ok, so you’re doing THIS again? Well….you’re older now and you’ve given birth a few times sooooo we’re gonna need some transition time here.” I would have to start by just running 1 mile because it’s all my body could handle. I was winded. My body hurt. It was discouraging that I couldn’t do what I used to do, and that made it harder for me to stick with.

I’ve found that cycling, however, is much easier to start. It’s low-impact. Easier on the body (at first). Progress comes faster and that’s super encouraging and makes me stick with it. There is still suffering to be had, I assure you. But you can ease into it. Also you can go faster and farther on a bike than you can your own 2 feet and I like that aspect of it too. But I really do love that it reminds me so much of my cross-country days. Sure, I sometimes do leisurely rides that barely get my heart-rate up, just enjoying the views out on the bike. But I’m far too competitive with myself to do that all the time. I want PRs. I want QOMs (if within reach..which is really hard in the Bay Area).  I briefly mentioned Strava in my last post, which is what I use to track my rides. You can see how you compare to other Strava athletes, but also yourself. It’s great motivation! I also mentioned Zwift, which is the virtual riding program I use, and that has similar motivational aspects. On every course there are sprint segments or KOM/QOM climbs and I cannot resist them. I just can’t. When I get to one of those segments, I go hard until I almost pass out/throw up lol. KOM/QOM is short for “King of the Mountain” and “Queen of the Mountain”. It’s the title given to the person with the fastest time on a given segment (doesn’t necessarily have to be a climb on an actual mountain). For running it’s called a CR, “Course Record.”

Anyway. I feel like I’ve reconnected with part of my childhood through cycling. The personal suffering and feeling of accomplishment when you’ve finished. The mental battle (see below).  Seeing progress and results. Man, it feels good.

Of course, other major benefits I’ve experienced (not just from cycling but regular exercise in general): more energy, better overall mood, less anxiety, less body fat, etc. etc. I’ve always known those things to be true of course, but it’s not always easy to accomplish when you’re a mom. My exercise consistency has been all over the place since having kids. That is to say, not at all consistent. But now that we’re done having babies (unless there’s divine intervention), I’m hoping this will now be part of the regular routine and lifestyle. And with little eyes watching me, I hope it rubs off on them too!

Lastly, another similarity I’ve found is the community and camaraderie of the sport. Of all the sports I participated in growing up, cross-county was the best team I was part of (meaning, we were a tight-knit group). I’ve seen the same thing in the cycling world. My husband has his group of guys that he rides with and they’ve grown to become great friends. You can also see it out on the road when passing other cyclists. You acknowledge each other with a nod or wave. Find each other on Strava and give them kudos (it’s like a facebook “like”). Sure there’s competition, but it’s usually friendly. Everyone pushes each other to be better. Of course there will always be a few bad eggs out there (I’ll talk about them in another post), but for the most part, everyone is pretty cool and they look out for each other. If Ivor sees someone stopped on the side of the road or trail, he stops and asks if he can help (he’s changed lots of flats for people). If a fellow riding buddy is struggling and is clearly in need of some fuel, you offer a gel or a clif bar or something.

It was really cool to see how many people of varying ages and abilities showed up for the Silicon Valley Gran Fondo last weekend that Ivor participated in. I believe the oldest participant was around 78 years old, and the youngest was about 14. There were former pros, amateurs, beginners.. Some finished in less than 5 hours, some in 7 hours. But they all came together and enjoyed the same sport/hobby together….one of the first major milestones in all of our lives: riding a bike.

 

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