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.

 

I Want To Ride My Bicycle (Part 1)

Wow, long time no blog! It’s been awhile. Life with 3 kids can be crazy (understatement of the year) so certain things I used to do a lot (like blog) have been put on the back-burner. I have, however, found a new thing I like to do. Ride my bike. And I think everyone should go ride a bike more often. So let’s talk about it!

For those who follow me on other social media sites (facebook and instagram), you may have noticed that I’ve been riding my bike a bit. Mostly with my husband. It was *his thing* first, for several years now. But recently, it’s also become my thing. Ivor has been commuting to work by bike for a few years off and on (within the last year it’s pretty much always on). He found a good group of guys he affectionately refers to as the “bike gang” (that’s actually their facebook group messenger thread name) that he commutes with often. They all live in the south San Jose area and commute to the Sunnyvale/Mountain View/Palo Alto area. You may be thinking “holy cow, that’s a long way to bike!”…and you’re right. It is. When they take the “flat route” (by way of the Guadalupe River Trail), it’s about 24 miles one-way (for Ivor). But he actually prefers his “scenic route” most of the time, which is 33-ish miles and quite a bit more hilly. But when you do it all the time, you get better, faster, stronger, and it’s not a big deal. That said, he and his coworkers are fortunate enough to work for companies that have lockers and showers. Otherwise they’d be sweaty smelly messes and would probably be discouraged from commuting by bike. So, having a “bike-friendly” work environment helps a lot.

Anyway, cycling has been amazing for my husband. He loves that he can be active and outside on his way to work, instead of sitting in ridiculous Bay Area traffic every day inside his car. He’s lost a crazy amount of weight and is currently in the best shape of his life. All from cycling (and nutrition, but mostly the cycling thing). It’s not just about commuting for him either. It’s pretty much a lifestyle thing now. He likes going for non-commute rides on weekends, exploring new roads and enjoying the beautiful scenery of where we live, which is way different to experience on a bike than it is from inside your car.

I started getting into the cycling thing slowly. In the beginning it was just something to do together: My husband’s hobby that I supported and took part in with him because I love him. I do also love being active and outside, but running or hiking was more my speed. However, slowly but surely, I have been converted. I get it now. The appeal. The addiction really lol. All the things he loves about cycling, I’ve experienced…and I am on board. The disadvantage I have…and I don’t even like using that word because I’m about to refer to my kids lol….but, I’m a stay at home mom of 3. I can’t just leave my house alone, and go ride a bike whenever I want. While I could do it on weekends with Ivor watching the kids, I don’t actually want to go alone, as riding on roads with cars still makes me nervous, and I have yet to learn how to change a flat tire by myself. So I prefer to ride WITH him, which requires someone else to watch our kids. So that can only happen occasionally when we hire a babysitter (or more frequently when his mom is visiting, like right now).

The solution we’ve found though to keep me riding more often is an indoor bike trainer. Using that, I don’t have to leave the house. I can ride during nap time while the big kids are in school, or early in the morning, or after bedtime, etc.  It’s a “smart” trainer that we use with this virtual riding software called Zwift. The whole set-up is pretty sweet and as much as I love riding out on roads, this is  the best option to keep me riding regularly. It’s getting me more in shape to be able to ride with Ivor (who has to go painfully slow to ride with me currently). I’ve grown to really look forward to my  trainer rides in the garage with headphones on, listening to a podcast or my workout playlist. Alone. It’s me time. In the pain cave lol.

Anyway, this post is starting to get too long. I still have a lot more to say about cycling (what it’s done for me personally, how it compares to running, how to get started with cycling if you’re interested, bike safety, Strava, etc.) and not enough time at the moment.  So I’ve just changed the title of this post to add “Part 1” and I’ll make it a series. Also, bonus points to whoever catches the reference I’m making with the title, “I want to ride my bicycle”.

For now, I’ll leave you with a link to a YouTube show all about cycling that was a big part of my conversion: The Global Cycling Network.  It’s a great place to start 🙂

Until next time,

The Converted Cyclist

 

 

Rushfit, Completed

On December 20, 2014, my husband and I started Rushfit, an 8-week high intensity training program. It’s a “functional fitness” program, meaning, it’s designed to help your body function properly by working out your whole body (as opposed to just specific muscle groups), with an emphasis on core strength and stabilization, which is crucial to everything you do. From getting in and out of the car, to bending over to pick up your kids, to walking up the stairs, etc. You use your core and stabilizers to do all those things. Functional fitness benefits every body type. Which is why my  husband and I could do this program together. Same exercises, just different weights. And our results were different. Yes, you can absolutely lose weight through this program (my husband did), but you can also maintain your weight while building lean muscle mass (which is what happened for me). And we both improved in all of the areas this program addresses (strength, endurance, balance, agility, flexibility, etc.)

Before I go any farther though, if you need to catch up, here are my previous posts about Rushfit:

1st post
2nd post
3rd post

Ok, so now that we are done. Here is my official review. I LOVE it. Partly because of what I already mentioned above. It’s beneficial to everyone no matter what your body type or ability is (you can read more about that in the “functional fitness” link above). It didn’t require a gym membership or fancy equipment. It only required about an hour of my time each day, and some dumbbells. It starts with a warm-up and ends with a cool-down. Both are very important and should not be skipped. If there is one “con” to the program, though, it’s that the same warm-up and cool-down video is used for every workout…and after a while you start to memorize the dialogue and it can just get boring. But that’s not much of a con. We had fun with it by talking along with them in Georges St. Pierre’s accent and broken English 🙂

Anyway, moving on to the results! There are aesthetic and non-aesthetic results. For my husband, the aesthetic is more obvious since he actually lost weight. For me, it’s not quite as obvious, though my arm muscles and abs are a lot more defined than they were when we first started. But the non-aesthetic results are more important (again, this is designed to help your body function properly and optimally, not just look good). Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to announce that I can now do more than 2 real push-ups!

::Pause for applause::

Part of the warm-up includes “walk out push-ups”, and I could only ever 2 do real ones before needing to go down to my knees. But by the end of the program, I could do the entire warm-up without any of the modifications. Other improvements have been mentioned in my previous posts (holding the back bend longer, being able to do most of the core strength exercises properly, without cheating, etc.) One of the greatest victories for me though was finally being able to hold the isometric squat the entire time..however long that was. Might’ve only been 30 seconds, but it felt like an eternity! If there is one exercise where you will truly “feel the burn” it is that one. It looks simple, but I assure you….it is not. I had to find a happy place and sing songs in my head to get through it, so I wouldn’t focus on the fact that my thighs were on fire and my legs were about to collapse. But I did it! Bam. And there are plenty of other improvements that I don’t need to list. But it happened.

To make this more practical and apply it to real life: picking up my almost 20lb son, or my 30+lb toddler is A LOT easier for me, and safer. Instead of bending over and putting stress on my back, I can squat and lift with my legs. Also, I have more endurance and energy throughout the day. And overall, I’m a lot  less-stressed and in a better mood…usually. Which is what working out on a regular basis can do! And now that we’re done with the 8-week program, my body is still craving a good workout every night. It’s driving me crazy not doing anything. Which is why we’re already planning our next program. We were going to jump right into the intermediate level of Rushfit, but I think we’ll come back to it later. We’re going to focus more on strength training (with dumbbells and weights). We’ll still do a Rushfit workout 1 or 2 times a week probably, to keep up our core strength and stabilization of course. But I really do love this lifestyle of regular exercise. It certainly helps having a spouse to do this with, who’s just as committed to it (even more so…..he likes to bike 50 miles round trip a few times a week…crazy person!) I’ll get my cardio in by chasing our kids 🙂

One thing I wanted to mention that I learned through this program….is that I’ve been stretching wrong my entire life! Seriously. It matters more how you feel the stretch in your leg than whether or not you can touch your toes. You can touch your toes and not feel much of a stretch at all. But if you sit up straight (posture is important) and just lean forward holding your arms out straight with your palms up, while contracting your leg muscles and pulling your toes back toward you, you will feel a CRAZY stretch. At least I did. But that is my biggest flexibility weakness. Sorry if that description is hard to picture…couldn’t find a video of it.

In conclusion, we highly recommend this program. There’s something else about it that I like though. It doesn’t seem to be a “fad”. Erik Owings and Georges St. Pierre actually seem genuine and knowledgeable and not like a crazy salesperson on speed (like Richard Simmons and some of the other trainers I’ve seen from other programs). Just sayin. I like that. I also like that it has an MMA (mixed martial arts) fight component. Georges is a world champion MMA fighter, Erik is his trainer. Not sure if I mentioned that before. The fight workout was my favorite and one of the better ones for me. Turns out I’m pretty scrappy, who knew?

Anyway, if you don’t try this specific program, at least try to exercise on a regular basis. Make it part of your lifestyle. I know I sound like a doctor or trainer. But they’re not lying to you. It is good for you in so many ways. Find something that works for you, find someone to do it with, stick with it. It gets easier as you go!

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Rushfit, 6 Weeks In

2 weeks to go! Ah! I can’t believe we’re almost done. If you’re just tuning in, 6 weeks ago Ivor and I started an 8-week, high intensity training program called Rushfit, and we’re almost finished with the beginner calendar. After a little break, we’ll jump right into intermediate. You can read my other posts about Rushfit here, and here.

These past 2 weeks have been a little rough, because our whole family got hit with a variety of illnesses. So we had to switch some days around, take some time off, and catch back up. Since all that’s scheduled for tomorrow is the “stretch for flexibility” workout (which is easy peasy…just stretching), I’m going to do one of the other workouts I missed in addition to that. Then we’ll be back on track.

You can tell working out is making a difference in my life when I couldn’t WAIT to jump back in after taking some time off. Even though I was sick and miserable and really needed a break until I was healthy, it felt SO good when I could start again.

Last night I did the Abs & Core workout and was able to do several different exercises better than ever before, and hold things for much longer (like the back-bend for example). I was really encouraged. It’s always nice to see hard work pay off and see results like that. Especially after 6 straight weeks of workouts (I’d be pretty bummed if I didn’t get better at a few things after that long).

So this week a new workout is being introduced, “Explosive Power Training.” Here’s a little preview:

Pray for me.

I’ll be back in 2 weeks with a recap of the whole program once we’re finished 🙂

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RUSHFIT, 4 Weeks In

We’re halfway there! 4 weeks down, 4 to go. I should mention that we’re doing the beginner calendar. There’s an intermediate and advanced calendar too. I think we’ll try intermediate next but I’m pretty sure advanced has like 2 workouts per day and I don’t think that’s realistic for us right now, or even in the near future. We’ll also want to time it so that we don’t miss 2 weeks when we go to Pennsylvania in May. We don’t want to start another 8-week program and have to skip 2 weeks. No slacking here!

Anyway, update time! We’re 4 weeks in and still loving it. We’re starting to see more results and it feels good. Not DURING the workout. During does not feel good. But after, after feels wonderful. I think it’s worth noting that I’m a mom of a baby who wakes up 2-3 times every night, and I am not well rested. Yet working out on a regular basis has helped give me enough energy to keep me going without collapsing at 4pm, which used to be when I “hit the wall” of exhaustion every day. But when it comes time for the workout around 7:30pm, I actually look forward to it and have the energy to push through 5 rounds and feel good after. I may have mentioned it in my first post, but I realize that’s not the most ideal time to work out. It’s just the best time of day for both me and my husband to do it together (which we think is really important. More on that later), and it’s when the kids are cooperative (Gwen is in bed, and little Ivor usually falls asleep during that time too…usually). So, that’s why we do it then. And by the time OUR bedtime arrives, I am pooped. And I sleep really well. Until the baby wakes up of course. Such is life.

So since my last post, a new workout was introduced on the calendar, in week 3: full body strength and conditioning. Holy crap. The very first round of that one is 10 air squats, followed by 5 hindu (Indian) push-ups, which look like this:

They are not easy. Especially when you have very little upper body strength. And you do as many reps of those (10 squats, 5 push-ups) as you can in 5 mins. By the end of that I am dead. Then you have 4 more rounds of different exercises. Ugh. It is rough. The first round of that one, the isometric squats in “Strength and Endurance”, that dang alligator crawl in “Balance and Agility” and the sit-throughs in “Ab and Core Strength” (which I can’t even do at all really), are the worst. There are probably a few others I’m forgetting. A couple exercises in “Ab and Core Strength” are really tough for me because of my tailbone injury. Going from lying down to sitting straight up (on the floor) hurts A LOT. So I use my boppy nursing pillow to soften the blow, which makes the exercise even more difficult. I also decided to challenge myself recently by increasing my dumbbell weight from 5 lbs to 10lbs. So the exercises I used to think were easy for me, and now no longer easy. But it’s a good thing. It makes me work harder and push myself more. And as George says in one of the videos, if these exercises are too easy for you, you need to do something harder. You won’t see the results you want if it’s too easy for you.

Here’s another little preview of what we’ve been doing. This is round 5 of “Full Body Strength and Conditioning” (the one I mentioned above with a horrible round 1):

So other than feeling great physically and having more energy, it’s also been great for my marriage. Stay with me here. This gives us something else to do together other than sit on the couch and watch TV. We still do that occasionally but for awhile we were stuck in a rut and that’s all we did. That was our time together every night. Staring at a screen. So this kind of spiced things up a bit for us. And we both benefit from it even though he’s a lot bigger and stronger than I am. The way the program is designed, using body weight and dumbbells, allows for people of varying abilities and strengths to do it together. He just uses much heavier weights than I do, and I do a lot of the modifications if something is too difficult for me. So it’s a great activity for us to do together. We challenge and encourage each other. He tells me when my form is wrong. I tell him he’s a pansy when he complains after biking 30 miles to work and then comes home to Rushfit.  And there are other pretty awesome benefits of working out with your spouse too, which I don’t think I need to spell out for anyone 🙂 All in all, it’s been a very good thing for us. And we highly recommend it.

I’ll be back with another update in 2 weeks! And in case you were wondering, the red cardio on the calendar means 30 mins and we’re now about to start blue cardio…which is 45 mins. Ahh! Here we go.

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RUSHFIT, 2 Weeks In

Two weeks ago I started an 8-week high intensity training program called Rushfit. We’ve had the program for years because Ivor has gone through it before (I mostly just sat and watched him) 🙂

But after having baby #2, I was really motivated to do it myself.  Why? Not to lose weight (though it’s certainly a great program for that). But I’m doing it to be in better overall shape, feel stronger (actually BE stronger), and have more energy and endurance throughout the day.

Fitness isn’t just about your physical appearance. Yes, there are some aesthetic results I’d like to see at the end of the 8 weeks: some muscle mass/definition on my scrawny little arms and legs, and my backside certainly hasn’t been the same since popping out kid #2! But what’s more important (obviously) is your health and overall well-being, which fitness contributes to. Nutrition is also a huge part of it, but that’s for another post on another day.

So back to this specific program, Rushfit. I love that I can do this at home, in my living room, while the kids sleep and the only equipment necessary is my body and occasionally a set of dumbbells. It doesn’t require a lot of time. Most workouts are about 30 mins long, give or take, and they include a warm-up and cool-down session each time. It really is perfect for a mom (being able to do this at home, in a short amount of time).

It’s working every…single…part…of my body. Each night a different part of my body is sore (in a good way). There are some things I’m really good at and other things I’m terrible at. There are a few things I can’t even ALMOST do, so I have to modify it just to be doing something instead of sitting around (planks or glute bridges are my go-to’s). But I’ve already seen improvement in just 2 weeks. My squats and lunges are deeper. I’m a little more flexible, and my balance is getting better.

Oddly enough, the fight conditioning workout is my favorite. Striking, kicking, level changes, sprawling, etc. I’m pretty quick with my movements and quick on my feet. Makes me want to delve more into the whole boxing/kickboxing thing after this is over (not in a real match with another person, mom, don’t worry, just with a heavy bag in our garage). Though if anyone wanted to mess with me or my family, it would be nice to be able to do some damage, just sayin.

My core strength is okay…and getting better. But those stinking pushups are killing me! My upper body needs a lot of work. I can do about two decent pushups, then I have to drop to my knees. I’d like to not be doing that by the end of this thing.

Another thing I really like about this program is that it’s difficult. It pushes you to your limits and challenges you. I like the mental toughness it builds. It’s almost comparable to childbirth (*almost* lol). You get to the point where you just want to give up and collapse. When you don’t think you’re capable of even one more push…up (see what I did there?) But powering through it when it’s the most difficult and the most painful, is when you get the best results.

This is not my New Years Resolution (though the timing might make it seem that way). And I’m sharing my experience with you all in case anyone is interested in trying it, or needs some motivation or encouragement to get into better shape.

We have “before” pictures and we plan to take “after” pictures too. I say “we” because Ivor is doing this with me (I probably wouldn’t be doing this at all without his support and participation). I don’t know if we’ll share those pictures publicly but we’ll be sure to report back on our results 🙂

I’ll check back in with another update in about 2 weeks.

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*You might notice we skipped a cardio day and switched up our “rest” day the week of Christmas. But we’re back on track now!