I’ve vowed I will never play soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, tennis, basketball, football, lacrosse, golf, etc. ever again. I’m well out of high school, so you can’t make me! I might play ping-pong, but only with someone who’s no good. I’m one of those people who just can’t improve, and I won’t be convinced otherwise. I realize that riding a bike requires some coordination, but not nearly on the level of those sports that involve kicking or throwing or hitting or bouncing a ball. I tried to play volleyball in high school, but that didn’t work out so well, and I learned my lesson. I had much more luck with track.
But I decided early on after graduating from high school that running is boring, and so I didn’t do much for exercise until getting a bike in the winter of 2000. My husband rode a lot and had raced before, and he got me interested. For a couple summers I rode mostly by myself or with husband (but he’s much stronger than I am, so that didn’t always work all that well), and then I joined a cycling club, riding with them a couple times a week during the spring and summer. I found that I was decent at it. I suppose my best attribute as a cyclist is my willingness to work hard. I often feel like I’m not quite at the level of the riders I’m with, but I work very hard to make sure I don’t get left behind, and then I improve pretty quickly.
And it’s a ton of fun. There really is nothing better than feeling strong and riding in a pack with people who love cycling too and are out there to work hard. Riding with a club is a mix of competing with each other and helping each other out. Riders would give each other advice, or push others to work hard. They congratulated me when I did well, and encouraged me to try new things like racing. But we also competed with each other, in a casual kind of way. I’m not competitive in the sense that I want to be faster than everyone; I DO get competitive with people who are at my level but I never take it too seriously.
These days, after my move to a new town last year, I’m not riding with a club much anymore. I may begin again at some point, as there is a good club nearby. But it always takes me a while to work up my courage to join a group. In the meantime, I’m learning a bit about racing. I wasn’t sure if I would like the competitiveness and stress of racing. In high school when I ran track, I always liked the training part of the season, but I found the track meets too stressful to enjoy. But so far with cycling, I’ve felt differently. I guess being twice the age I was when I ran track makes a difference. Now I feel a little anxious before a race (enough to get my adrenaline flowing), but not so much that it ceases to be fun. And, so far at least, the riders I’ve raced with have been very welcoming and encouraging. If people took this deadly seriously, it wouldn’t be much fun, but they don’t, and it is.
So now I’m trying to get used to the different form of riding I’m doing. My club training rides were generally a couple hours at a reasonably fast pace, but now I’m doing very fast 40-minute rides, and these require a very different kind of fitness. Less endurance (although that’s always a factor), and more power. Races require more bike-handling skills than a group ride, although group rides are great places to get used to riding with other people. But in a race, the riders are more aggressive and you have to learn how to take corners smoothly and hold a straight line.
So far I’ve had the most luck riding with the Category 5 men, the newbie racers, since the women’s races usually include riders with a lot of experience who are much faster than I am. There aren’t enough women racers to have women’s beginner races; they usually put all the women together, which means mixing up the ability and experience levels. But women have the option of joining certain men’s races, so I can pick and choose a bit. I like it that I aspire to move from the men’s race to the women’s!
I went to a yoga class last night, and it was a lesson in humility. It’s easy to think that because you are good in one sport or activity that you can do others easily, but it’s just not true. I felt like I worked harder in one hour of yoga than I might in six hours of riding. Of course, it’s a matter of what I’m used to, but I find it fascinating that while we tend to think of covering a lot of miles, on foot or on a bike, as challenging, staying still in a pose on a yoga mat can be just as hard or harder.
And tomorrow I’m off on my three-day backpacking trip. I will find new ways of making my muscles sore. I wish I had more time for these things; so many books, so many bike rides, so many trails ….