Just a moment ago, I was stretching my stiff ass on my balance ball, watching the Women’s Omnium’s final race in the Olympics. (If you’re not familiar, it’s a serious of cycling track races that get tallied up for an overall score for the winner, kinda like track’s Heptathalon.)
Canada’s Tara Whitten finished fourth overall and was devastated, crying on a teammate’s shoulder after losing a medal.
The winner overall was a young Brit, Laura Trott. The announcer spoke of how the Trott family had been overweight, and their mom decided they all needed to get healthy. She took a young Laura Trott down to the cycling club, got her put on a bike, and now here the kid is, a Gold Medal winner at the age of 20 in the Olympics at home.
I’d been half-inspired to write about cycling this week, but my mind’s in a million other places, thanks to personal anniversaries and such, so writing’s not been “working” for me.
Then I saw this girl win this medal, and it was something that all she started out doing was wanting to get fit ‘cos her mom saw the light. That’s all.
And I got to thinking that cycling’s never just “that’s all.”
Cycling changed my life — for good and bad. Mostly good, but here’s both sides of that story.
The back problems I have been rehabbing off and on for 4 years, thanks to the repeat blowout on March 15th, 2011, escalated and worsened because of a bad bike fit. Had that injury never happened, I probably would’ve remained on that road to glory I was on when I’d taken off more than 70 pounds in one year, from October 1, 2007 to October 3, 2008, the day my back initially blew.
Before that, I’d been cycling 150km or more a week, and I was just loving it. My mood was better, my ability to handle stress was better, I was happier to get out into the world every day. Cycling was my moment of Zen, it was my ADD cure. I was more productive day-to-day, more focused, and I really, really loved who it made me.
But the next three years became a cautionary tale about how important bike fit is, because we (meaning *I*) never figured out until last August that my bike could be the culprit keeping my injury sustained. That, and the 60 hours a month I was riding the bus.
Every time I had new back twinges, I’d be asking physios / chiros / doctors if my bike could be the culprit, and finally Dr. Bryson Chow made a couple suggestions, and we realized, yeah, the bike was a big part of the problem.
But that was then.
Now, I know what was the issue. Now I’ve moved and have a new chiropractor who’s worked with Olympic cyclists, and he doesn’t see me as some fat girl with a bad back, he sees me as a hopeful athlete who’s had some bad luck and bad advice over time.
Time for a New Normal
I moved to Victoria March 1st. It was mid-April when I was given the okay to get back on my bike, the first time since last September. I was told to start slow, and never cycle back-to-back days, so I could always assess it after 24 hours and a sleep.
I’ve been seeing my chiropractor at least every 3 weeks during this time. He gives me advice, tells me what part of my body’s reacting badly, and we try to figure out where I’m going wrong and what to do next.
In mid-April, I began by cycling 5 kilometres a time for a couple weeks. Now I’m cycling 30, and I can cycle 4-5 days a week, not 2-3.
It’s proof that conditioning improves quickly when on the road or trails for cycling, versus working out in the gym. Especially, when, like me, you’re hauling way, way more weight up those hills than some skinny bitch or straw-like dude.
(Hicc) Namaste, Yo.
Despite those early hiccups, I’m reaching that Zen place again, where seeing a hill doesn’t send waves of terror through me. Instead of being sure I’ll have to stop at the top to wheeze and die, I’m more often sure I have it in me to reach the top of that hill. Last night, a long steep driveway I’d recently had to walk the bike up was one I easily scaled and kept on goin’ after.
Every time I’m getting on a bike and I don’t think I have the energy to do what I need to do, I somehow always find it.
But those first three months? They weren’t pretty. I had repeated setbacks as I found more and more things wrong with how I was riding, what I was doing. I had to make some fit adjustments, I’ve had postural mistakes. It just hasn’t been pretty, but for every step back, there were two steps forward.
Just three months on, I’m quite further along than I really expected to be. I’d looked at maps of places I longed to visit, and though I’d never make it that far this year. I had moments where I could only be described with words like “distraught” and “crestfallen.”
Now, I’d choose words to describe how I’ve felt of late like “persistent” and “victorious.” Now, I’ve been past many of those places I set as early goals. Now, new goals are needed.
It takes a long time of plodding through and feeling quite useless, I find, before you realize that it feels good now, or better-than-bad most of the time.
It’s really a great journey, that of getting back into cycling, and going a little further and further, and gradually seeing your conditioning change because the scenery you get to see is changing too, as that distance creeps up week after week.
It’s Not Exercise, It’s a Lifestyle
Now, I don’t bus. I walk, or I cycle. My saddlebags are my life on my bike. Every week I’m finding new food stores to cycle to, places to see. Know what’s better than a 20km bike ride? A 20km bike ride that includes a trip to an artisan salumerie, a signature wine shop, and an encyclopedic cheese shop. That’s a cycling gift that keeps on giving — and it’s my kind of cycling life, in between the days when I’m finding myself on some tree-canopied trail on the other side of town, that is.
Soon, I’ll write about some advice for beginners on bikes, from all the things I’ve learned the hard way, some gear suggestions, and ways to make cycling touring a lot more fun.