I spotted these words of wisdom from my Runner’s World calendar on the way out the door for a bike ride. A bike ride I was most likely dreading because to be honest…these bike rides really stress me out. The shorter rides (30 miles and less) stress me out because I spend a fair amount of time riding in traffic, and I’m terrified of getting hit by a car. Not because I don’t obey traffic laws, but because everyone here is in a hurry and people don’t necessarily pay attention to moving objects that are not cars. For longer rides, I worry about my endurance and if I go far enough (40 miles or more), the hills on 9W really crush my soul. No matter how much I chant, “You are strong, you can do this” while peddling up a hill, by the end I’m usually saying, “You are the worst and will never ever be good at this.” That doesn’t exactly make you want to get out there and do it again.
Needless to say, I saw the above quote on my way out the door, and it really got me thinking. The hardest part about triathlon training is that I’m a flat out beginner. I’ve been swimming and biking since before I can remember, and clearly I’ve got the running part down. However, I’ve never done the first two sports with any sort of race in mind and certainly haven’t done the distances I need to for the half Ironman. The problem I’ve been having is that I’ve become quite well versed in running and training for a marathon. I’m not perfect at it and certainly still have a lot to learn, but I’m far from a beginner. I could probably go out and run the marathon distance any day of the week. Twenty miles runs no longer scare me. I know some will have me dragging my feet by the end, and others will end with a 7:00 mile. Even though this knowledge and experience took years of running to gather, I somehow think I should be at that level with swimming and biking. Clearly, that’s not how it works.
As I thought about it more, I need to remind myself that I wasn’t always good at running, nor did I always know what to expect. Did I have any idea how to do a long run? No. Did I do fine in my first marathon? Yes. Did I figure it out eventually? Yes. Therefore, I’m trying to shift my thoughts in biking from “Why don’t you know everything?” to “This is knew, and you will learn. Not everything will be great the first time, or every time.”
As the quote says, these long rides are big ordeals. I get nervous. I try to figure out when to eat. I psych myself up for the hills. I tell myself I won’t be hit by a car. I wonder if the distance will win or if I’ll have gas left in the tank. I celebrate each ride, although times the end has me thankful that the triathlon will be over in a few weeks, while others have me dreaming of how I could continue to improve. The ups and downs – just like running.
Baker gave me a few tips (and a bento box!) recently, and I was excited to put them to use in my next long ride. These tips included:
- Eat small amounts throughout the bike – chew that food to mush.
- Remember to drink.
- Drop gears on the uphills so you don’t trash your legs, go hard on the downhills.
- Push down on the pedals, but remember to pull up too – clip in pedals, of course.
These were mainly answers to some questions I had, such as “How do you eat on the bike??”, “How do you not let the hills crush your soul?”, and “What position should my feet be in on the pedals?” Good information to know.
With these answers in mind and my need for a long, confidence boosting ride, I headed out on Friday morning. I packed along with me: A bottle of Gatorade (calories + electrolytes since I don’t really like to eat on the move), a bottle of water, a package of PowerBar energy chews, and a Clif Bar broken up into six pieces. I also doused myself in sunscreen for skin protection, and the fact that I am collecting some awesome tan lines.
I wasn’t sure how far I was going to go – 50 miles? 56 to hit race distance? More? I got up to the GW Bridge without much stress (which is rare – usually I’m hating everything by the time I get there) and felt good as I made my way onto 9W. I’d hit 10 miles before I even knew what happened, and I got the idea to ride for 60 miles. Why not? I had the time, Baker recommend just spending time on the bike…so here it is. I ignored my pace while concentrating on keeping a solid effort, using the drop bars and changing gears with the rolling hills. Another cyclist sat on my trail for a solid ten miles, which was annoying. (There has to be some etiquette here, right?) I took in some Clif Bar every now and then, and oddly enough chewing seemed to require a lot of energy.
Soon enough, I hit the state line (NJ/NY), which is about 19 miles out and is immediately followed by some downhills. I usually spend the entire time thinking about how I’m going to have to ride back up the hills, but I tried to focus on not braking the entire way down (since I’m convinced I’ll hit a bump and fly over my handlebars). I made it to Piermont where my tailgating buddy stopped off, then went through Nyack to Upper Nyack. Uncharted territory. I followed the signs for bikes on 9W, stopping once to figure out where in the world I was. Since I only had a few miles to go (and the route was going up some hills that didn’t seem to end…and I’m a wimp), I rode my own path for a short time before heading back. Back through Nyack (it’s so pretty along the water there…), back through Piermont.
The hills. THE HILLS. The hills. The first one is short, but steep. Getting up it sets my tone for the rest of the hills, so I told myself it didn’t matter how slow I went, just as long as I didn’t stop. Nailed it. The next one is long, but not as steep. Drop the gears, keep pedaling. Push pull push pull push pull push pull. You can do it you can do it you can do it. STATE LINE. 19 miles til home and one more giant hill. Long, not too steep, but my tired are tired. Gogogogogogogogogo. Push pull push pull. Push with the left only. Push with the right only. Push pull push pull push pull pedal pedal pedal. Whew. I’ve actually never been so proud of myself on a ride after making it up those hills and not once thinking about stopping. It seems like a little thing, but it felt like a huge accomplishment.
I continued to ride along the rolling hills and realized how strong I felt – I’d continued to eat/drink throughout the ride, and I really felt so comfortable and not tired. On some long rides, the fatigue really sets in and riding gets really hard. The longest I’d ridden before this ride was 56 miles, and not only was it getting really tough near the end, but I was tired for days after. This ride? I felt so great and was surprised when the GW came up so quickly. My Garmin (Forerunner 305) also only lasts for about 30-40 miles these days (oops…), and I feel a lot of pressure off when once I don’t have it tracking me. I made it back across the GW and through the annoyance of traffic, back to my apartment. And I felt great.
60 miles. How did that happen?
I did a quick transition in my apartment – new shorts, visor, different shoes – and headed out for a brick run. My legs felt like bricks (…) and like I was moving at a snail’s pace, even though my watch told me I was holding 8-8:10 pace. I tried not to pay attention to pace and instead focused on effort. The four miles seemed long, but manageable.
I know a long ride isn’t a “staple” like in the quote, and that I very much just had a great day. But it’s one of the best rides I’ve had so far, which I attribute to adequately fueling/hydrating on the bike and a more relaxed, accepting mindset. I’ve never ridden 60 miles before, and I was confident the entire time. Or at least accepting of new experiences that may come my way. I only stopped once for a couple minutes to figure out where I was at (and for traffic, of course) – probably my most continuous ride yet. I’m not an expert cyclist, and clearly the triathlon will still be new to me, even on race. My hope is that race day won’t be such an ordeal – I’ll be able to embrace it with the eyes of a beginner knowing that I can accomplish it, even if it’s not the prettiest or best executed race.
As for triathlon becoming a staple…well, that’s yet to be determined.