Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Baby Steps

Baby Step #1

Saturday I got to meet my fellow Tahoe-or-Bust cyclists and my coaches. Well, it’s possible there are plenty of other cyclists who will participate but didn’t come Saturday – and let’s just take a moment here to note that we shouldn’t use the term “cyclist” to describe me, since to be an “-ist” of any kind, one needs to have done the relevant activity for more than like 30 minutes in recent memory. In any case, I was the noobiest noobie there. Which is daunting.

But fortunately I have Matt, a great teammate who is super-helpful, and the coaches, who are – how shall I describe the coaches? They are kind of hilarious and awesome and I already love them. They’re not super-young and/or frighteningly athletic, which is kind of how I expected. They’re three middle-aged guys who you most easily imagine throwing you a cold one during a backyard barbecue, not riding 100 miles in the mountains every year for several years. They’ve all obviously known each other a while, or at least long enough for there to be back-n-forth, family-like bickering and good-natured ribbing. Basically I keep thinking of them as my fairy god-uncles. They did a little show-and-tell with a bike and various pieces of equipment, and they’d occasionally wander off into their own bike-speak tangent, debating the various merits and drawbacks of whatever thingamabob at hand, which made me kind of hide my grin as they fussed at each other. It was like watching a couple of foodies in the kitchen discussing the best way to make bulgogi, while a normal person sits back and wonder what the hell bulgogi is, anyway. 

My amusement turned into a bit of an overwhelmed panic which was apparently visible (somewhere around the part when they started talking about learning the gears, I vaguely recall that swimming in my head), and Bill – who I think is the head coach, from my impressions – just kind of broke off and cut across everything with an “Aww, that look on your face, Beth! You’re gonna be okay, we’ll teach you everything, don’t get scared now, we’ll take care of you.” All said in this awesome suburban Chicago dad voice. I could actually feel myself being taken under their wing, you know? They are terrific. We’re gonna have fun, I can already tell it.

So anyway, aside from meeting my fellow Team In Training participants (and the vast majority of them are runners, btw, there's only a handful of us biking types) and learning about how to dress for winter training and all that sort of stuff, I learned that my real training won’t begin until February. We don’t have the schedule yet, but should get that by the end of this week. In the meantime, I’m supposed to keep up with the spin classes and regular workouts and all, no sitting around on the couch eating leftover Christmas candy. I’d given my coworker/teammate (runner) Elspeth a ride, so I stayed a bit later and listened to the runner’s info, which included their training schedule. I thought it might give me an idea of what I’m in for, but mostly it just made me glad I’m not a runner.

Other Baby Step, Ongoing

FYI, speaking of spin class: today’s was MUCH easier, because we had a different instructor. The other instructor is hard-core. This one set a pace I could handle. THANK GOD.

Big Baby Step

Saturday was a nice intro to this whole endeavor. But Sunday was even better, in that respect, because I actually finally rode my bike. And it was fun! Nerve-wracking too. I mean, once I got on and got going, I was like “Whee! Yay lookit me I can do this!”

Which lasted about 12 seconds (I was on a short little deserted pathway) until I realized I had no clue how to stop. My brain was seriously blank, and there was nothing but a few seconds of blind animal panic until my brain stopped frantically scrambling for a solution and it hit me: hands! The brakes are at your hands that’s how you stop!  

This of course was a wonderful moment of relief, for all of about 2 seconds. Because I honesty had no idea what to do when the bike stopped. I felt utterly helpless, because all my brain could come up with was “Motion –> Brake - > Stop –> Fall = BAD.” So I tentatively squeezed one of the handles, hoping to avoid a dramatic immediate stop. Then I was all stumbling-stuttering-tripping stop, but I did it.

It’s really because my seat was too high. I was too much on my tippy-toes, and you’re supposed to be kind of on your toes (so your leg is fully extended while pedaling down) but this was a bit too much. I’ll probably raise it later, but we  went ahead and lowered it for now, until I have some more confidence. Anyway, Laura and I biked up the lakeshore path and turned around after about maybe a half-mile or so. Aside from the importance of the seat height, here is what I learned:
  1. At least I don’t wobble, even at very slow speeds. Which means I’ve got some kind of full-body balance. Go me!
  2. Sadly, have no balance in my actual feet (a fact that my physical therapist has noted and is working with me on) so I find it next to impossible to raise my leg and step through the bike frame. It’s like 18” off the ground, maybe, but I can’t do it without nearly falling over. Laura (rightfully) made fun of me for this. I ignored her and swung my leg over the back, cowboy-style. One battle at a time, people.
  3. The regular bike seat is almost as uncomfortable as the spin bike seat. Hooray. And my hands hurt, so I need to remember to keep my wrists stright, not cocked.
  4. I am wildly awkward/nervous when it comes to getting started, stopping, and turning.
  5. Because it’s just like learning to drive, in a way. You don’t think of it, but a bike is a vehicle – and you have to treat it like that, I think. It’s not all just yay fun reminds me of being a kid, you have to learn how to drive this particular vehicle. It isn’t just automatic, it’s a learned skill. (I know this is kind of “yeah, no duh” but I hadn’t really thought of it before.)
  6. I just have to practice. A lot. Much repetition until these very basic things are natural.
  7. Holy god, I cannot imagine doing thing for 100 minutes, much less 100 miles.
After the ride, we went to Uptown Bikes where I had them adjust the seat and install fenders (which are apparently Very Important if you ride in any kind of rain. And if it rains, we train. So say my fairy godcoaches.) So I really am all set to go now.

Most of all, I learned that Sarah Oaks is right: riding a bike is far better than the simulation in a gym. It's pretty exhilarating, and oodles of fun. Um, until you have to stop. Or turn. Or pass someone. 

Next Steps

It’s a 3-day weekend coming up, and the weather will allegedly not be Absolutely Horrible (upper 30s, looks like) so I will take the bike out every day in the hopes of getting less awkward overall. The beautiful thing about Chicago is the lakefront trail, and how relatively unpopulated it is in the non-summer months. Almost as convenient as a giant empty parking lot to practice in, but far more picturesque.

Also, I got a book. I am a do-it-yourselfer type anyway, but when you’re planning to take a 100-mile bike ride (and all the long rides to train for it), you really have to learn how to do this stuff yourself. And of course my fairy godcoaches will teach me, but we all know how lost I am without a book to reference. I am nothing if not a little Hermione Granger about these things.

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