Thursday, May 23, 2013

Learning to Ride a Bicycle After Believing for 38 Years I Could Not

As those of you who have read my bio know, I just recently learned how to ride a bicycle.  In late 2012, my husband challenged my then 11-year-old daughter to teach me how to ride, since I never learned as a child.  It’s not that I didn’t try.  No, I tried very hard to learn.  I even had a friend who worked with me and suggested I get on and ride straight down a large hill, because surely that would help me learn.  Despite her good intentions, that was the last time I attempted to ride.  I crashed pretty hard and believed that it was impossible for me to learn.

I hid the fact that I had never learned because I was embarrassed.  I figured everyone knew how to ride a bike and I must be stupid to have never figured it out.  All of these thoughts were present from those impressionable childhood years and I carried those beliefs with me well into adulthood.  I was able to hide that I had not learned to ride from most people I knew because I did not have many friends who were active and athletic.  Even those who were more active were only active to a point, such as going for walks or slow jogs, but nothing more.

My husband had talked about having me learn to ride a bike for a few years, but I always managed to find some excuse and skip out on learning.  I just couldn’t see myself riding a bike; you know the old saying, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  That was my internal motto.  I stubbornly refused to even try.  Then, when my daughter got involved, I found the excuses falling by the wayside.  It took a few times of her asking, me giving excuses, and seeing the disappointment in her eyes even though she never said a word, to finally give in and go down to the park with an old bicycle.

I watched her and her two brothers ride for awhile, working over in my head how I was going to accomplish this task.  I conjured up an image of myself riding that bicycle and decided it was time to get on and begin pedaling.  I worked those pedals, sometimes making several revolutions, other times just a couple.  I had the seat so low on the bike that I could immediately put my feet down on the ground and remain on the seat with plenty of room to spare.  I was that afraid of falling off.

Then, wonder of all wonders, I began pedaling again and the next thing I knew I was across the parking lot and I had balanced that bicycle all the way across.  The next step was to incorporate turning into the equation and, so, I rode that bike, turning this way and that, then riding straight, all the meanwhile keeping it in an upright position.  Talk about a feeling of accomplishment!  Here I was, 38 years old at the time, and I was doing something I never thought I would ever do.

Since that day in October, 2012, I have spent some time getting acquainted with riding.  I have not ridden in a couple of months now, due to the fact that the bicycle I learned on and was riding is quite old and has some quirks that we have not been able to completely fix.  I rode it for a few months, quirks and all, but decided I would wait until I get my new bike to get out there and go for bike rides.  I took one too many spills due to bike issues and decided to put it away.  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve taken plenty of spills due to human error, too.  I just didn’t want to keep adding to those spills that will continue to occur until I get some serious time under my belt with spills that could be avoided with a bike in good shape.  And, there was some fear in there, too.  There still is and there will be for awhile until I log more miles and develop better bike handling skills.  This is all part of my journey to becoming an athlete.  Feeling the fear, but doing it anyway, because the enjoyment far outweighs the fear as does the satisfaction and fulfillment of doing it.

One of the key things that helped me break through the fear and learn how to ride a bike, and that will help me as I develop my biking skills, is the “seeing” myself I mentioned earlier.  I used this visualization to see myself getting on the bike and keeping it upright.  Though I had never pedaled more than a few feet before losing my balance, I learned in the blink of an eye when I took the time to step outside my skin and “see” myself on the bike, the balls of my feet on the pedals, using my body to balance, keeping my eyes up and ahead, keeping a firm but not overly tight grip on the handle bars, and seeing myself pedal at a faster pace, knowing that slower is not better when working to keep a bike up on its two wheels.

I cannot say with enough enthusiasm how important this visualization process was (and is).  I may still have learned how to ride, but I believe it would have taken me longer than it did once I actually decided I was going to learn that clear October day.  To this day, I picture myself riding a bicycle, developing the skills I have already started working on, as well as utilizing other skills I have not yet attempted but have watched professionals use.  Not only has the visualization process been helpful in my learning, it has also helped increase my confidence when I was riding more often.  It also helps keep my confidence up as I prepare for when I do get a better bicycle and am able to get back out there and ride.  If you would like more info on visualization and its effectiveness, click here for an introduction into the benefits of visualization and one example of “how-to.”  Who knows, it may be of great benefit to you, whether cycling, running, playing any variety of other sports, or even if you have to give a speech to a large crowd and you feel uncertain about doing so!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Why I Choose to Share My Journey

Some of my readers may be wondering why I am writing this blog.  I have several reasons, some personal, some not, and I thought I would share some of my reasons for writing with you, the reader.

One reason I am sharing my story through writing is that I enjoy it, immensely.  I love to write and I am quite good at it, at least that is what I have been told by friends, family, and many of my past college professors.  Another reason I do this is to keep track of myself and my training, as I learn and grow.  It provides a written account filled with reminders of where I was and where I am, as well as my mindset, my emotional state, how I am feeling physically, and how strong I feel mentally.

Another reason I am writing about my journey is to share my experiences with others.  If I, as someone who has always hated anything of a physical nature, can learn to enjoy running, as I am doing, anyone can.  I want to encourage others to get off that couch and get out to the gym, out on the road, out on the trail, etc.  I want others to know they are not the only person out there working to change their lifestyle and dealing with more than just the physical aspect of training.  So much of training is mental…it is often said that training is 10% physical and 90% mental.  That’s just a huge percentage.  And, as novices, we so often times forget this mental aspect.  Many times, the mind gets in the way and hinders us continuing to train.

I am no expert in how to build mental stamina.  Heck, I am still working that out for myself.  And, frankly, what works for me on one run does not always work on another run.  I watch videos of professional runners all the time—videos in which they race, videos in which they talk and share their knowledge.  I also read blogs of various runners, professional as well as just experienced runners who are not pros, and I read running magazines.  I don’t read them for the training tips.  I have good form and I assess my form regularly so I minimize the potential for injury.  The indicator that I am doing well in this area is how my body feels.  My knees feel great, my core is strong, I run relaxed, the muscles in my feet continue to strengthen, and my leg muscles feel fluid and good.  I read and watch to discover how these individuals utilize mental strength, how their attitudes are, how they talk.  I take what jibes with my own personal philosophy and I work hard to implement those things into my training.  I believe this to be of utmost importance because I have struggled in the past with the mental aspect of training.  I haven’t quit because of the 10%.  I haven’t quit because of injury.  I have quit when my mental fortitude gave way and I fell prey to my own internal state.

This is the biggest reason I write.  I refuse to fall prey to myself again.  I want this!  I want to run, and I want to continue to run even when my mind tries to get in the way of that desire.  So, I continue to watch and learn, to run and learn, to make mistakes and learn.  I continue to do what I need to do on any given run to keep my motivation high.  Sometimes that means I go into a meditative state, refraining from talking to anyone, other times I talk with my running partner.  Sometimes, like top sky runner Kilian Jornet, I take the time to notice the beauty of the world around me, the contrasts of color, the beauty of the surrounding trees, flowers, bushes, the clarity of the sky.  Other times I keep my eyes focused ahead other than when I check for traffic or take note of my surroundings.  Either way, whether looking around and enjoying the beauty around me, or maintaining a forward focus, I keep my core solid and maintain an upright running position.  I am learning that what works for me, at least right now, is to change things up, keeping my running interesting.  I change my focus, I change my route, I change the length and pace of my runs and utilize intervals, I change the days that I run.  This works for me.  As I evolve over the upcoming months and years, I may find that something else works better.  In the meantime, I continue on, developing my love for running as I grow and develop myself.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lessons in Testing the Limits

Lesson 1: Know your limits

Lesson 2: Push those limits

Lesson 3: Know your course

Lesson 4: Push your limits on that course

Lesson 5: Do NOT compare said course with a previous, different course and do NOT use the previous, different course to challenge yourself on the current course

Lesson 6: If you do not use Lessons 1-5, you end up comparing apples and oranges and you have a greater potential of setting yourself up for failure

I almost did today, when I told my husband that I thought I might want to add some distance to my already planned 6.1 mile run.  I had it in my head that I really wanted to run 8 miles again, especially since I am completely over the runner's crud I was fighting off.  I realized after I got out there on my run, that the course I was on had a lot more hills that were quite steep and lengthy compared to the 8 mile course I ran two weeks ago.  As it was, with my husband's gentle reminder that it would be best to not get ahead of myself and to not get greedy, I reined myself in and decided I would run my preset course.  I ended up having a successful run and I am quite glad I did not go beyond my prescribed mileage as I am completely wiped out following that run.

A note to self, as well...remember this post when you think you are going to go out and blow your limits out of the's about testing the limits, not debilitating those limits.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Post Run Thoughts

Post run, Thursday…

Today was tough.  Not bad.  Just tough.  My legs felt better than on Monday (on Monday they felt very heavy) and my stride felt pretty good.  It was a beautiful day out, with lots of sun, little wind, and I was accompanied by my 12 year old daughter today.  We ran the first full 2.4 mile loop, then walked about the first 3/4 of a mile on our second lap, picking up the run again and completing the rest of the loop at a run.  We made the decision to backtrack a little over half a mile to see where my husband and my sons were on their runs.  When we did not see them, we decided to head back to the starting point to wait for them.  We walked the rest of the way and completed 6 miles.

My nasal passages opened up on the run and I felt good.  I think what felt tough today was my breathing.  I felt raspy and breathing hurt my throat, as well as my nose.  Everything felt raw.  I suppose rightly so since my immune system is still strengthening as all of the runner’s crud symptoms continue to dissipate.  I don’t know when my breathing will return to normal, but I will be back out there tomorrow, going for a five mile run, pushing my body and strengthening my mind.  I don’t know what my throat and nose will feel like, but that’s okay.  I will take this one day at a time.  I may fall short on my pace of previous runs until everything clears up, and that’s okay too.  My pace will come back.  So will my distance.  I will just continue reiterating to myself that this is a one step at a time kind of thing.  Setbacks will occur.  But, so will great advances.

In thinking back on my earlier post about perspectives, I have to say, I have had ten solid weeks of fantastic training.  One week of less than stellar training is a tiny drop in the bucket that I will not let overshadow those other ten weeks.  So, I will keep pushing on and keep running, trusting in the training, trusting in the resting, and, most importantly, trusting in myself to know what my body needs.

A Lesson in Focus

Today is Thursday, a week after my LSD run of eight miles.  I have jogged only one day since then, on Monday, in which I went four miles in a little over an hour.  You may wonder why I have not done much running this week.  It was certainly not lack of will and desire.  I wanted to get out there and keep running every day.  I wanted to do some sprint work.  I made the choice not to, because I have been dealing with “runner’s crud.”*  For those who are seasoned runners, you know what I am talking about.  For those who are not familiar with it, it simply means my immune system became taxed and I have had symptoms similar to allergies or to having a cold and cough with a lot of pressure in my ears.  From what my husband tells me (and he would know with his background in running), this is something all runners go through as their bodies make adjustments to the requirements being placed on it.  The good thing in this, though, is that my immune system will come out of this stronger than ever.

One of the things I have worked on this past week is reminding myself that I was not sick.  That was not an easy thing for me because a couple of my tendencies are to focus on the negative and to overanalyze things.  Instead of just allowing the experience to occur, I kept focusing on how badly I was feeling and I kept trying to figure out how to not have this happen again.  News flash!  This will happen again.  It’s part of running, especially when you run high mileage and my intent is to get to the point that I am running between 50 and 100 miles per week.  So, how do I change how I respond to things like runner’s crud?  Well, the short, easy answer is, I change my perspective on it.  I allow it to be okay.  I take the time my body needs to rest, but then I get back out there and keep running, listening to my body as I run.

The long, not-so-easy answer is, I change my perspective on it.  I allow it to be okay.  I take the time my body needs to rest, but then I get back out there and keep running, listening to my body as I run.  I worked very hard this week to stay positive, to not over-analyze why I ended up with runner’s crud.  I admit, I didn’t do as well on my own as I would have liked.  It took my husband telling me to stop analyzing it and just recognize that it is what it is to finally let it go.  Interestingly, once I let it go, I felt immensely better and I am ready to get back out there and put in a good run today.  Are my symptoms all gone?  No.  My nose is still stuffed up and I am still coughing.  But, my body feels great and I am ready to go.  I am itching to get back out there and I know, once I start running, everything will open up as adrenaline floods my body.  As I run, I will pay attention to what my body needs and run a pace and distance consistent with those needs.  However, I am not going to spend a lot of time analyzing my pace and distance.  I am just going to enjoy the feeling of the wind in my face and the sun warming my body.  I am going to enjoy moving my body.  I am going to enjoy being in the moment and seeing how far my feet take me today.

*A note to those of you who have been around me this week…it was easier to explain what I was experiencing as allergies than to try and explain runner’s crud.  The main thing I wanted to convey to everyone was that I was not sick and I had nothing contagious.  This was the best way I felt I could explain it quickly.

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Longest Run, Yet, and What It Taught Me

Long run yesterday.  Longest run to date.  Longest time to date.  Eight miles in 1:41:33 for a pace of 12:46.  I have to say, to those of you who regularly run 8+ miles per day, kudos.  Kudos, to you.  For a first timer, I ran the gamut of thoughts and emotions.  I went from high to low and back again, as though I was on a roller coaster.  For the most part, I stayed on the high side, but I had to work a few times to pull out of the low side.

Mile 1 was good, mile 2 a little less so because the trail we were on at that point was gravel, which, while softer than pavement and asphalt, is an energy sucker that left me feeling a bit sapped.  I got the spring back in my step once on the paved portion of the run, felt better and climbed the only real incline of the course with ease.  My heart rate stayed steady, which is what I was more focused on today, since I was going a distance over two miles longer than I ever have, though pace was also a factor in that I wanted to keep it right around 13 minutes per mile.

Heading into the third mile we were a couple minutes behind pace due to a little hiccup in the course in which we had to turn around and head back to take a different route.  I decided to file those two minutes away and focus on completing the next 4 miles at roughly a 13 minute pace.  Part way into mile 3, we took a turn on the path that led straight into a head wind.  Now that was interesting.  And hard.  My 14 year old told me at one point he was going to jump in behind me and draft for awhile, but that I could draft him later.  I laughed and asked him how that was supposed to work since I outweigh him by about 70 pounds and am, oh, say about a foot taller.  He just shrugged and smiled.  Kids.  You’ve just got to laugh.

We finally got out of the head wind as we began the loop back toward where mile three started and I noticed the skin of my thighs rubbing together.  I now have a really good understanding of the importance of using body glide when going on a long run.  Skin chafes.  It chafes fast.  I decided if I didn’t change my focus I was going to have a long walk back to our starting point, so I looked at clouds, I examined the contrast between the greens of the trees and bushes against the grayness of the clouds in the sky.  We had no sun today, which was a blessing in disguise, because between the wind and the clouds, it was wonderfully cool.  The change in focus didn't change the chafing, but it made the run more fun and rewarding.

As we made our way around the curve heading in the opposite direction from when we were running into the head wind, my son noted that we should have had the wind at our backs, but not so…it was blowing from the side and causing almost as much difficulty running as the head wind had.  We sure got our workout in on that open four miles of trail.

I was very pleased I did not have any thoughts about not being able to finish or wondering if I was going to be able to run that far.  Those thoughts have been present on many of my runs to date, but not yesterday, which seems to be a developing pattern on my long runs.  I don’t know if it is because of the easier pace and, therefore, a lower heart rate and easier breathing, or if it is due to more mental preparation beforehand than what I typically spend before my shorter runs.  I have a sneaking suspicion that it is a combination of the two, which tells me I need to spend some more time preparing myself for my other runs along with continuing to increase my VO2 max.

Overall, it was a really good run yesterday.  We made our goal time for the four-mile loop and then upped the pace a little bit over the final two miles until breaking into a sprint for the last several yards.  Not only did we make up the two minutes lost early on, we also made up about two and a half minutes over the last two miles while still maintaining a good steady pace, heart rate, and breathing.  The endurance of yesterday felt good.  It felt so good, in fact, I announced to friends and family on Facebook that I couldn’t wait to go for next week’s long distance run.  I have had time to rethink that proclamation and I decided I will relish in yesterday's accomplishment while allowing next week’s run to stay in next week, until next week.  No need to rush it.  My shorter runs and my sprint work are important.  My rest days are important, too.  I sometimes just have to remind myself of that little tidbit of truth.