like riding a bike

For the last month I’ve been training for a sprint triathalon.
It is a 300m swim, 20K bike ride and 5K run.
Guess who won’t be sprinting?

It was a little crazy for me to sign up. Because I’ve never swum laps and the peak of my cycling career was about when I was around 10 years old.

I have run in over a dozen 5Ks. Or at least mostly run.
And even a few longer races.
So training for the running part doesn’t really scare me.
And back in the day, I owned my neighborhood on my Schwinn, so how hard could the bike part be.
I was petrified however, of the swim.

So. I joined a gym. Bought a decent pair of goggles, a speedo and started swimming laps.
I even broke down and bought a swim cap.
My first time in the pool was rough. After only two laps I was winded.
I couldn’t figure a breathing pattern out and the water felt thick and heavy and hard to push through.

But eventually, every day I swam a few more laps.
The water started to feel relaxing and I got into a rhythm.
I still haven’t figured out those cool flip turns but I can swim my distance with ease.
And now the swimming is my favorite. It gives me very sore knees a break. The fluid motion of swimming somehow centers me.

I do own a bike. But it is a mountain bike (from a very brief mountain biking phase) and not a road bike. But I figured it would do. Unfortunately it has been collecting dust and growing cobwebs in some corner of my garage for the last seven or so years. So I have been using the bike at the gym. I love the stationary bike because I can read while I pedal. I have been biking at the gym for about a month now. The distance still isn’t easy but I have done it at least a dozen times. Each time trimming down my time to an almost respectable number.

I haven’t done as much running as I’d like, but I have run my distance several times over and was feeling pretty good about it all.

Until I left the gym.

Last weekend we were at the lake and I put on my cool goggles and swim cap ( while the rest of my family laughed at me) and dove off the dock. My race actually has an indoor swim, but most tris, are open outdoor swims. I thought I’d give it a shot. I hoped to swim to the end of the inlet and back. But only seconds in the water and I started to panic. This wasn’t the cool blue water at the pool and there was no dark line on the bottom for me to follow.
The water was brown and murky, smelled of dead fish and gasoline. The wind had picked up and the lake had a pretty good bounce to it. My feet couldn’t touch. I couldn’t see anything and every time I picked my head up I seemed to swallow mouthfuls of lake water from the waves.
I was completely freaking out.
I immediately tried to turn around and climb right back up on my dock when Shaun convinced me to keep going.
I knew I was just panicking and tried to convince myself that it would be ok.
But I imagined fish and snakes and boats running me over.
I hated not being able to see in the murky water.
And the waves made swimming twice as hard.
I only made it a few houses down before turning back and heading to the pool to finish my laps.

A kind friend’s husband offered to tune up my bike for me. (thanks again Paul), give me some road tires, wash off the cobwebs and tighten up the brakes. I’m sure he did a million other things I just don’t know enough about biking to even know what they are.
So yesterday, I hopped on.
I figured biking on the road would be easier. On the stationary bike there is no coasting or drafting. Just constant pedaling.

But the gym had not prepared me for the road.
Especially biking with my headphones in, book in my lap, in the air conditioning and the resistance dialed down pretty low.
Outside was hot.
And there were hills.
Gears to figure out and more hills.
There was no little magic button to turn down the resistance if it caught too hard.
I just had to push through.

Inside I had been doing my 12.4 miles in about 36 minutes. Legs churning the whole time. After about twenty minutes outside, I figured I had gone only 4 maybe 5 miles.
And was exhausted. I wished I had brought my cell phone so I could call Shaun to come get me. Or at least a few bucks to buy a drink.
And yes there was some occasionally coasting. I certainly didn’t pedal the whole time. But mostly it was hot. And the down hills hardly made up for the uphills. My gel seat cover wasn’t nearly cushiony enough. My butt hurt. My knees hurt. My pride wasn’t doing too well either.
I worried a little about cars hitting me, but more about them laughing at me. I felt like I was moving in slow motion.

Eventually I made it home.
And even went out again for a slightly longer ride today.
Let’s just say that I-20 is not place for a beginner
I won’t even mention my flat tire and long walk home.
Which gave me plenty of time to think.
That my training in the gym with air conditioning, cold water fountains, and towel service was not the same thing as the open road (or lake).
Just like my reading books about things I am passionate about isn’t the same as doing them.
Writing about justice isn’t the same as living it.
Telling someone you love them isn’t the same as showing them.

And that swimming in a clear pool is easy. But most of the time we really can’t see very far ahead. That most of us take our beatings from the waves and let them carry us when they can.
And that there is no good stationary practice for the uphills or the resistance of the road.
On my bike and in my life.
That you just have to shift down, ride them out and rest when you can.

(and p.s. still no internet! not sure who to be mad at AT&T or the monsoon we had last week. So for now, it will be both. And throw a few sick kids into the mix. So please be patient with me about posting, reading and returning comments!)


Kate said...

This is a great post! I'm impressed with you for signing up, for training. And isn't it interesting that the things we learn in safe places (gyms, books) are never so clear and easy on the outside?