keep pedaling. keep breathing. keep pedaling. keep breathing. don't look ahead. just don't look ahead at what's coming. stay here. right here. keep pedaling.
out of pure necessity, i have adopted this mantra since moving to cincinnati 7 months ago. it's hilly here. way hilly. and the hills are longer and much much steeper than anything i have ever ridden on a road bike. every club ride or casual sunday ride, like today's, challenges me in new ways. every route i've done shows me not only new roads, but new terrain.
and i am reminded of something important. i am reminded that riding hills is mostly (mostly) a big fat head game.
in my first month here, i looked ahead at what was to come: the steep pitch these hills take suddenly (sometimes upwards of 18% or more), the sharp curves and switchbacks that usually hide more steep pitches beyond them, the deceptive flat sections that really are just long uphill grinders. i looked ahead, and what i usually thought to myself was "oh wow... there's no way! no way!" and i would gear down, stand up, breathe hard, and kill myself to get to the top, the whole time trying to get my brain to shift to a "it's not that bad, i got this" mentality. easier said than done.
today, 8 months later, these hills haven't gotten shorter, or less steep. they haven't become more forgiving. but perhaps i have.
today, i remembered - even though i struggled to not simply topple over on one long, steep climb, which had me pedaling at maaaaybe a 4 mph pace (i couldn't really look at my odometer) - that this game, this dance with these hills, is all about mental power. i had the power to make it up those hills. my legs were "fine," even if my lungs were not.
but my brain? even worse.
it was a mental challenge to keep my brain from telling me that i couldn't possibly do one more crazy pitchy section, i just wanted that damn hill to back off. what's more, i watched my riding companions, all seasoned veterans of this terrain, fly up ahead of me as if they were jet-propelled. the distance growing further and faster between us, my breathing becoming even more labored and now turning into something just shy of hyperventilation, i kept pedaling, my brain ping-ponging between willfulness and doubt.
i clearly have some work to do.
but.... i learned something new today, as i almost always do when i get back out on the bike. i was reminded that i am in a new place. that this is new terrain. and therefore, it's going to take a new mentality, a whole new mental approach, to ride here successfully.
and so, the point of my writing? to remember that a change in terrain is nothing but fantastically good - maybe even key - for a change in perspective, how one defines strength, how we approach the unknown.
i realized that while i knew where i was, i really still didn't know how to be here.
and i know it'll take a lot more time for that lesson to sink in fully (much to my chagrin, because i'm endlessly impatient). but i also was reminded that this new place of mine is also going to teach me things i never knew about myself about my riding, my brain, my bike, everything.
i think maybe we all need to shake it up - and be shaken up - once in a while.
|lookout at devou park in kentucky (at the top of a long climb), looking northeast to downtown cincy.|