Sunday, March 23, 2014

shaken, not stirred

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.

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