Mindful Cycling

It’s 4:30am on a Wednesday morning. Your legs are sore from yesterday’s group ride in which your teammates keep egging you on to remain in the front group and continue to attack the field. In reflecting on rides past, you realize that today will be day five on the bike. From climbing hills, to motorpacing in the velodrome, to a race over the weekend, there is no questioning that you could use a break. Instead you tell yourself that it is Wednesday, you haven’t climbed with this group of teammates in over two weeks and it will be good for you and dealing with less-than fresh legs and pushing through your mental wall.

So you suit up, take a mental and physical inventory of your emotions and begin to practice mindful cycling. You ask yourself,

“Just what am I feeling right now?”

This is a summary of my array of thoughts this morning. When asking myself how I felt I came up with:

  • Sleepy
  • Sore
  • Relaxed

People often wonder why I ride everywhere. Why not drive to the start of a ride instead of putting in “junk miles” by riding to the ride. When riding through empty streets at 5:00am it is hard to get stressed out. The air is chilled, vehicular traffic is at a minimum, and with a dead phone battery all that is left to do is drift off into a state of zen and relaxation.

During this time I try to analyze and elaborate on these above mentioned emotions in an attempt to further understand and find justification to push on up into the hills on today’s ride. I know I haven’t been sleeping enough so that’s a no-brainer. Although I am sleepy, I am dressed, and mobile. I’m not going to suddenly fall asleep mid ride. The only thing that will amplify the sleepiness is being idle, which I am not so problem solved.

My legs feel pretty sore and there is also no arguing against that. I could try and get some sleep to correct this, but I am already out the door and on the road. Other than that, I’ve done all I can to prepare and save myself from any potentially harmful injuries like cramping or pulling a muscle. I ate breakfast, and hydrated before the ride. For all I’m concerned, I could push through the pain knowing that my body has nutrients to burn and water to maintain an optimal temperature.

The feeling of relaxation was the lowest measurable emotion out of the three. The justifications I made on my way to the ride contributed to its increase and made things not so bad. While my legs had a familiar burning sensation when the time came to accelerate, I reminded myself that this is only temporary and that I’m not going to cramp and die. After a while, the body gets used to the feeling and eventually dulls out the pain.

I made it out and performed just fine. While there were certain points in the ride where I pushed a little too hard and had to slow down in order to gather myself, I kept remembering how I’ve dealt with this in the past (particularly yesterday) and that I should be keeping up with the overall pace no matter what. 

“It’s not the end of the world.” “You’re not going to die”

I kept telling myself this and to my surprised it helped. I used to find coaching like this incredibly annoying and did the exact opposite of it’s motivational goal. Looking back that was just the pride talking. Sometimes we (myself) need a little reminder what were doing and why we are doing it. It may be hard to believe that someone climbing a hill at 7:00am would become distracted and forget exactly why they were out here in the first place, but it happens. One of my most common distracted thoughts is me telling myself, “I’ll just take it easy today. I’m not riding well so I’ll just consider this an easy day and try to rest.” This excuse sounds great when one is huffing and puffing for air when the going gets tough. It sounds so good that we remember it and tell ourselves this whenever the going gets tough, inhibiting further progress just because we’re not feeling our best. A great example of the mental wall at work.The two above mentioned phrases helped counter this excuse and carried me towards today’s coffee rendezvous.

Fresh gems
Fresh gems

Now that I am off the bike and home, the sleepiness and the soreness can begin to correct themselves. While the subtle sense of relaxation never completely vanished, it was never detrimental in the first place. I see a long road of mental walls for my aspiring goals in become a better bike racer. It is going to take a lot of mental strength to improve the physical strength. Little reminders can be the best remedies for overcoming a difficult situation. Realizing why I am doing what I am doing in the grand scheme of things makes the temporary discomfort tolerable and less severe than what we might imagine it to be at the time.

Given how much time I spend on the bike, I can push through the pain. I can ride smarter and make progress week by week, and day by day. Bike riding/ racing is a battle of wills, with a little bit of fitness thrown in for good measure. Once we (myself) are able to realize this and try to understand what is going on with our bodies on an intimate and psychological level, we can unlock some real potential.

-dfj

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