Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Inspiration in Strange Places

About a month ago I was traveling on the Swamp Rabbit Trail trying to get some basic base miles in before a big training ride.  I was purposefully trying to not work very hard, and just go at an easy pace without having my heart rate out of Zone 2.  My goal was to stretch out my legs and make sure I was ready for the ride that I had planned the next day.  The first part of the ride was uneventful, but as the sun started setting it started getting chilly.  I stopped to put on my arm warmers for the last 30 minutes of the ride and I had a very unexpected encounter.  One that took me a month to really let soak in.

For those that haven't followed my journey as I've posted it other places, I've only been cycling for about 18 months now.  I started in September 2011 as an extremely out of shape network engineer moving to a new city and looking to make changes in my life to better myself and my family's condition.  I had friends that had been trying to get me excited for cycling for years, but I wasn't in a position to really get involved until I reached Greenville full-time.  I decided to take the plunge, and it's been a wild and excited ride ever since.   I've found it rewarding in both fitness and enjoyment, and of all of the exercise related activities I've tried (and I've tried a lot), it's the one that has really stuck for me.  

Being so early on in my cycling life, I typically hunt out expertise on a pretty regular basis. I've bought books on riding lean as welll as training plans from friends of mine that are coaches.  I've follow numerous cycling blogs, and I ask a lot of questions.  Thus it's not unusual for me to get information on how to improve my cycling from various sources.  What was unusual was to get it randomly while riding along on the Swamp Rabbit.

As I'm pulling on my arm warmers, this woman rides up beside me and asks/states "it looks like you are getting really serious about your cycling?"  I respond affirmatively, and she begins to explain that she has some advice for me, as she has coached professionally.  She then went on to explain that I needed to "get out of the big chain ring.  There is no need to be in that high of a gear on the Swamp Rabbit".  She explained with enthusiasm that I would not activate my core while pushing in the big chain ring, and that it would be much more beneficial for me to get into my small chain ring and work on my cadence.  

At this point I'm already about an hour into my routine for the day, and I had specific goals in mind.  I wasn't really looking for expertise on training, or advice on what I was doing wrong during a particular workout at that given time.  Thus my attempts to thank her for the advice sounded more like I was trying to get her to leave me alone, and even my mental attitude afterwards was more about disbelief than in self reflection about how I could improve.  To be honest, it took me several more "base mile" trips to really start to appreciate the advice that she gave me.

Over the past month I've made a point to think about that interaction, and what the advice she was giving me really meant.  I've started realizing that while the Swamp Rabbit isn't really a training area for me, I use it as transport to training areas more than as the actual training, I can use that time much more effectively.  I also don't need to rush along, but I can enjoy the time I spend.  I've been making a conscious effort to stay in the small chain ring (39T for those interested) and keep my cadence at or above 90.  In just the month that I've made this mental choice, I can tell that my average cadence has increased slightly, and that I can find myself at 100+ rpm much more effectively than before.  I've also noticed that I'm trimming my mid section some, although I consider this a secondary benefit to the skill improvement on the bike. 

All of this because some random stranger was willing to put up with the "stuck in my own mind" self and offer up advice that made me stronger as a cyclist.  I'm now enjoying the transit road to my climbing destinations more and getting stronger by spinning more;  I'm making the most of my workouts.

How often in life are we stuck in our own rut, and when folks come up and attempt to give us advice are we unwilling to go back and really heed it and make ourselves better?  I may never see that woman again, or recognize her if I do.  I hope at some point I can find the best way to thank her for advice that she may never know that I heeded.  Maybe I can  by passing on that advice to a young rider that will appreciate it more than I did when she gave it.

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