Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Monday evening, I finally had my first real bike ride of the year. I was cleared to ride by doctors and physical therapists about six weeks ago, so why the delay?

Laziness, self-pity, and fear. The first two are self-explanatory, but the third may not be what you'd expect. I wasn't afraid of further injury or pain or my ability to deal with traffic or anything like that. No, I was afraid of knowledge. I kinda didn't want to know how far I'd fallen.

Two and a half years ago, I weighed 300 pounds and had very low physical fitness. Somehow, during the summer of 2005 I managed to change my lifestyle. I rode my bike hard four to six times a week, I ate healthy foods only and in smallish portions. I lost 55 pounds, I could ride my bicycle as hard or as far as I wanted to. I was faster, stronger, and felt better than I had ever done in my entire life and I was 33 years old.

Last year, I kept the activity level up pretty well, but my diet began to slide a little. A little more cheese, a little more red meat, the occasional soda. I gained 5 pounds back. This spring, I ruptured my achilles tendon while enjoying my newfound fitness on the basketball court. I was unable to use my left leg for two months. I was depressed, irritable, and pretty much a mess. I turned, as I often do, to food for solace. I ate like I used to. I did very little physical activity, and the predictable things happened. I gained 20 more pounds back, my left leg shriveled to nearly nothing, and my cardio fitness is mostly gone. So, here I am, nearly 36, and weighing 270 pounds.

I don't know how I got to that place two years ago, the place where I looked forward to my daily bike ride, where a single black bean burger, a baked potato and some salsa was all I needed to feel like I'd had a good dinner. I'm hungry all the fucking time now. I can't say no to food. If I've already had lunch and the office buys pizza, well I'll just have to eat a few pieces, now, won't I? It's just a second piece of cake and I've already ruined myself; what more damage could it do?

I want to be 33-year-old me. I don't want to be the me I've been all the other times of my life, and I just don't know how to get back there.

So, yeah, I didn't really want to know how bad it was. Ignorance is bliss, right? Well, I had a crazy day at work and I needed to do something when I got home, so I suggested we get the bikes out. I finally brought them out of the basement, looked 'em over, filled the tires, and we set off.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn't immediately exhausted and that my legs didn't protest too much. I managed to get in 8.3 miles at 11.5 MPH; I didn't need to walk the bike at all. I got up the Aurora Road hill that gave me so much trouble when I first started, most of it under full power. So, yay. Either I didn't lose as much as I'd feared or the physical therapy actually did more than I'd imagined in terms of restoring some level of fitness.

Now, if I can just translate that into some kind of on-going program.

Comment by Jonobie

Good luck getting back into cycling, and congrats on going for your first ride in a while. There's the cliche about the first step being the hardest, but I think it exists and is repeated precisely because it's so true.

Comment by Jonobie

Oh, and a random comment -- one that might not work for your lifestyle, but you might consider using your bike for some or most of your errands (possibly to the point of selling a car to do so). For me, I've found it's easy to halt doing fitness -- although I feel bad when my weight rises, it's easy to get stuck in the type of self-defeating thoughts you mention in your post, and thus halt before I even get started.

Fitness for the sake of fitness, for me, never seems to be quite motivating enough in the moment. But, we only have one car, and that helps a lot with getting me out on my bike. When Jeff has the car, I have a pretty powerful motivator to get on my bicycle and go the places I would otherwise want to be.

Comment by blob

I've wanted to, and I've enjoyed reading your tales of exploration in that vein. (Sorry to hear about the kickstand malfunction though!)

You remember Cleveland, though. Not only is biking hazardous at best four months of the year, the sprawl doesn't really permit safe/easy bike access to anything, and there's nowhere to shower at/near work.

In fact, if there was just a darn shower nearby, I probably would give up the four hours a day the round trip takes to do it, weather permitting.

Do those sound like excuses or reasonable objections? ;)

Comment by Jonobie

A little of both. ;-)

Seriously, though, the unfortunate truth is that some places just aren't built to handle bike traffic particularly well. Sufficiently motivated people can sometimes make them work anyhow, but that depends a lot on the terrain and how into the idea you are. There were some places in Austin that I absolutely would not bike to, as it required biking on narrow streets with fast traffic. I just wasn't into the idea of biking so much that I was willing to feel that uncomfortable. But I did manage for work to find a route around one such road because I really cared about that.

No showers can be worked around, I think -- take a look at this product, made by an Austin company:

When I first started biking to work, I didn't realize my building had a shower, so I tried a quick washup in the bathroom with a washcloth. It worked okay, but something like the Rocket Shower (probably also home-makeable) looks like it'd be a lot easier. IIRC, Googling about handling the whole no shower+bike commute will get a range of solutions that others use.

Four hours is definitely a time investment! When I first got into the idea of biking around to places, I read about several people who would combine bike and cars to handle particularly long commutes -- they'd take the car and bike out to a nice midpoint, park and then ride the rest of the way. For me, that somewhat defeats the "I have to use this method of transport because I have previously consciously restricted my choice," but it obviously works for some people.

Ok, I've written far more of a manifesto than I intended! Yikes. :-P Whatever you do, it's awesome to hear that you're getting back into stuff. "Fitness" is much more of a process than a single event (or period of time).

Comment by blob

It never even occurred to me that there might be shower alternatives. This is very intriguing. Thank you!

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