Tuesday, December 31, 2013

stories on the eve of a new year

every morning on my way to class I pass a cyclist on the road.
he wears a backpack, has a bright headlight and a flashing rear light, and is out there at 4:55 a.m.
snow, ice, cold, fair weather:  he's there.
after we pass I watch him, in my rear view mirror, turn up a road that leads to the university of utah medical school, so I've made up a story that he's a dedicated student, a starving student, a student too poor to handle the expenses of a car.
I may be completely wrong:  he could just be a conservationist, all about keeping a small carbon footprint.
or maybe he's recovering from a devastating illness and believes the cycling is an important part of his healing process.
or maybe he just loves fresh air, knowing he'll be trapped in a building for the next ten hours.

probably, his story is nowhere near anything I've just written.

people have stories.  and behind them are the motivations, desires, dreams, compulsions, inspirations, incentives, all the forces that determine behavior.
the fifteen of us sitting on spin bikes this morning at 5:15 all walked in for different reasons and approached our efforts in different ways.
I might say I ride hard so I can eat more, but it's also about self-esteem, self-belief, a physical connection with my body, self-empowerment, adrenaline.  and likely, other motivations I myself might not even recognize.  I can only guess at the motivations behind the actions of the others in that room.

I love people's stories.  there's a local man who rides a bike on many of the same roads I do ~ I've seen him numerous times over the past 18 months or so.  the first time, he was coming down Big Mountain, quickly, as I was laboriously pedaling up, slowly.  I gave a finger wave and he returned it, and as soon as he was past me the picture in my brain told me he only had one leg.
yeah, right.
it's difficult to see someone who's passing you at 38 mph, and easy to assume you saw something you didn't.
the next time I saw him I realized the picture in my brain was accurate:  he has but one leg.
I've seen him a few dozen times now, and each time I am both awed and empowered.  this man is large-as-life proof that we have within us what's needed to overcome anything.  anything.
I don't know him at all, but he is a man with a story.
I want to know his story; I want to write his story.
not the details, not the surface of it, but the guts, the innerworkings.  the things that made him get on a bike and teach himself to pedal with only half of the team most of us have working for us.  to learn to stop and dismount, to get back on and go.
to push up steep hills, to risk fast descents.
something within this man has helped him be stronger and tougher than most anyone I know.

I don't know his motivations, and I'm not going to make them up, other than to acknowledge that something deeply powerful helped this man learn to ride when he had the option to not.

everyone has a story.
and the best stories aren't those that conclude in haste or with nothing but smiles all around.  the best stories have some grit, some pain, a bit of loss, a bunch of growth.
as we move into a new year, I wish for us all a deepening of our own stories, an appreciation of the stories that belong to others, and a continued curiosity of what's around the next bend.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

the little train who could

I've got it:  I've finally gotten back into the rhythm of cycling class on that "spin bike" with the uncomfortable saddle.
oh I miss my real bike and its saddle.

but it's good to be back in the groove, back to a place where the workouts are difficult and I survive them anyway.  sometimes I even kick their butts.
it's like reaching a tipping point:  I get to a point where I'm used to the bike, I can deal with the saddle, and I know that whatever workout is presented to me, I will complete it and live to tell.

often in life we're apprehensive about a task with which we're presented, and sometimes feelings of "I can't do this" bubble up.
and the only way those disappear is by completing that task, sometimes over and over again, to train your mind to believe you're capable.

and it hit me the other day that I've reached that point in my winter indoor training.  I know in my bones that I can do whatever I'm instructed to do each day.  though it's all about training the legs, the truth is, it's the training of the mind that's most important.

the best place is when you're the little train who began by saying, I think I can....   and gradually changed his words to I know I can.

I know I can.
you know you can.
now let's go do.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

trying softer

every time I don biking gear and hop on my bicycle, I expect my body to give me everything it has.
every time I walk in the workout room, pull on my bike shoes, and hop on the exercise bike, I expect my body to perform "as usual."
and when it's more difficult than usual, or I'm aching somewhere, or it just feels too hard, I tend to blame myself, heading to a place of "what's wrong with me?"
which isn't the most productive place to go.

some days are better than others;  some times we perform better than other times.
and some days we get caught in a negative mental loop that, instead of improving our experience, harms both our workout and ourselves, that place of "what's wrong with me?"

chances are, the answer to that question is, nothing!  maybe I could have used more sleep, better nutrition the day before, less stress at home, the mental boost of my favorite jersey that was, unfortunately, dirty.  but there isn't anything wrong with me; I'm just having a less-than-stellar performance day.

however, when we figure out that we're having one of those less-than days, we often beat up on ourselves, making it worse instead of better.  I did a little research about how to stop this negative mental loop, and found the following written by Dr. G of Competitive Advantage to be helpful to me:  when we start beating ourselves up for performing poorly, we often get sucked into a place of trying too hard.  The guidance below helps me stop the negativity, be a little gentler with myself, and ultimately and unexpectedly, perform better.

One of the biggest mental traps that athletes fall into is the “trying too hard” trap. Fueled by frustration or making the contest too important, trying too hard is a losing game. As a matter of fact, it’s the game of diminishing returns: The harder you try, the worse you’ll do! This is because trying too hard tightens your muscles up and absolutely kills your mechanics. Trying too hard gets you forcing things and peak performance always comes from being relaxed and “letting it happen.” Be alert inside to when you start pressing and trying to make something “big” happen. When you become aware of yourself trying too hard, quickly shift your focus of concentration away from the outcome or its importance to the task at hand. Remember you want to relax and try “softer,” not harder.

tomorrow morning I have a time trial, a 20-minute stretch at zone 5/ventricular threshold/a really hard place to be.  and no matter how I feel going into it, I am going to try, softly, to perform well.  awesomely.  strongly.  well.
I'll let you know how it goes.

*UPDATE december 19th after the time trial:   softer worked.  grin.
go give it a try!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

hard, harder, hardest

last saturday's 2-hour indoor cycling class was---in the words of a fellow classmate---brutal.
our instructor kept us in those barely-to-absolutely anaerobic heart rate zones for long stretches, and the room was heated by our 45 sweaty bodies to the point that I drank 4 entire water bottles during the workout.
when we were in the still-aerobic zone she talked about it being hard;
the first fully anaerobic zone she called harder;
the highest zone of all she called hardest.
pretty simple, easy to understand, but full of significance.

out there on the road, pedaling, we often get ourselves into the hard zone.  or even more often, the step right below hard, the uncomfortable zone.
it takes something---guts, courage, willpower, focus, determination---to get up into the harder zone.
and it takes even more to get yourself into the hardest zone.

life's amazingly similar.  we can live in uncomfortable and even hard, but harder and hardest take courage and determination:
making those phone calls you dread, performing tasks you know will challenge and discourage and possibly defeat you, getting yourself up on that ladder when you're afraid of heights, asking for something you know you might not receive.
and ~ ta-dah! ~ spending time in those hardest places, whether they be during exercise or during everyday life, is what makes us stronger beings.

this isn't the world's greatest insight---I'm pretty sure you already knew this---but we often forget to acknowledge our visits to difficult places, the dedication it takes, and the payoff in our own growth.

this morning's workout had us spend 15 minutes in harder.

and it was easier because, two days earlier, I'd  already spent a chunk of time in hardest.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

one little leaf

I rode this morning with a beautiful tailwind pushing me up the canyon.  the skies were unsettled and gray, letting sunshine through in moments of whim, and the temperature in shaded places was moistly cold, in the forties, sending the occasional shiver across my skin.  piles of leaves sat against the grasses that lined the road edges, brown and crisp, hovering together in packs created by earlier winds.  random leaves blew across the road before me and at times I could see tall grasses beside the road bend forward with the wind from behind.
I approached a large pile of leaves where, a few inches above the rest, a leaf was tossed and fluttered by the wind, wanting to be swept away, but tangled, somehow, and unable to leave its pile.  as I drew closer I could see that it was still attached to a tiny branch that had landed in the pile of leaves, and as I passed I could hear its frantic beating against the other leaves on its twig and against the twig itself.
the wind tried to take that leaf, but the leaf was caught, stuck, unable to blow free.

lately I've been thinking a great deal about change.  the book I'm writing is ostensibly about wolves, but in truth, it's more about humans and how we deal with change.  we, as a species, seem challenged by the changes that surround us and worm their way into our lives.  few of us welcome change, and even when we do welcome in a change we often find ways to sabotage or despair of it within a short amount of time.  many of us find a comfortable spot and want to stay there, whether it be in our opinions, our physical routines, or the way we move through the world.

today I was riding up toward big mountain.  I didn't know if the road would be clear all the way to the top, but I suspected most of the asphalt would be visible due to the warmish, dry weather we've had for the past two weeks.  I wasn't physically eager to ride all the way to the top, but was pulled by my emotions, wanting to ride up big mountain on december first, possibly the last time for the year as we're expecting a storm in two days.  as I neared the beginning of the climb, I thought about riding only until I encountered snow all the way across the road.  because of the switchbacks and the trees that shade portions of the road, there are usually snowy spots that cover stretches of road, which if one walks one's bike across, are only mild barriers on a mostly dry road.  I have always been one to walk my bike over snow if there's visible dry pavement on the other side.
today, though, I considered stopping and turning around the first time I encountered a snow-covered road.  some fellow cyclists have a rule that they never walk across snow to continue up a canyon:  it's their method of respecting the season.  today, I thought of this and decided it might be time for me to adopt their rule.

fingers of snow stuck into and across the road half a dozen times before I came to the spot, a kilometer from the top, where snow covered the road for a good twelve or fifteen feet, after which bare asphalt was visible again.  I paused, and unclipped.  I stood there contemplating a change in how I approach snowy roads.  I decided that I might just adopt a new rule, a rule that respects the changing season.  I pulled on my wind jacket and changed into my lobster gloves, and turned around to ride back home.

some changes are easier than others.  the behavior I exhibited today speaks of a medium-size change, from crossing all barriers to reach a goal to revising a goal in flowing with what's presented to me.  it's something I've considered for some time---it's not a one time event.  I've pushed through obstacles and impediments for as long as I can remember, believing that honoring one's goal is important, and that if at all possible, it's good to push through those roadblocks that confront us.
today's acceptance of a snow-block--a physical representation of the word no--is new for me.
and I like it.
I like to think that I'm letting the natural world guide my behavior.  I'm ready for this change.

but many of us, in many situations, are like the leaf on that little twig.  we feel the change offering itself to us, we might even want to break free and follow it, but we're stuck, glued to whatever it is that holds us in place.  habit, complacency, fear, whatever it might be, we are unable to move along in a new direction.  a new direction in thought, in belief, in action: these are sometimes demanded of us by life, and the sooner we hop on board the better off we are.
to never change is to be static, to be unvarying, to be stalled.  and just as wolves are returning to our landscape here in the west after an absence of almost a century, newness beckons at us every day.  it is our task to listen and learn, to become more aware, and to adjust how we behave in the world.

like all of us, that leaf on that little twig will eventually become again a part of the earth.  but what if, before it did so, it was allowed to follow the wind and have a final, thrilling, unpredictable wild ride?