Secret weapon

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A pause by the lake

I wasn’t sure, when I started training for the big bike ride I have coming up, that I really needed professional help training for it. I’ve been riding for a long time, after all, and I did the Five Borough Bike Tour once, and all I did to train for that was ride the steep hills in Riverside Park in very high gear.

But guess what? It turns out that over the years, any number of fears, real or imagined ones, crept into my riding. So when a friend mentioned a trainer that she’d worked with for triathlon conditioning, I did think about it for a second. Then Thrifty Brain took over and said nah, just get the miles in. So I did that for a little while, donning my trusty 20 year old bike shorts, which now provided about the same amount of padding as a panty liner (the vestigial kind, for “light” days), a fanny pack with my necessities, and my clunky stainless steel water bottle rattling around in its cage.

And then, I saw the route profile. Which told me that riding the shortest distance of the three available wasn’t necessarily going to be the easiest. The little diagram helpfully hinted at a total elevation of “~2,379 feet” – as in, “approximate, we’re not quite sure, the last person in charge of measuring it passed out while climbing the last huge hill.” This was turning out to be more than I bargained for, and I realized if I didn’t get some solid advice, I was probably going to bomb this ride.

So I got in touch with that trainer, Joanna Paterson of Bodiesynergy. I spoke with her first on the phone and she seemed direct, professional, and very, very knowledgeable. By which I mean that she wasn’t trying to do more than I needed. She understood that I’m training for this ride for a very specific reason – because cancer immunotherapy is in part responsible for my being on the surface of the earth instead of beneath it – and she got that I wasn’t trying to turn into a triathlete. As a bonus, she is a native of New Zealand and has a great Kiwi accent.

We made a date for the park. Before that date, I needed to acquire proper biking clothes. I went to a shop in Park Slope, where I heard someone call my name. It was P, the wife of M, whom I met in my librarian job ages ago. I’d seen plenty of photos of her on Facebook. We’d never met, but she’d read my blog before, which made me feel like a minor celeb. She was lovely, and she helped me choose clothes. I began to realize something that Joanna told me more concretely at the end of our session today – that not only have I improved my skills, I’ve also started to create a community – the people riding in the park, the people who work at the bike shops. (She’s right. Last week when I went to get a ticking sound looked at at a different shop closer to my house, Ricky, the guy who rescued my ancient bike from decrepitude a couple years ago by upgrading crucial components, remembered me.)

I bought those new biking clothes about two hours before meeting Joanna for our first session. I put them on at home, feeling like a total poseur. This feeling was magnified by what happened while I was riding to the park to meet her. For the first time, EVER, I failed to check the crosswalk was totally clear before I started up from a red light, and I rolled into a pedestrian. I didn’t knock her down. She may or may not have been wearing white pants. I was mortified! I rode to the park beet red, and as soon as Joanna and I had shaken hands, I burst into tears. She handled it with aplomb, and smartly encouraged me to get off my bike until I’d collected myself.

At our first session, I learned a lot about gearing and how to not run out of gears on a hill (at least, not on the modest hill in our nearby park). I learned how to hold my line (aka not zigzag all over the road). Joanna showed me how to drink while riding (my subsequent practices on that skill, including one time when I almost knocked over another rider, left me feeling it was a bridge too far for me at this stage). And she raised my saddle to the appropriate height for someone like me, who is about 80% legs. I have such tremendous leg power while riding now, it’s pretty amazing.

Joanna gave me homework after that session – three workouts, including one of hill repeats and one of six or seven laps of the park, with the third one being my choice of the other two. A strange thing happened though – with the higher saddle, I began to dread getting on or off my bike. Towards the end of my first six-lap workout, I both fell over when stopping to get water, and somehow forgot how to stop and dismount the bike when I finished (I eventually figured it out). I’d been riding dehydrated, because I was too afraid to stop!

I decided to schedule another session with Joanna this week, to focus exclusively on starting and stopping and turning (something else I suddenly forgot how to do, after I’d fallen over that time). I was letting my fears grow gigantic, and this was not the way I wanted to go into the big ride.

Today we met in a sunny and very windy park, and Joanna drilled me on starting and stopping. She didn’t force me to change my way of pushing off, just suggested things to pay attention to when I was doing it. She did offer solid advice on downshifting before you stop, so you don’t get caught on an incline stopped in a high gear. And she made me practice turns in both directions. All throughout she encouraged me and guided me. I think we finally released all the butterflies today.

I’ve been extremely lucky through this cancer ordeal, meeting people who have a fantastically unique and adept way of tweaking my perspective. Working with Joanna is the latest example. I’m going into the big ride with a secret weapon: The Kiwi-accented voice in my head. It’s telling me to “cape piddling,” “hold your loin,” and it’s going to get me up some pretty steep hills, the steepness of which Joanna has told me not to look at as I climb, as a tactic for making it all the way up.

I’ve never been much of a long-range planner, so that last piece of advice should suit me just fine…

To donate to our fundraising effort for the Answer to Cancer bike ride, please visit our team page. Every amount helps us get to our goal. Donations can come in until September 1. Thank you so much!!

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