July 17, 2011

Runner Steph, Meet Cyclist Steph - Featured Writer Stephanie Hancock

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take some photos of my good friend Steph and her family.  She has always been an inspiration to me, but after reading her story I realized that she is truly an inspiration to us all.  Thanks Steph for sharing.
(Here is a pic I was able to take of Steph.  It shows her definite love for running.)

Last Tuesday I met up with some friends to go for an early morning bike ride. I am a runner, not a cyclist, but every once in a while I try to get out on my bike. It kind of helps to have ridden a time or two each summer before my annual triathlon...

(A flat on a previous ride, but same friends I rode with on Tuesday)

I want to learn to like my bike, mostly because I feel obligated since I have it, but also because Jeff rides and I'd like to join him sometime when I feel comfortable on the bike. I keep thinking that I'll never learn to like riding unless I actually get out and do it. So I resolved to join the ladies on Tuesday and prove to myself that riding really wasn't as painful as I remembered.

It really was painful.

Worse than I remembered. I was out of breath before I made it to my neighbor's driveway. I was more out of breath as I tried to carry on a conversation and act as if nothing was wrong. I was miserable by the time we crested the hill. And finally at a whopping 2 miles out, I was done. Done. I couldn't believe I was saying it, but out came the words, "I have to stop. I can't do this." And completely out of character, I peeled off and headed the whole two miles back home like a dog with its tail between its legs.
I never quit. No matter how I'm feeling, if I start something I just don't quit. I spent the entire day Tuesday puzzling over my actions, wondering what brought on this odd behavior, and feeling like a complete and utter failure. I even cried more than once that day because I was so frustrated. I couldn't keep up. Sheesh, I could barely even start! I wondered if I should just give up on the bike. I could sell it and get some new running gear, couldn't I? I sobbed to Jeff, "How in the world can I ever learn to like cycling if I keep having bad experiences!?"
Jeff is very level-headed. He is as steady and logical and reasonable as they come. And kind, too. He just smiled at me and said, "You need to just go out on your own sometimes and have fun - don't worry about keeping up with anyone, just do your own thing."
I realized that a huge part of the problem was the stress and anxiety I get when riding (or sometimes even running) in groups - I worry that I won't keep up, that I'll hold people back, that I'll ruin their ride or run. At my two-mile turn back point on Tuesday I was struggling to keep up and terrified of the potential suffering in the upcoming hour. So I quit.
Jeff reminded me that I was sick and had been sleeping way more than usual as I fought off the cold and sore throat. And I remembered that I'd not eaten much for several days (sickness makes me lose my appetite), so there were definitely valid reasons for quitting, but if I had been running I don't think I'd have quit. Sure, I would have had a miserable run, but I wouldn't have stopped.

I know myself as a runner.

I don't know myself as a cyclist.
Runner Steph, meet Cyclist Steph. She's a stranger and you don't know what she's capable of. That makes me wary and a little unconfident. Okay, a lot unconfident.

(Me & my friend Heather, whose husband helped fit both my old bike (pictured) and my new bike to me.)

Being the compulsive type, I decided to take Jeff's advice and go out again the next day (you know what they say, just get back on the bike when you fall - or fail!). I went on a solo ride and spent some time getting to know Cyclist Steph. It wasn't the ideal morning for a ride with 20+ mph headwinds the first and last 6 miles and crosswinds on other parts of the ride, but I didn't have to worry about my speed, didn't worry I'd be slowing someone down, didn't need to save my breath for talking, and could focus on the ride.
I'm so glad I did it. Tuesday: 2 miles of fatigue and anxiety until I turned around. Wednesday: 20 miles of strength and relaxed riding. I wasn't speedy - the winds certainly had something to do with that. Overall I averaged 15mph, which included the snail-pace 7mph ride on the uphill (I can RUN up hills faster than that! Oh, this is pitiful!), but also included topping out at 38mph on the downhill. THAT was cool.
So cool that this morning (now Monday) I chose to ride my bike instead of running. I rode the same route, this time with very little wind, and finished the 20 miles six minutes faster. It was another solo ride - trying to get my conditioning up to where I can ride with friends again. (I did join a 20+mile ride with some friends a few weeks ago, in rain and wind - they let me draft. I told you I'm not very good at this, but I'm trying!)
So anyway, it's coming. Tomorrow I'm doing my favorites - running and swimming. I have a half-marathon race on Saturday so technically I'm tapering this week and won't be doing too many workouts the rest of the week. But I bet I'll be on my bike again soon.

My husband (I could also call him my therapist, couldn't I?) regularly rides twice, thrice, four times the distance I'm at (and in a LOT less time). He's definitely inspiring me. And encouraging me. I love that he expects me only to have fun and has no pre-conceived notion that my running fitness would translate to cycling prowess. I don't think I'll ever be great, or even good - just mediocre. After all, I'm first and foremost a runner. But I'm a runner that is learning to (almost) love cycling.

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