I’ve been volunteering with my local high school mountain bike team for the past 2 months. Each week, I teach a hard, 90-minute, power-based indoor training session. Most of the kids are super-focused. A couple are a bit distracted. But all in all, we have a lot of fun together.

I like kids. I don’t have them and I’ve never wanted them. But I like them. They’re real.  They’re honest. They don’t play games. They want to please you.  And they love seeing results.

Tonight, a new girl joined the team. She’s the daughter of the head coach’s co-worker and I was told in advance that she’s never participated in sports, doesn’t really exercise, and suffers from depression. She was a trooper and jumped right in. It was really challenging for her, but she stuck it out and completed the workout.

After training, we all discussed upcoming events and all the boys (yes, we have all boys on the team, except one other new girl who wasn’t there tonight) introduced themselves and they all chatted and laughed together.

As we were leaving, she lingered a bit and then ran up and hugged me harder than I’ve ever been hugged. I thought she might cry. She told me that she had so much fun and had never felt the way she felt during and after the workout.  I’m sure she didn’t know it, but she was experiencing that endorphin high that we all love.

I’m sure you’ve read articles that extoll the mental health benefits of exercise.  Physical activity will improve your mood, your memory, and your cognitive function.  As we age, it keeps us young.  For the young, it can keep them focused and combat the symptoms of ADHD.  For me, it relieves anxiety and depression.  It calms me when I’m wired and lifts me up when I’m down.

It doesn’t take much exercise to yield benefits.  30 minutes a day will improve your life.  The key is to make time for yourself on a consistent basis.  And who knows, you might feel like hugging someone, too!

 

fitness is my drug of choice

fitness is my drug of choice

 

 

 

I’ve had breathing issues my entire life.  I was born with pneumonia.  I was told I was weak and fragile and had bad lungs.  I never participated in sports (although I could somehow play the oboe).  I had childhood allergies (never defined, but treated with prescription medications) and exercise-induced asthma.  And then, as an adult, I smoked cigarettes for nearly a decade.  Not the makings of a cyclist, but somehow, I found myself on the bike.

When I got serious about cycling, I visited the pulmonologist, who confirmed that I’m allergic to just about everything in the world, that I have temperature- and exercise-induced asthma, and early signs of COPD.  But, I wanted to race my bike, so I endured years of allergy shots (treating environmental allergies but not food allergies), allergy medications to counter the symptoms, and an inhaler to clear my lungs.  But never did this doctor recommend that I eliminate allergens from my environment.

A few years ago, I started working with a different allergist, who recommended I remove all allergens from my environment.  This included eliminating certain foods, my dog (I couldn’t do it), carpet, and covering my bed and pillows in anti-allergen cases.  I do the best I can.

The foods were the easiest to eliminate (although this takes very conscious decision-making, especially if eating in a restaurant).  My home is as allergen-free as I can make it.  I struggle when traveling (motel rooms are filled with allergens like dust, dust mites, and mold) and mountain biking can aggravate my allergies to grasses and trees.  But all in all, I’ve been able to relieve my symptoms by making some lifestyle changes.

Interestingly enough, when I removed my food allergens from my diet, amazing things changed in my health.  My immune system seemed to improve, maybe because it wasn’t constantly being stressed by my diet.  My lungs were stronger (proven through breathing tests).  I no longer needed to use an inhaler for cycling, except in very cold temperatures.  My weight stabilized.  My energy increased as did my sleep quality and my mood.  I no longer suffered headaches and a stuffy head.  My skin cleared up and the hives that had plagued me for many years disappeared.  And my recovery time on the bike improved dramatically.

So, why am I happy to have food allergies?

  • I learned to cook.  My most significant food allergy is wheat.  Wheat is in everything, not only obvious foods like bread and pasta, but also hidden in things like salad dressings and sauces.  To eliminate wheat, I needed to learn how to prepare foods from scratch.
  • I learned about great foods I had never tried before.  When I first started eating wheat-free, the gluten-free trend wasn’t popular and GF foods were not readily available.  So rather than substituting GF bread or pasta for regular bread or pasta, I substituted other foods.  I discovered corn (tortillas, polenta, chips) and I embraced the humble potato.
  • I became acutely aware of what I’m putting into my body.  I rarely ate pre-packaged foods, but when I did, I learned to read labels and evaluate the ingredients.  I also started to pay attention to how I felt after eating certain foods.  Did my energy level spike or drop after eating?  Did I feel full?  How did I feel the next day?

 

Because I’m also sensitive to oats (and many times oats are contaminated by wheat), I had to find a substitute for my favorite breakfast food — oatmeal.  After some research, I decided to experiment with quinoa.  While many consider quinoa a grain, it’s actually a seed, very high in micro-nutrients and is a complete protein.  Quinoa is high in calcium, magnesium, and iron, and is a valuable source of fiber.  It can be cooked in much the same way you would cook rice and can be prepared as a cereal, a pasta, or added to other foods (like salad) to give nutritional value and texture.  All hail the super-food quinoa!

I thought I’d share my favorite breakfast.  It’s pretty easy and very filling.  It keeps my energy levels super-high and it’s really yummy.

Caveat, I like texture foods (and this is no exception).  I like crunchy peanut butter; not creamy.  I prefer a smoothie to juicing.  I like chunky soups.  I like Almond Joy (not Mounds) and peanut M&Ms (not plain).  I’d rather eat food with a crunch than those that are smooth.  And my breakfast is no exception.

I prepare this in the rice cooker but it can also be prepared on the stove.  It takes 20-30 minutes to cook so you can set it and shower or pump up your tires or walk your dog.

 

Lorri’s Happy Morning Crunchy Breakfast Quinoa (approximately 600 calories):

Prep Time:  10 minutes

Cook Time:  20-30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

  •  1 tsp coconut oil (optional)
  • 1/4 cup quinoa
  • half an apple (cubed, skin on)
  • handful of raisins
  • cinnamon to taste
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • coconut milk
  • raw coconut flakes
  • chia seed
  • sunflower seeds

 

Coat your rice cooker with coconut oil.  Add quinoa, apple, raisins, cinnamon, and water and cook.

When cooked, add coconut milk, coconut flakes, chia seed, and sunflower seeds to taste.

Enjoy your day!

 

the main ingredients

 

the toppings

 

ready to go in the rice cooker

 

the finished product!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve learned so much about nutrition in the past decade.  But I’ve learned even more about the power of our mind in the past couple of years.

I recently had an amazing 10-minute conversation that somehow concluded 3 hours later with one of our Velo Girls sponsors, Mae from LadyParts Automotive Services.  Each time we get together, we start out talking about business and end up having deep, meaningful, thought-provoking conversations about feminism, health and fitness, religion, nutrition, dating, philanthropy, empowering women and girls, you name it!  So as our conversation segued naturally from one topic to the next, we started discussing nutrition, lifestyle change, and the influence of emotion on our eating habits.  I thought I’d share some insight with those of you who might have an interest in this topic as well.

I went through a pretty significant weight loss between 2009 and 2012.  This was the second time in the past decade I’ve had this experience, and I fully intend for it to be the last time in my life I need to lose weight.  I hit my goal weight in July 2012 and have been able to maintain that weight (and lose some body fat) since then.  The last time I went through weight loss, I started gaining it back as soon as I had achieved my goal weight.  As I think about why this time it will “stick,” I realize that in addition to transforming my body, this time, I transformed my mind.

As women (and some men, too), many of us struggle with emotional eating.  We use food to self-medicate.  We eat when we’re happy.  We eat when we’re sad.  We eat when we’re stressed.  We eat to celebrate life.  We eat for a plethora of reasons that have little or nothing to do with nutrition.  So, if you find yourself craving food even when you know you’re not physically hungry, I suggest you ask yourself these questions:

“Are you hungry, or are you really thirsty?”

“Are you hungry, or are you really bored?”

“Are you hungry, or are you really tired?”

“Are you hungry, or are you really stressed out?”

You could add to this list, but you get the idea.  We often eat, not out of physiological need, but out of emotional desire.  So, if you’re trying to maintain healthy nutrition, learn to become mindful of when and what you eat.  Don’t go to the refrigerator when what you really need to do is go to the gym or finish that tough work project or take a nap.

I’ve invested much time in the past couple of years learning about emotional eating and food addiction.  Of course, this leads to learning about other addictions as well.  I read an article recently that outlines the dopamine effect of reward-based behavior.  In short, that positive reaction we have eating, drinking, taking drugs, etc, is a response to the 2nd exposure and there is diminishing return to subsequent exposures, which is why addicts need more exposure to obtain the same initial uplifting effect.  Using food as an example, the first bite does very little for you, but the 2nd bite is the one that satisfies your cravings.  And each bite after that doe not significantly enhance that effect.  In other words, if 2 is good, 3 isn’t better.  But, for those people who have addiction, the desire to have 3, 4, 5, or more is overwhelming in their need to feel good.

As Mae and I continued to discuss lifestyle change and nutrition, she told me she was amazed that I seemed to speak of food as such a positive thing.  Many folks who struggle with over-eating, food addition, being overweight, etc, view food as the enemy.  But I view food as fuel.  Food provides the physical and mental energy for me to function:  to think, to ride my bike, to feel strong and healthy.  And quality food, filled with lots of colors and textures, will help me stay healthy and happy.

I referred several times to eating beige food, so Mae asked me what I meant.  In short, we should strive to eat colorful food:  lots of fruits and vegetables.  We should limit the beige foods (breads, pastas, gravies, etc).

So, five tools that may help you shift your thinking about food:

#1 — Are you hungry?

#2 — Be mindful of the 2nd bite.

#3 — Food is energy that allows you to function optimally, both physically and mentally.

#4 — Fill your plate with lots of color.

#5 — Food is not the enemy.  Food is a positive and necessary component of life!  Put the good stuff in and you’ll get the good stuff out!

while a plump groundhog in Punsxutawney, PA is making news by seeing or not seeing his shadow today, there’s another February 2nd milestone that’s just as worthy of media attention. today is National Girls + Women in Sports Day. woo hoo, says me!

of course, just the fact that we need a national day to recognize something like the privilege (and right) of girls and women to participate equally in any activity starts the wheels in my head turning.

many of the athletes I work with are too young to remember Title IX. oh yeah, it’s a hip women’s activewear company, right? um, no, it’s federal law that was enacted in 1972 that prohibited discrimination in education (at least in federally-funded institutions). best known for it’s impact on athletics, by providing supposedly equal opportunities for men and women in scholastic sports, it also applied to other educational programs (such as vocational education). and while critics complained that Title IX reduced opportunities for male athletes, women applauded the fact that they were now considered equal in the eyes of the federal government.

yeah, I was only 7, so what do I know? what I do remember about the date (June 23rd, 1972) is that my sister Susan was supposed to graduate high school. graduation was cancelled due to the devastating flood caused by Hurricane Agnes. our house was spared (by about 1/2 mile of Chemung River flooding to the north and 1/2 mile of Seeley Creek flooding to the south). we were ready to evacuate. my father helped sandbag the river. and I vividly remember walking around in the days post-flood, seeing half washed away homes (that looked like doll houses), inches of stinky mud and muck on all the streets and in the stores, and houses (and cows) floating down the river. the five bridges that separated one half of my hometown of Elmira from the other half were washed out. my father couldn’t get to work (on the other side of the bridges). and high school graduation was cancelled. Hurricane Agnes proved to be a blessing in disguise, because my poor little town of Elmira, NY underwent a HUGE transformation due to the economic recovery.

so I guess I missed the news about Title IX.

a few years later I signed up for my first softball team. I was younger than all the other girls and we had a winning team, so the coach never let me play. I guess he hadn’t heard about Title IX either. ball sports weren’t really my thing anyways, so there! I will admit, however, that I was a pretty darn good bowler, but I never really considered bowling a sport.

I was a tall girl — 5′ 10″ since 4th grade. yeah, I was tall. tall and skinny and gawky. not graceful at all, even though I’d been studying dance since I was five and twirling baton since I was 2. I was not an athlete. then again, were any girls my age considered athletes? they were tomboys. we didn’t click. I climbed trees and built forts and rode bikes, but the girls who played sports with balls were just weird.

in junior high school, the basketball coach tried to recruit me to play for the school team, but I was involved with CCD after school. by high school, I’d missed my opportunity. it was too late. all the girls who had been playing for the past two years were athletes. I was not an athlete. so I stuck to what I knew — books and music.

I finally gave in and joined the track team my senior year because I thought it would be good for my college applications — you know, make me look well-rounded or something. it took me a month of daily training before I could run a whole mile without stopping. the coach declared me a sprinter. I ran a half marathon to defy him (he said I couldn’t do it). I couldn’t walk for days afterward. in the spring, I was recruited for high jump and long jump (because I was tall). I earned a couple of varsity letters, won a few trophies and some award for being outstanding in field events. but I was not an athlete — I was simply doing it for my college applications (and the boys on the track bus were a nice bonus).

I missed my opportunity with sports. I went away to college, did college things, thought about rowing crew, changed my mind about rowing crew when I found out the team had to run to the boathouse (in Ithaca winters) down the big hill at 5:00am. yeah, I was definitely not an athlete.

post-college I dabbled with step aerobics and bought a bike but I was too focused on advancing my career to really spend any time being healthy. it wasn’t until my late 20s that I quit smoking, started inline skating, skiing, and playing volleyball. but I still wasn’t an athlete — I was simply doing these sports for the social aspect (meeting boys in the ski club).

before I knew it, I was 30 years old and moved to sunny California, where everyone was an athlete. what was I doing here? I sure didn’t fit in. I wasn’t an athlete. but then something happened. I started riding a bicycle again, after more than a decade of not riding a bike. I liked it. it stuck. I was an athlete!

in many ways I regret the fact that if I had any athletic potential at all, I missed my opportunities as a child and young adult. I wish that I’d been one of those sporty girls from the sporty families that did sporty things. that was not my family. and our schools, at the time, didn’t encourage female athletes.

I look at the difference between my youth and that of my nieces — now all in their 20s. they grew up playing soccer and softball and basketball. they swam and dove. they could basically play any sport they wanted to play. the opportunities were there for them in their schools and in their communities. they were athletes, thanks to Title IX. they had the opportunity to participate in sports that weren’t part of school sport programs when I was a girl. they could compete. and excel. and grow as individuals because of their experience in team and individual sports. they learned life lessons. they learned how to be competitors. they learned how to be team players. they learned how to win and how to lose. and they are healthier, well-rounded individuals because of these opportunities.

so, if you’ve followed along with my ramblings all the way down here, I’ll ask you to celebrate the opportunities provided by Title IX. encourage a girl (or woman) to be fit and active and participate in sport. volunteer with a program for youth. mentor that young cyclist. give a shout out to the youth sailing in the lagoon. nudge your wife or girlfriend to join in that group ride or run or dance class. be thankful that the youth of today have the opportunity to develop as athletes, and more importantly, as individuals because of Title IX.

Dec
1
0

The long way home

who doesn’t like a little challenge? after a month off the bike in October, doing nothing but physical therapy and coaching clinics, I wanted to get back on the bike, add in some yoga (more on that in another post), and just find some consistency in my riding, my energy levels, and my mood. during October I’d also been focused on weight-loss and my caloric deficits, combined with the end of Daylight Saving Time, seemed to be affecting my sleep patterns. I needed balance. I needed energy. I needed a goal — something that was consistent and achievable and that would motivate me.

so I gave myself the goal of riding at least one hour every day in November and December. I set no parameters besides time — I could go long or short, flat or hilly, road or dirt. I would listen to my body, vary my intensity, and keep it fun.

I started a day early, with a challenging mountain bike ride with Team Velo Girls at Waterdog on October 31st. it hurt — mentally and physically. in the 12 years I’ve been riding, I’ve had some extended periods of time off the bike, but usually due to illness, not injury. when you return to the bike from illness, you expect to be winded and to feel weak. I didn’t expect this after my hiatus in October. this first ride was a wake-up call for me.

so, November 1st came and I rolled. pretty easy at first. road + dirt. 7 days in a row for a modest total of 10 hours. and on the 8th day it rained. and I was tired. really tired. I ramped up a little quickly, I think, with 10 hours on the bike that week as well as 2.5 hours of yoga and swing dance. so I gave myself permission to take a nap instead of a bike ride. it was the correct decision.

week #2 went well, but again, I had one day that I was just completely exhausted. so I gave myself permission to nap instead of ride. I decided that I hadn’t failed at my goal by missing 2 days. I was still out there riding and being consistent, and that was the intention of my goal. in those 6 days I was able to ride 10 hours and also danced for 1.5 hours. I was learning how to manage my time to add in the riding and yoga. I was making time for myself!

week #3 and my body was happy (as was my mind). I was sleeping well, the weight-loss continued, and with the exception of one significant bonk, I was having great rides! I started doing some more challenging rides. most of my rides have been solo. I was having fun riding by myself, something I haven’t done in years. I was listening to my body and going easy on days I needed recovery and hard on days I wanted challenge. and I was mountain biking a lot. all is good.

week #4 and I planned to ramp up my yoga. I finally found the time of day and styles of yoga that really worked in my life. my goal was to practice 5 days this week. life is good and I’m finding balance. I’m really happy. I’m smiling so much that I’m starting to annoy myself. unfortunately, a silly sleeping injury (seriously) kept me off the bike and out of the yoga studio for 3 days. on Thanksgiving day I got back out on the road for 3 hours in freezing cold. and I’m proud that I was able to maintain my caloric deficit in the face of Thanksgiving dinner. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday included more rides (road and mountain) and my first ever double-header yoga day.

November was a good month. I got on the bike 24 of 30 days. I rode almost 40 hours for a total of more than 400 miles, including 5 mountain bike rides. I practiced yoga 6 times and took 4 dance classes. I feel consistent. and happy. and very mobile. my head is in a really good space. I promised myself at least an hour a day — just for me — and I was able to achieve that.

one of the ways I’ve been able to fit this all into my schedule is to combine my bike + yoga time. no, I’m not stretching on the bike, but rather I’m riding my bicycle to yoga class. I have this silly 5-mile rule — I don’t drive my car if I’m going somewhere that’s within 5 miles, so this fits right in with yoga class. I can ride the short way (only about 15 minutes), take class, and then take the long way home, the scenic route. the road less travelled. I’ve enjoyed riding through the hills and canyons of Hillsborough and Burlingame. I’m rediscovering roads I haven’t ridden in years. I’m swearing under my breath at the 15-20% grades that pop up out of nowhere and then applauding myself at the top of those hills. I’m admiring the mansions. I’m noticing the subtle changes of fall: golden and red leaves transitioning from tree to ground. and I’m enjoying every single moment on the bike.

how often do you go out of your way to discover a new road, climb a new hill, or check out a new vista? too often in the past, I found myself “training” and forgetting what it is that I really love about the bike — the same thing that I loved as a child — the freedom! I was so concerned with the destination that I missed the journey. so I’ll encourage you to give yourself the gift today of freedom. and fun. and cycling. go ahead, take the long way home!

Nov
25
0

Bikes-giving


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! whether you celebrate this day in a traditional manner with friends + family or in a less traditional way (for me, on the bike), I hope you’ll each take some time to reflect on the blessings we have and the opportunities we’ve been given. since this is technically a bicycle-related blog, I’ll share some of my bicycle-related thanks.

I’m thankful that I ride a bicycle. yeah, that pretty much sums up my life, so if you have a short attention span, you can stop reading now.

I’m thankful for all the amazing places throughout the world I’ve visited while riding my bicycle. I’ve been fortunate to ride in New Zealand, Australia, and Spain, but even more fortunate to explore every nook + cranny of the amazing state of California, as well as Colorado, Oregon, Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Alaska. there’s no better way to really experience the country than on the seat of a bicycle.

I’m thankful for all the really cool people I’ve met while riding my bicycle. my life has been filled with folks who’ve shared a few miles or many years with me.

I’m thankful for the personal challenges I’ve experienced while riding my bicycle. I’ve ridden up mountains, in the dark, snow, cold, and rain. I’ve ridden on the dirt and on highways. I’ve done things I never would have thought possible — all on a bicycle.

I’m thankful for all the extra yummy + delicious guilt-free calories I’ve been able to consume while riding my bicycle.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to build a career riding my bicycle, and that in doing so, I’ve enabled lots of other folks to share in the benefits of riding a bicycle.

I’m thankful (and hopeful) that I love a sport that I can continue to participate in long after most folks have resigned themselves to the couch. I plan to be that little old lady you see with the long silver ponytail under her helmet.

yes, I’m thankful for riding a bicycle!


I’ve long been a bike commuter. it began with my desire to get more training time in way back in the winter/spring of 2000. I was training for my first California AIDS Ride and felt that my weekend long rides + weekday spin classes just weren’t doing it for me. at the time I was working in San Francisco and living in San Mateo. each way, the commute was about 22 miles. interestingly enough, I found that the total time commitment to commute by bicycle was similar to the total time commitment of commuting by car or taking the train. yeah, car traffic was pretty crazy + unpredictable back in the day.

so I started commuting to work. my decision to do so was pretty impromptu. I decided one Saturday morning to try riding to San Francisco from home, checking out a possible commute route and timing myself. so I bought a set of bike lights, declared myself a bike commuter, and, two days later, I jumped in.

my first commute was a great adventure. I had no plan. I didn’t really have the right equipment. I had too much stuff to carry and didn’t have a good way to carry it. I had nowhere to park my fancy new road bike. and once I arrived at work, I didn’t have anywhere to shower or prepare for the day. I remember walking to the nearest gym (where my employer had a deal for us), proudly stating that I was preparing for the CA AIDS Ride, and expecting them to let me shower for free. the desk clerk felt sorry for me (or maybe I just stunk) and let me shower — that one time. after that, she informed me, it would be $10/day. when I got back to my desk, I emailed our Team Schwab cycling club list to find out where there was a shower on-site. unfortunately, there was nothing in any of the buildings near me except one secret, private shower that had been built for the CEO of the company. he had moved offices and no one was using it, but my contact suggested I could sneak in + out and no one would notice. and that’s what I did for months.

my commute home was equally as adventuresome. less than a mile from my office, I nearly killed myself trying to avoid a muni bus. I ended up with my front wheel in a muni track and took an embarrassing tumble onto Market Street. I got a flat tire 3 miles from home and didn’t know how to change it so I rode home on it. but I survived and was ready to try again.

I quickly learned that I couldn’t carry so much stuff on the bike. I started emailing files home instead of carrying paper (yes, this was pre-access-at-home days). I left three pairs of shoes at the office (brown, black, and blue pumps — I was set for every occasion) as well as a warm winter coat. I stored a complete set of toiletries (including towel, wash cloth, blow dryer, and curling iron) at my office. go ahead, laugh about the curling iron, I dare you! and I tried a bunch of different bag systems, finally settling on an oversized lumbar pack from REI to carry just my clothes, wallet, and palm pilot.

as you can see, it took some planning. and preparation. and a few attempts before I had a seamless commute.

I continued to commute for the next year (while I was still working in SF). somedays I would ride to work and take the train home. somedays I would ride both ways. somedays I would add on some extra mileage just for fun!

and while my original goal was to increase my training time, what I learned was that there was a HUGE emotional/mental benefit to bike commuting as well. when I arrived at the office, I had already achieved something great. I was able to check something off my list before work even began. and I found I had more energy and less stress than if I had been sitting in my car, stuck in traffic, for 60-90 minutes.

since that time, I’ve continued to commute and errand by bike. I actually went car-free for two years — a big accomplishment living on the peninsula (during a time when CalTrain discontinued weekend service). I transitioned to a cyclocross bike with mounted racks and panniers and eventually to a touring bike. I still have a five-mile rule: if a trip is within five miles, I dont take my car. there were some definite lifestyle changes involved in these decisions, but overall, I’m thrilled with the fact that I choose to live as car-lite as possible.

commuting and erranding by bike is a great way to save money, contribute to our environment, reduce stress, and stay in shape. but it can seem like a daunting lifestyle change. Velo Girls would like to help you learn how to make this change. one of our members, Torea Rodriguez, took my May Bike Month Challenge, and has forever changed her life. on Wednesday, December 1st, she’s going to share her experience with you.

join us at Mike’s Bikes in Palo Alto for our 2011 Velo Girls membership kick-off, where Torea will be our featured presenter, discussing the ins + outs of transportational cycling — 6:00pm – 7:30pm.

Details of this and other Velo Girls rides + events at http://www.velogirls.com/calendar.php

energy. it’s an amazing thing, right? we’ve got it, we don’t have it, we want more of it, we have too much of it.

I have observed that the more energy I expend, the more energy I have. funny, isn’t it? when I’m active, riding my bicycle, I feel energized and alive and ready to conquer the world. I’m on a roll and there’s no stopping me. when I’m inactive, not riding my bicycle, I feel tired and sluggish and depressed. yeah, there’s something to this energy thing.

so, I’ve returned to practicing yoga. my objective is to balance my physical being — all the years of high-volume riding coupled with poor posture and bad ergonomics in my office, as well as a couple of serious past injuries. what I didn’t expect was to balance my emotional being as well.

in the past, I’ve practiced Bikram yoga, an intense, athletic form of yoga that’s practiced in a heated room. Bikram is Yang.* Bicycle riding is Yang. participating in both has created some interesting imbalances in both my physical and mental self. Bikram is physically challenging for me. there’s no half-way for me in Bikram. being a wee bit competitive in nature, I push too hard, I stretch too far, and I end up sore, tired and potentially injured. and then I quit.

my favorite yoga studio, Being Yoga in Burlingame, offers 40+ classes a week. most of these classes are Bikram, but a handful are other styles of yoga. so I’ve decided to check out some other styles. interestingly enough, these non-Bikram classes are offered in the middle of the day, a time when my energy starts to flag and I find I need some activity to push me through the afternoon.

enter Yin yoga. wow! it’s a form of deep yoga with poses that are held for a long time (some of them 10-15 minutes in duration). instead of focusing on our muscles, Yin goes deep into the connective tissue — ligaments and tendons — exactly where my broken + abused body really needs some focus. let’s see, Yin yoga + Yang cycling = balance. that makes sense to me.

the other interesting concept behind Yin yoga is that it’s very meditative. being a wired, ADD, hyper personality, I’ve never felt comfortable with meditation. yeah, I think a lot on the bike, but mostly my mind is pinging and ponging between a gazillion ideas at the same time. so for me to actually shut off my mind and focus on just one thought, one mantra, for an extended period of time seemed challenging. but I found that it was actually quite easy to be in the moment. and I also found that it helped my mental focus at other times, too.

balance. it’s a funny thing. oil + vinegar. sonny + cher. yin + yang. it’s all starting to make sense to me now.

*If you want to learn more about Yin + Yang and the theory of contrary but interdependent forces, start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_and_yang

many years ago, when I first became a cycling coach, one of my clients shared this little nugget of psychological wisdom. she wasn’t referring to cycling, but I found it an important lesson for just about anything in life. I immediately stole it and began using it as the preface to my skills clinics. it’s simple yet brilliant.

I know you’re on the edge of your seat waiting to learn what this piece of advice might be. of course, if you’ve participated in one of my clinics, you know exactly what I’m about to type.

“grant yourself permission to be a beginner.” it’s okay to not be perfect at everything you do. it’s okay to go through the learning process. it’s okay to be right where you are right now. it’s okay to fail and try again and learn and improve. it’s okay to be a beginner.

whether you’re learning to ride a bicycle or race a bicycle, mountain bike, or even ride a unicycle, it’s okay to be a beginner.

something happens to us in adulthood that creates a mental challenge for us to learn something new. we’ve become successful. we have college degrees, jobs, and healthy relationships. we know how to balance a checkbook and do laundry. we can multi-task. we find it difficult to ask for help. and suddenly, it’s not okay (at least in our own minds) to not be perfect at something. we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to succeed. and when we don’t find immediate success, we’re embarrassed and frustrated and (all too often), we give up before we’ve really given ourselves a chance at success.

I always chuckle when someone says “it’s just like riding a bicycle.” if that were true, I wouldn’t have been able to build a successful business that focuses on teaching adults how to ride and race their bicycles.

although most of us rode a bike as a child, many of us stop riding for a period of time (usually our 20s) while we’re living life in other ways: college, career, family, etc. and then, when we decide it’s time to ride a bike again, we’re faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. something has changed since childhood. we have fear. we understand pain + mortality. we have a job to go to on Monday. we’ve forgotten that riding a bike should be fun. we worry about what others will think of us. we feel judged. we’ve forgotten what our body feels like and how to interact with a bicycle.

so instead, we try to manage the bicycle. we try to fix it and control it and conquer it. and because we don’t understand how a bicycle really works and we no longer listen to our body in quite the same way we did as a child, we fail. we crash. we’re afraid. and we’re frustrated.

I experienced this myself. I rode a bicycle from tricycle to 10-speed Free Spirit through my early 20s. it was my transportation. it was my freedom. I rode to the playground. I rode to school. I rode to my boyfriend’s house. I rode to parties. I rode to my job. I rode everywhere. and then…..I stopped riding.

in 1999, after a decade-long hiatus, I decided that it was time to ride a bike again. I had moved to California and everyone here was healthy. they worked out at the gym and they played outside. they rode bikes. and I wanted to ride a bike, too. so I dusted off my 10 year old Specialized Hard Rock mountain bike and started riding. and I failed. I was afraid of everything: cars, getting lost, falling off the side of the road, going downhill. and I was frustrated that I was afraid. and I was frustrated that I had failed. and I was frustrated that I was frustrated. how was it possible that I had ridden a bike for more than 20 years but now I was a complete failure?

but those of you who know me well know that I’m stubborn. I really, really wanted to ride my bike. I was obsessed with riding my bike. I registered to ride in the California AIDS Ride, a 7-day ride of almost 600 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I had nine months to train. it seemed impossible. I would conquer it. and I did. within three months, I had ridden my Hard Rock almost every day. I completed my first century on the Coyote Creek Trail (solo), riding back + forth + back + forth. I eventually conquered my fear of riding on the road and ventured away from the bike trails. and then I started riding with groups. before I knew it, I was commuting in the dark from San Mateo to San Francisco. and then I was leading rides for Team Schwab and for the California AIDS Ride. but I still wasn’t a perfect rider and that frustrated me.

when I was given the opportunity to change careers in 2001 by Charles Schwab, I decided that I wanted to share the amazing physical, mental, and personal transformation that I’d undergone by riding a bicycle with others. so I became a coach and a personal trainer and founded Velo Girls, one of the first women’s-only cycling organizations in the United States. and then I began the process of deconstructing the physics of riding a bike so I could teach others in a way that was logical and progressive. I wanted to break down those barriers that kept adults from riding, kept them from succeeding, and kept them from having fun. I wanted to help adults understand how to ride with their bicycle (not on their bicycle). I developed a series of skills clinics that I tested out on our very first racing team. those clinics were the foundation of Girls Got Skills, our racing development program, and our four-hour Bike Skills clinics.

and the rest is history.

so, if you’re frustrated or afraid or embarrassed, you’re not alone. I was there and hundreds of adults with whom I work each year were there, too. it gets better. but the first step in learning is to give yourself permission to be a beginner and be patient with the learning process. if you do, you’ll open up a world of possibilities for yourself.

After coaching last week’s Velo Girls Alpine Altitude Adventure camp, I wanted to share my top tips for Death Ride success. I’ve participated in the Death Ride three times (2010 will be my 4th). There are lots of ways to approach an event like this. Here are my best suggestions:

#1 — Have a Plan. If you don’t have a plan, you’re less likely to keep on schedule, make the time cuts, and keep going when the day gets challenging. In your plan, include details like your time goals (print these out and put them on your bar, stem, or top tube), nutrition (what to eat + drink and when), and clothing.

#2 — Stick to your Plan. Don’t get lost in the moment. Revisit your plan during the day as needed.

#3 — Have a Partner. In my experience with the Death Ride, I’ve found having a partner encourages accountability. Discuss with your partner in advance if you’ll ride together the whole day. If not, when/where will you re-group. Discuss your challenges and how you will support each other during the day.

#4 — Pace Yourself. Ride at YOUR pace — a pace that is sustainable for the entire day. Don’t get caught up in the excitement of the early morning hours and try to keep up with the hammer-heads. Remember, some riders will be much faster. Some riders aren’t planning to complete all five passes. If you start out too hard, too soon, you’re likely to suffer later in the day.

#5 — Go Easy on the Easy Parts. Yes, that’s what I said. Resist the temptation to hammer on the lower grades and the flats. Allow yourself to recover on the easy terrain and conserve your energy for the hard terrain (when you really need it).

#6 — Remember to Breathe! Altitude affects individuals in different ways. In general, you will feel the effects at higher intensities. Try to prepare mentally for the negative effects of altitude (shallow breathing, rapid heart rate, headache, and nausea). Don’t linger at the top of the climbs, but rather at the bottom. And don’t panic when you suffer the effects of altitude — remember that when you descend many of these negative effects will disappear or lessen.

#7 — Freshen up for Five! As you pass through Markleeville, take a quick break to change clothes (a clean chamois will make you very happy), grab an icy cold drink from your cooler and your favorite treat, and an Action Wipe. We leave all of this in our car on the route so we can make a quick stop to refresh before the final climb.

#8 — Don’t Try Anything New. The day of the Death Ride is not the day to experiment with your nutrition, hydration, clothing, or equipment.

#9 — Expect the Unexpected. For many riders, this is the most epic and challenging day they will have spent in the saddle. Over the course of 10 hours, anything can happen. Try to be flexible and roll with it.

#10 — Don’t Forget your Lotions + Potions. At 5:00am you’re probably not thinking about sunscreen and lubrication. Here’s your reminder. Apply early and apply often. I’m a big fan of Betwixt + Zealios and will be taking extra little sample-size packets with me on the ride.

#11 — Celebrate your Victories! Participating in the Death Ride is a great accomplishment. There will be times when you feel overwhelmed and unhappy. Remember to smile. If someone says “good job,” even if you feel awful, just smile and say thank you. Ring a bell or holler at the top of your climbs. Appreciate the great feat you’ve accomplished.

#12 — Be in the Moment. Stay focused and aware, especially when descending. Although the roads are closed to cars (on Monitor and Ebbetts), there are 3,000 bicycles on the road. Be aware of others and your interactions with them. Ride safely, don’t take undue risks, and have fun!

#13 — Honor Mother Nature. It’s true, you’ll experience lots of different weather on an event like the Death Ride: cold morning temperatures, blazing sun and heat, and (most years) rain, hail, thunder, lightening, and chilling temps in the afternoon. Even if it’s 90 degrees mid-day, it’s likely to be cold + wet later in the afternoon. Don’t ditch your layers before climbing Carson (you might very well need them).