Most weeks we each do the bulk of our rides on our own but we set aside at least one day when we meet to do a ‘long’ ride. The purpose of the long ride is two-fold. First it is to simply keep our butts in the saddle for extended periods of time. The second is to build strong muscles and lungs. Both are rather important when you’re pondering the ride from Banff to Jasper; one that has several extremely challenging climbs and covers almost 300km.
When we choose our weekly long ride, we often pick one not only long in distance but also full of climbs. Somehow the toughest hills never feel like they are getting easier but it’s easier to tackle them when you have a partner. Rhonda and I don’t ride up the hills together. We each tackle them on our own, using our own different systems. Being someone who finds herself strategizing about just about everything, and who likes nothing more than to make a little mathematical equation out of a hard workout, I notice myself being very methodical about gearing down. I try hard not to get into my easiest gear right off the bat. I kind of ration my gears in my head – ‘When I get to that sign, I can drop one more gear…’ I love knowing I have another gear in my back pocket for just the moment when I don’t think I can make one more pedal stroke.
I’m not advocating this as a good strategy. From everything I have read, I shouldn’t be afraid to gear right down and let the bike do the work. But I can’t stand the feeling of thinking I’m out of gears so I like to ‘save’ one. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are at your limit, clicking your shifter repeatedly, only to recognize you’ve reached the end of the gear system.
What is interesting to me is that although I always do come to the end of my gears when I’m on a really big climb, I can think of very few times when I actually ever stopped climbing. One was in Scotland, on the very last day of our trip, when I simply could not put any more pressure on my broken foot and I had to walk the final 30m or so of the hill. I wasn’t impressed.
What then, allows me to keep going when I run out of gears?
I guess it is the same thing that allows any of us to forge ahead when we think we have reached our limit. We carry an extra gear in our back pocket.
As Rhonda and I were biking along on Tuesday, not climbing😊, I told her that most often when I go out for a ride, I’ll plan on a certain distance ahead of time. However, I almost never, ever complete that distance. I almost always (it might even be safe to just leave out the word ‘almost’), do more than I planned. I did the same thing when I was marathon training. If I was going out for a 25km run, I’d come home having done 28km. When I’m out biking on my own, I might decide to do hill repeats as part of the ride. If I choose to do five repeats, I can almost be certain I won’t be able to resist doing a sixth. I don’t know when I started this. I feel like I’ve been doing it forever. I think it might be part of my extra gear. In my mind, by doing this, when I’m in the midst of competition, and I’ve run out of gears, I call upon this to remind me I can do more than I think.
I do this in other areas of my life too. I may sit down at my computer to work on an upcoming presentation, one I have divided up into reasonable amounts of daily planning. I’ll often finish the section I intended to, and then get just a little start on the next one.
I’m not advocating this any more than I’m advocating my ‘save a gear just in case’ strategy. In fact, after telling Rhonda how my brain works, she kindly mentioned to me that she had taken a biking course and learned that 80% of our cycling should not be done at a ‘difficult’ level. In fact, 80% should be long, slow, low-intensity miles. This can’t be right I thought! I came home and looked it up right away. Sure enough, Rhonda was right! These long steady miles are what build mitochondria which is apparently what gives us energy. Who knew?! Then the tougher rides, the other 20% make the mitochondria more powerful.
It turns out I may need another, different extra gear in my back pocket. I thought I needed one that could make me do more and more, harder and harder. What I really might need, even though it seems so uncomfortable to me, is another gear I can call on to remind me to back off a bit; to lesson the load; to take a bit of a break. Maybe even to slow down enough to see the baby ducks as we cycle past. To build the mitochondria so I’ll have more of them to call upon when I need power.
Each of us needs extra gears in our back pockets. Sometimes we need one to push us up a hill, but more often we need one to give us permission to coast down. Extra gears can come in the form of friends. Or in the form of goals. They can come in the form of deadlines or holidays. They may come in the form of encouragement. Sometimes they look like rest…and laughter…and maybe even like chocolate and ice cream.
Summer has officially begun. What a great time to find our extra gear. Not the one that says keep going, do more, squeeze more into the day. Rather the one that says, slow down, ride easy, talk with me.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What extra gear do I need?’
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to find your extra gear.